The Nanda Devi Campaign

For Cultural Survival & Sustainable Livelihoods in the High Himalayas

Information Booklet

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The Nanda Devi Campaign

Nanda Devi Campaign Information Booklet

First Publication: September 2004 Prepared by: Rajiv Rawat

With special thanks to: Sunil Kainthola, Biju Negi, Raju Gusain, Dhan Singh Rana & the People of the Niti Valley Address all correspondence to: Alliance for Development 682 Indira Nagar, P. O. New Forest Dehra Dun, Uttaranchal 248006 INDIA

Copyright © 2004 Nanda Devi Campaign Community Rights Reserved.


The Nanda Devi Campaign

Table of Contents
Introduction Contours of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve The People of Nanda Devi The History of the Nanda Devi Struggle The Closing of the Frontier, 1962 Saving the Forests, 1974 Era of Mountaineering, 1974-1982 Closure of Nanda Devi, 1982 People vs. Park Conflict, 1982-1998 Jhapto-Cheeno Movement, 1998 Statehood & the IMF Affair: Crisis and Opportunity, 2001 Solidarity at Home and Abroad, 2001 The Nanda Devi Declaration, 2001 The Situation Today Appendix I – Nanda Devi Timeline Appendix II – The Nanda Devi Declaration Appendix III – News Articles Appendix IV – How to Reach Nanda Devi 4 5 7 9 9 9 10 11 11 12 12 13 14 14 16 18 20 31


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s an UN World Heritage Site, the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve is significant in many ways. The sacred mountain at the core of the park is the highest in the Central Himalayas at 25,645 ft and is protected by a spectacular ring of more than a dozen peaks over 21,000 ft. As a biodiversity hotspot, its incredible scenic beauty has inspired mountaineers and explorers for nearly a century, while Nanda Devi as the “bliss-giving goddess” to Hindus and Buddhists alike, has drawn pilgrims since time immemorial. In 1982, prompted by growing ecological pressures, conservation authorities closed Nanda Devi’s gates by declaring the whole region a national park. The local people, an Indo-Tibetan ethnic group referred to as the Bhotiya, lost their prime alpine pastures, source of medicinal herbs, and the tourist trade in one fell swoop. Without adequate understanding of local land use and culture, the conservation authorities of the day failed to recognize that the Bhotiya had been an inseparable part of the landscape for at least a thousand years, and rather than recognizing them as Nanda Devi’s guardians, instituted a draconian ban on access to the park’s core zone. More than simply an economic catastrophe, the foundations of their culture were threatened by these restrictions. Ironically, it was the very same communities that gave birth to the renowned Chipko movement, when women of Reni village saved their forests in the much celebrated direct action that spread across the Indian Himalayas and inspired environmental movements throughout the world. Recent moves by the newly created state government of Uttaranchal to open the park to limited ecotourism has prompted the Bhotiya to initiate a campaign to safeguard their future. Their struggle has thus moved from protests over access rights to evolving a sustainable, community-based tourism policy for Nanda Devi, one that takes into account the rights of local people and is free of human exploitation. In doing so, they aim to rectify a historic injustice while reestablishing the traditional affinity the people have always held for their land. As such, this booklet has been prepared to acquaint you with the Bhotiya people of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and their epic struggle for cultural and ecological survival in the lap of the High Himalayas. It will review the land, people, and history of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve from a local perspective as well as share details on some of the most recent activities that have taken place as part of the campaign.


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Contours of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve


he modern day Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, established as a national park by the Indian government in 1982 and as a UN-registered World Heritage Site in 1992, encompasses an area of 2236.74 sq. km in the Uttarakhand Himalayas near India’s border with China (Tibet). Bounded by tributaries of the Alaknanda river in the west (Dhauli Ganga), north (Girthi Ganga), and east (Gori Ganga), the area is also a vast glacial basin. Glaciers in the north, south, and east in turn feed another tributary, the Rishi Ganga, which runs through the centre of the reserve on its way westward to the Dhauli. As such, altitudes range from 1,900m at the deepest point of the spectacular, but forbidding gorge carved out by the Rishi, to 7,817m at the summit of Nanda Devi, the focal point of the reserve and India’s second highest peak. Enigmatically, Nanda Devi stands guarded by some of the highest mountains in the Indian Himalayas, 12 of which exceed 6,400m (21,000ft) in height, further elevating its sacred status as the daughter of the Himalayas in local myth and folklore. The core zone, constituting slightly over 620 sq. km of the Rishi valley, is practically inaccessible to non-mountaineers and non-locals. Resting almost entirely above 3,500m, the core has long been regarded as an inner sanctuary in the spiritual sense, extending to the upper reaches of the Rishi valley and the foot of Nanda Devi. Although snowbound for half the year, its uniquely moist microclimate has presented a veritable oasis for Himalayan flora and fauna. The high altitude alpine meadows and thick pine and deodar (Himalayan cedar) forests characteristic of inner Himalayan valleys have also provided homes to numerous species of large mammals (i.e., musk deer, snow leopards, Himalayan tahrs, and black bears) and song birds (i.e., warblers, finches, and grosbeaks). Hundreds of species of trees, shrubs, and herbs also grow in the core zone, making the whole reserve a hotspot for biodiversity. Along the Dhauli Ganga lies the famed Niti Valley that draws its name from the last village before the Indo-Tibetan frontier. Besides Lata and Reni villages that remain among the best known settlements in this region due to their involvement in the Chipko movement, other villages include Jamgavar, Juma, Garpag, Kaga, Peng, Phagti, Surai, Tolma, and Malari. However, these villages are further divided into summer and winter encampments situated at different elevations to cope with the climatic conditions throughout the year. During its heyday, Nanda Devi stood as the highest peak in the British Empire and drew the interest of mountaineers from the entire western world. As part of their search for trade routes to Tibet, the British began as early as 1830 to explore the upper reaches of the High Himalayas. In 1934, Eric Shipton and H.W. Tilman with three Sherpa companions, Angtharkay, Pasang, and Kusang, finally solved the riddle of the upper Rishi Ganga to reach the Nanda Devi basin. Shipton explained the experience of reaching such a wonderous new land:


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"Each step I experienced that subtle thrill which anyone of imagination must feel when treading in hitherto unexplored country… My most blissful dream was to be in some such valley, free to wander where I liked, and discover for myself some hitherto unrevealed glory of Nature. Now the reality was no less wonderful than that half-forgotten dream; and of how many childish fancies can that be said, in this age of disillusionment?" Shipton and Tilman's explorations set the stage for all subsequent mountaineering expeditions. Only two short years later, the summit was attained for the first time by Tilman and British geologist N.E. Odell from the South Ridge.

The Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve


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The People of Nanda Devi


he buffer zone that immediately surrounds the core zone of the NDBR, is home to at least 19 settlements. While five of the communities reside in permanent year-round settlements, 14 have traditionally moved residences in the summer and winter months with one even shifting location three times a year. Lata and Reni situated near the West entrance of the reserve and the confluence of the Rishi and Dhauli Ganga, are the most prominent villages in the buffer zone. Other large settlements include Malari, Jelum, Jumma, Dronagiri, Gamshali, and Tolma. Furthest north along the Dhauli lies the village of Niti at the Indo-Tibetan frontier, from which the entire valley has traditionally drawn its name. Ethnically, 17 of the communities are of Bhotiya extraction, an Indo-Tibetan people that have made their homes in the High Himalayas for centuries. The word “Bhotiya” itself comes from “Bo” which is the native Tibetan word for Tibet. The Bhotiyas of Uttarakhand are further subdivided into three main categories: The Jadhs of Uttarkashi, the Marchas (mainly traders) and Tolchas (farmers) of Chamoli, and the Shaukas of Pithoragarh (near Dharchula). While, the Jadhs are followers of Buddhism and the Shaukas hold to their own Hindu-Buddhist syncretic faith, the central Marcha/Tolcha group of the Niti Valley are Hindu, observing the caste system and sharing Rajput septs (family names) with their Garhwali neighbours. In addition, the festivals of Basant Panchami, Baisakhi (Bikhoti), Nag Panchami (Fela Panchnag), Nanda Astami, Dussehra (Durga Astami) are celebrated through the Niti Valley. Apart from these cultural differences, the three Bhotiya groups resemble one another in their distinct physical appearance. In the villages, homespun wool and woolen items have long been produced and knit by women to supplement family income. In addition, staple crops such as wheat, barley, millet, and local pulses and grains, and some cash crops such as kidney beans and potatoes have been grown in the terraced hills overlooking the many river valleys. Unfortunately, due to the core zone’s closure, access to many medicinal plants traditionally used by local healers has been reserved, with a consequent loss of traditional indigenous knowledge. Having long straddled the border between India, Nepal, and Tibet, the migratory lifestyles of Marchas in particular involved plying the trade routes through the Himalayas as well as the practice of transhumance. Transhumance describes the seasonal migration of shepherds with their herds from high altitude alpine pastures (locally known as bugyals) in summer to grazing lands in the Terai in winter. As a livelihood strategy also followed by the Van Gujjars and tribal groups in other parts of the Himalayas, this form of migratory pastoralism has deeply impacted the local culture of most communities in the Niti Valley. Furthermore, the cyclic movement of herds across the Himalayas prevented over-grazing, thus sustaining the age-old tradition as part of a dynamic landscape.

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With the closure of Nanda Devi, in addition to increasing conflicts with established settlements to the south, the Bhotiya’s traditional transhumance has been threatened with extinction. Flock sizes have dwindled while many herders have left the business owing to increasing costs and difficulties. This social and economic catastrophe has contributed to a further loss of cultural heritage through the erosion of animal husbandry skills and intimate knowledge of the land.

Women spinning wool

Shepherd with his flocks


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History of the Nanda Devi Struggle
The Closing of the Frontier, 1962


lthough the Niti Valley was accustom to outside influences that accompanied the trans-Himalayan migratory economy and mountaineering expeditions, major change came with the closing of the border after the India-China War of 1962. With the disruption and complete shutdown of ancient trade routes, the economic condition of the Bhotiya communities began to decline precipitously. Compounding the abrupt halt to cross-border traffic, the Bhotiya lost their prime camping grounds in the Niti Valley and throughout Uttarakhand. Although an increase in road construction and military activity near the frontier did provide some avenues for paid work, the day labour afforded to young village men could not make up for the loss of such a significant part of the local livelihood base. Saving the Forests, 1974 Moreover, pressures on forest lands by commercial contractors in the 60s and early 70s had further eroded the precarious subsistence existence. With fodder and fuel for in short supply and destructive floods and soil erosion causing more landslides, further commercial exploitation of local forests galvanized villagers to stage a series of historic protests that sparked the famous Chipko movement. In March 1974, women from Reni and other nearby villages led by the elderly Gaura Devi chased away axe men that had come to clear cut local forests. News of this successful stand spread to other communities throughout Uttarakhand, putting Chipko firmly on the map as one of the first modern day environmentallyinspired uprisings of the poor. The Reni forest action has also been detailed by many scholars. Here is a short account drawn from C. Küchli's The Forests of Hope - Stories of Regeneration and P. Routledge's Terrains of Resistance: Nonviolent Social Movements and Contestation of Place in India:
“It was in 1974 that women began to play an active role in the Chipko Movement. In that year, at a site above the village of Reni overlooking the Alaknanda River near the Tibetan border, the Forest Department granted a concession to fell 2,500 trees. But on the day that a crew arrived to begin cutting trees, the main Chipko organizers found themselves busy in Gopeshwar with a visit from highlevel forestry officials, while the men from Reni were occupied in the district capital of Chamoli, where it seemed that the army had finally got round to paying compensation for land which it had held since the conflict with China. Were the authorities trying to manipulate events? If so, they had failed to reckon with the women of Reni. On their way to the approach road leading to the forest, the crew was seen by a small girl, who rushed to tell Gaura Devi, the head of the 9

The Nanda Devi Campaign village Mahila Mangal Dal. Gaura Devi quickly mobilized 27 women and girls in the village, and together they went to the forest and confronted the lumbermen. Standing in front of the trees that had been marked for felling, Gaura Devi addressed the men: "Brothers! This forest is the source of our livelihood. If you destroy it, the mountain will come tumbling down onto our village." She then placed herself in front of a gun brandished by one of the men. "This forest nurtures us like a mother; you will only be able to use your axes on it if you shoot me first." Initially met with abuse and threats, the women refused to move out of the way of the lumbermen. Composed of mountain farmers from Himachal Pradesh who understood only too well what Gaura Devi was talking about, the lumbermen quickly lost heart. After a three-day stand off, they finally withdrew without having accomplished their task. The Reni action was important for the Chipko movement in two ways. First, it was the first occasion where women participated in a major way and in the absence of men and DGSM workers. As Gaura Devi recounted: "It was not a question of planned organization of the women for the movement, rather it happened spontaneously. Our men were out of the village so we had to come forward and protect the trees. We have no quarrel with anybody, but only wanted to make the people understand that our existence is tied with the forests". Second, from this action, Chipko was to emerge as a peasant movement in defense of traditional forest rights, continuing a century-long tradition of resistance to state encroachment.”

Era of Mountaineering, 1974-1982 While the Bhotiya villagers were challenging and adapting to these massive changes in their socioeconomic condition, moves were afoot to open up the Nanda Devi game sanctuary (i.e., the core zone of the NDBR) to expanded mountaineering and trekking. Established by the British in 1939 shortly after the first successful ascent of the Nanda Devi summit, the sanctuary continued to attract international expeditions. However, activity remained light and access rarely granted due to Nanda Devi’s proximity to the sensitive border area and cold war intrigue that led to an ill-fated attempt in the 1960s to install a nuclearpowered listening device on the summit. By 1974, the sanctuary had become a major tourist attraction, with Nanda Devi’s popularity among mountaineers second only to Everest. Nanda Devi’s West Face in particular gained a reputation as one of the most challenging climbs in the world. For the local Bhotiya communities, this influx of tourists had a salutary affect on their shattered economy with many youth serving as porters and guides and herds entering the inner sanctuary for the first time. Nanda Devi’s popularity and mystique increased in spite of a rash of fatalities suffered by expeditions scaling its heights, including the tragic loss of legendary American mountaineer Willie Unsoeld’s 22-year-old daughter who bore the mountain’s hallowed name. By 1977, severe ecological damage was already being noticed by scientists. Poachers made forays into the sanctuary and herbs were being extracted in a destructive and unsustainable manner. Dumped successively by mountaineering

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expeditions, rubbish was accumulating at alarming levels, while scientists became increasingly concerned by the high level of traffic passing through newly opened trekking routes. In 1982, the final year the sanctuary was open, an estimated 4,000 travelers and their porters were treading annually in Nanda Devi. Closure of Nanda Devi, 1982 Towards the end of 1982, the sanctuary was converted into a national park, effectively putting an end to the tourist trade and any new mountaineering expeditions. Citing environmental concerns, the central government issued the blanket ban in order to save the national monument from further destruction and to allow time for the ecosystem to heal. However, the new statutes went even further, restricting locals from grazing their herds, harvesting medicinal plants, and collecting fallen wood from the forest floor. Needless to say, the closure of the sanctuary came as a crippling blow to the Bhotiya villagers who had only begun orienting their livelihoods towards the tourist trade. In villages closest to the main gateway into the sanctuary, over 80% of families suffered severe economic hardship due to the ban on tourism. Populations in other Bhotiya settlements continued their gradual decline that began in 1962 with the collapse of their traditional trading systems. People vs. Park Conflict, 1982-1998 In 1988, the Nanda Devi national park was converted into a full-fledged biosphere reserve. The NDBR was to be one of 14 established throughout India to represent the country’s vast biological and geographic diversity. Originally formalized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1970, the biosphere reserve concept represented a way to conserve areas of high ecological interest. Integral to reserves was the Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme that sought to harmonize the development aims of local communities with the protection of the reserve. The Indian National MAB Committee was constituted in 1979 to carry this mandate forward, establishing the NDBR as their second official biosphere reserve. The creation of the NDBR extended the boundaries of the park, retaining the original sanctuary as its core zone and creating a new buffer zone that now encompassed the village lands themselves. Although under MAB guidelines, buffer zones were supposed to remain open to subsistence use by resident communities, in practice, further restrictions on livestock grazing in certain additional regions emerged to compound the loss of the core zone. With diminished pastures, overgrazing developed into a serious problem, leading many shepherds to reduce their flocks, and consequently wool production in the villages. Likewise, the reduced availability of fuel, fodder, and other non-timber forest products rendered the traditional subsistence-based agriculture in an even more precarious state.

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Most upsetting was that the reserve was imposed unilaterally, without community consultation or any regard to the consequences for local livelihoods. Local participation in managing the reserve remained virtually non-existent, despite being common practice in similar protected areas around the world. Alternative income generation and development programmes were either too slow to address the crisis or were incompatible with the culture of the communities. Moreover, villagers took pride in their way of life, and wanted to maintain their independence as opposed to entering into a dependency relationship with governmental agencies. That poaching of large mammals continued unabated in both the buffer and core zones, leaving many to question the viability of such a restrictive conservation regime when its primary function had been so effectively undermined. The government also resumed logging under state monopoly after the lull of the Chipko era, exerting further pressure on surrounding forests. As such, despite the best intentions of NDBR management, its top-down style of functioning, belatedness in response, inappropriateness of proposed remedies, and the inability of authorities to enforce their own regulations, all combined to turn people decisively against the reserve. Jhapto-Cheeno Movement, 1998 By 1998, after years of pleading and protesting their case, inhabitants of the Niti Valley again prepared for direct action. Under the inspired leadership of the Lata Village Chief, Dhan Singh Rana, people from ten buffer zone villages entered the core zone en masse, presenting a series of demands to the government for restoration of their traditional rights and roles as guardians of the Nanda Devi sanctuary. Compensation for their losses and a full accounting of funds spent on their behalf were also requested. Many of the same women who had earlier participated in the Chipko movement were again at the forefront of this new agitation, and although Gaura Devi had died a few years earlier, both her parental and adopted village of Lata and Reni were well represented. The villagers vowed to continue this Jhapto Cheeno (swoop and grab) movement and present their case in various platforms until the government recognized their claims. Statehood & the IMF Affair: Crisis and Opportunity, 2001 The people of the Niti Valley looked forward to statehood for the Uttarakhand Himalayas that was carved out of the Uttar Pradesh hills and given the name “Uttaranchal” in November 2000. As a struggle for cultural identity, appropriate development, and local control of resources, the separate state movement that had raged throughout the 90s found echoes in the Nanda Devi situation. In fact, the first tourism minister of the small mountain state was a Bhotiya from the region himself, and it seemed for a while that things were about to change for the better. In May 2001, the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), gained the Uttaranchal state

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government’s permission to enter the core zone and determine the feasibility of reopening the park to tourism. At first pleased by the stated intent of the IMF, Lata’s residents grew apprehensive. Fearful that the government would betray them again and allow national and multinational level tour operators and travel agencies to monopolize tourism in Nanda Devi, the local communities launched into a flurry of activity aimed at safeguarding their rights. Into their third year of the Jhapto Cheeno movement, village leaders felt that the IMF affair would prove pivotal in their own struggle to regain their common property resources and prevent further erosion of their rights and livelihoods. With the government leaning seriously towards reopening the reserve but possibly falling under the influence of large business interests, the movement sought to deploy the network of social activists and environmental justice organizations it had built up in the preceding years to push their own agenda for establishing community-based ecotourism. Solidarity at Home and Abroad, 2001 Fortunately, the Bhotiya communities received critical assistance from outside groups, both in Uttarakhand and abroad. Jaanadhar, a forest rights organization working throughout Uttarakhand, assisted in launching the Vanaadhikar (“our forests”) initiative to unite similar communities affected by protected areas and draconian forest policies. As early as January 2001, the group held consultations with the well known Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) that had been working on the similar case of Van Gujjars in Rajaji National Park. Other communities facing displacement from large-scale development projects such as the many dams planned throughout Uttarakhand were also seen as natural allies. Recognizing the power of such coalition building, Jaanadhar helped convene the Alliance for Development, a coalition of grassroots organisations that aimed to introduce a strong pro-people and pro-environment voice to the development debates taking place in the new Uttaranchal state. The Alliance felt that making these links was crucial to proposing culturally appropriate and ecologically sound alternatives to prevailing development practices. Moreover, the wedge driven between people and their local environment in such places as Nanda Devi was seen as both a social and environmental catastrophe, requiring a sharp revision of existing conservation policies and a democratization of natural resource management regimes. Furthermore, the Alliance, which included many leading figures in the Uttarakhand activist community, provided a platform to network activists around the country, pool office and staff resources, and present a stronger united front. With such intervention, the MEF, state government, and local park authorities all realized the problematic nature of the IMF proposal. In the fall, two IMFsponsored international expeditions were denied access to the core zone as the Forest Department pledged to prevent any further unauthorized entry. By October, the Nanda Devi communities would issue their own declaration and

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hold a workshop elaborating their community-based proposals for opening up the NDBR to ecotourism. The Nanda Devi Declaration, 2001 On October 14, 2001, the Niti Valley issued a biodiversity conservation and ecotourism declaration. Drawing inspiration from both local history and international conventions, elected representatives, social activists, and citizens came together to proclaim their intention to develop a tourism industry free of human and natural exploitation. Two weeks later, Lata Village Council and Alliance for Development convened their long awaited community-based conservation and ecotourism workshop to provide substance to the historic declaration. Many organizations were represented at the workshop including the Environment and Human Rights Law Network, Indian People’s Tribunal, Kalpavriksha, Friends of Uttarakhand, and Equations, a Bangalore-based equity and ecotourism group. In three days of sessions, attempts were made to redress historic grievances by convening an Impact Assessment Team, plans for a Nanda Devi Ecotourism Development Authority were presented, a partnership concluded with Equations to further develop the ecotourism plan, and a coordinating body constituted to ensure follow-up from the workshop. Dhan Singh Rana led the assembled guests on a field trip into the park, as he had done before during the Jhapto Cheeno protests. Moreover, the local communities saw the workshop as a chance to share their culture through traditional dance and celebrate their victories with the release of Sangarshnama, a book chronicling their struggles from Chipko and Jhapto Cheeno to the IMF affair. The Situation Today In the spring of 2003, the new director of the NDBR opened up the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR) to limited tourism for the first time in 20 years. The government’s official 2003 plan envisioned balancing biological conservation, economic development, and sustainable eco-tourism practices. The new plan allowed for 500 visitors to visit the reserve per annum, while maintaining exclusive management rights for the local villagers. A new 4-km trekking route was to be extended into the core and the effects on the delicate alpine ecosystem were to be closely monitored and future plans established accordingly. With the opening of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, the people of Nanda Devi now face the daunting prospect of managing a community-based tourist trade with few of the resources, experience, and expertise enjoyed by the big tourist agencies. Indeed, the big tour operators enjoy many advantages, including their established networks, infrastructure, and funds. In their place, the local villagers will need to tap markets and create packages themselves, build and especially sustain momentum and interest in the region, and maintain

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linkages between funders and ecotourism efforts. Vigilance over the government’s guarantees and enforcement of their policies will be key in ensuring that employment is generated for the local community. One of the key long-term projects envisioned by the community ecotourism plan has been the construction of the Gaura Devi Museum of Biocultural Diversity. The pride in Gaura Devi who saved village forests by leading women thirty years ago in one of the most celebrated Chipko actions is evident in the central role ascribed to the museum in the plan. To build momentum towards these plans, Gram Sabha Lata held its first ever Women’s Festival in 2004 to recognize the achievements of the region’s women. In what hoped to be an annual event, the festival paid particular homage to those women still practicing traditional medicine in addition to holding several competitions to promote local indigenous knowledge and skills. The festival kicked off two months of festivities leading up to the 30th anniversary of Chipko later in the spring that also saw the original all-women squad from Reni honoured for their ongoing efforts towards community development and forest conservation. Throughout these efforts, the cultural survival of the Bhotiya people has figured prominently. Twenty years have weighed heavily on the local communities and they now face a race against time to preserve their ancient way of life. Traditional grazing practices remain at risk as the flocks shrink and the shepherds adopt a more sedentary life. No longer interested in traditional subsistence, many youths have also been enticed away by better economic prospects in the lowlands. As such, opening the reserve was vital in restoring traditional practices and ending the alienation between the people and their land that was tearing at the social fabric of the Bhotiya communities. Moreover, the Bhotiya believe that preserving the local people’s folk songs, dances, cuisine, crafts, and stories includes sharing this heritage with the world. In their minds, opening the NDBR will allow everyone to pay homage to Nanda Devi, daughter of the Himalayas, and Uttarakhand’s most revered goddess. Their hope remains that in turn, she will once again grant her blessings.


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Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve Timeline

1883 1934 1936 1939 1962

ince time immemorial, Nanda Devi has presided over the Uttarakhand Himalayas as its patron goddess and highest peak. The Nanda Devi Raj Jat pilgrimage has been conducted in her honour every 12 years, while the Nanda Devi peak itself remained off limits to travelers and climbers. The local Bhotiya inhabitants grazed their goats and sheep throughout the region, while carrying on centuries-old trade relations with Tibet. First attempts to enter the Rishi Ganga valley at the base of the Nanda Devi peaks is turned back by the precipitous gorge at the basin’s entrance. British Montaineers Eric Shipton and H.W. Tilman discover a passage into the "inner sanctuary" of the Rishi basin. Tilman returns with colleague N.E. Odell to scale Nanda Devi for the first time. The entire Rishi basin is declared a game sanctuary. India-China War closes the border indefinitely, affecting trade and migration routes of the Bhotiya peoples. With increased road access and lands near the border appropriated by the military, locals turn to trekking and tourism for their livelihood. Secret Indo-American mountaineering expeditions launched to plant a nuclear-powered listening device on Nanda Devi summit. First device lost. Protests against commercial clear felling in nearby Reni village launches the local Chipko actions. Fifty-year old Gaura Devi emerges as a feminist heroine for leading village women to defend their forest. Subsequently, women participate in overwhelming numbers across Uttarakhand. In the same year, Nanda Devi is opened to Western mountaineering, Nanda Devi becomes second most popular destination in the Himalayas next to Everest. Lata village at the western entrance becomes a major departure point for expeditions. 1976 Indo-American expedition led by Willi Unsoeld meets with tragedy as 22-year-old daughter, Nanda Devi, succumbs to gastrointestinal illness.




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1977 1982

First reports of ecological damage due to tourist trade prompt concern in environmental circles. Upon recommendations of scientists and wildlife experts, Nanda Devi Sanctuary is upgraded to the level of a National Park. All treks, expeditions, and grazing are banned in the core. Nanda Devi National Park forms the core zone of the newly designated Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Gaura Devi dies penniless after a lifetime of service to her community. Despite misfortune towards the end of her life, she becomes enshrined in the modern mythology of Uttarakhand. NDBR is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. An army-led team removes 1,000 tonnes of rubbish from the reserve left behind by previous mountaineering expeditions. Growing resentment over forest restrictions leads to a massive entry into core area in protest against the government’s indifference. This Jhapto Cheeno (swoop and grab) movement emerges from same villages that gave birth to the Chipko movement NDBR is included in the new state of Uttaranchal that places hope in ecotourism’s potential as its principle economic engine. May. State government allows the Indian Mountaineering Foundation to survey NDBR's potential for high-end tourism. Local villages force the government to backtrack on its original plan and consider community rights first. October. The Lata Village Council in concert with its citizens and allied grassroots organizations convene a workshop and issue a declaration for community-based ecotourism and biocultural diversity conservation.

1988 1991

1992 1993 1998

2000 2001


New NDBR director, in consultation with community groups and activists, sets a new policy allowing regulated tourism with guaranteed community participation. NDBR communities continue efforts to highlight their cause with the first ever Nanda Devi Women’s Festival and Chipko commemorations.



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The Nanda Devi Biodiversity Conservation & Eco Tourism Declaration
October 14, 2001 Gram Sabha Lata, Chamoli, Uttaranchal

1. 2. 3.

oday on the 14th of October, 2001 in the courtyard of the temple of our revered Nanda Devi, we the people’s representatives, social workers and citizens of the Niti valley, after profound deliberations on biodiversity conservation and tourism, while confirming our commitment to community based management processes dedicate ourselves to the following – That we, in accordance with the resolutions adopted by the World Tourism Organisation’s Manila Declaration 1997 on the Social Impact of Tourism will lay the foundation for community based tourism development in our region That in our region we will develop a tourism industry free from monopolies and will ensure equity in the tourism business With the cessation of all forms of exploitation like the exploitation of porters and child labour in the tourism industry, we will ensure a positive impact of tourism on the biodiversity of our region and the enhancement of the quality of life of the local community That in any tourism related enterprise we will give preference to our unemployed youth and under privileged families, we will also ensure equal opportunities for disabled persons with special provisions to avail such opportunities That we will ensure the involvement and consent of the women of our region at all levels of decision making while developing and implementing conservation and tourism plans While developing appropriate institutions for the management of community based conservation and eco tourism in our area we will ensure that tourism will have no negative impact on the bio diversity and culture of our region, and that any anti social or anti national activities will have no scope to operate in our region We will regulate and ensure quality services and safety for tourists and by developing our own marketing network will eliminate the middlemen and endeavour to reduce the travel costs of the tourist While developing the tourism infrastructure in our region we will take care of the special needs of senior citizens and disabled persons






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As proud citizens of the land of the Chipko movement, we in the name of Gaura Devi will establish a centre for socio-culture and biodiversity, for the conservation and propagation of our unique culture We will ensure the exchange and sharing of experiences with communities of other regions to develop eco tourism in accordance with the Manila Declaration of 1997 in those regions Acknowledging the spirit of Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit, Rio 1992, the Manila Declaration on the Social Impact of Tourism 1997 and the International Year of the Mountains and Eco tourism, 2002, we will strive for bio diversity conservation and an equitable economic development within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India Today on October 14, 2001, in front of our revered Nanda Devi, and drawing inspiration from Chipko’s radiant history we dedicate ourselves to the transformation of our region into a global centre for peace, prosperity and biodiversity conservation.





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Unsung heroes honoured at First Nanda Devi Women's Festival
By Raju Gusain Garhwal Post, February 1-7, 2004


ehradun: On the eve of the Republic Day, Gram Sabha Lata in Chamoli District hosted the first Nanda Devi Women's Festival. The striking feature of the festival was the recognition granted to achievements of the region's women.

It was a memorable sight to watch Bhotia women in their traditional dress attending the fair with unprecedented enthusiasm. With the women's festival, celebrations have begun in the Niti Valley to commemorate thirty years of the famous Gaura Devi incident of the Chipko movement. It will be recalled that on 26 March 1974, Gaura Devi from Reni village forced contractors to leave the forest. The festival aims to build a momentum towards these commemorations, while continuing the struggle through implementation of the Nanda Devi Declaration. At the one-day feast, many unsung heroes and heroines were felicitated. Besides this, several competitions were organised to promote indigenous knowledge and skills. Among those honoured were Sureshi Devi and Gwanchi Devi, who are traditional medicine practitioners. Sureshi Devi, a 62 year old scheduled caste woman from Lata, holds the unique distinction of having the largest client base in the Niti Valley. She does not charge any fee and uses locally available herbs to treat a number of aliments. Similar is the tale of 82-year-old Gwanchi Devi. She is considered to be only competent person to treat 'Ghamjwar', a fever due to excessive exposure to the Sun during early summer. The Govind Singh Memorial Cricket Tournament is presently underway. Govind Singh was the regional organiser for the Chipko Movement. Eleven teams are taking part and the winners will be awarded on coming 26 March. Also honoured were many porters, including Natha Singh, who has been mentioned in many books on Nanda Devi, including 'The Nanda Devi Affair' by Bill Atkin.


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It was a proud moment for Himmatu Lal, who knows the incantations of the local 'Makhauta Nritya' (mask dance), and Gabbar Singh (a Jagari), as they also received awards. Eleven villages made it to the first Nanda Devi Women's Festival. The gathering also provided the villagers an opportunity to exchange their views on the move of the state government to reopen the Nanda Devi Biosphere for limited tourism after a gap of 20 years. On this, Dr Sunil Kainthola of Janaadhar (a NGO), says, "The locals are confused as it is not a participatory type of thing. This is so because the villagers were ousted by the creation of the park in 1982 and denied their common property rights for twenty years. The Bhotia of the Niti Valley had in recent years launched their own agitation to regain access to the core zone." The people of the Niti valley formulated the Nanda Devi Declaration on 14 October 2001 at Lata. This declaration advocates community based tourism development that's free from monopolies and which ensures equity of locals in the tourism business. To stop exploitation of porters and giving preference to local unemployed youth and under privileged families are other features of the Nanda Devi Declaration. It is ironic that the government wishes to teach forest conservation to people of the valley, who have themselves set the best example, through the Gaura Devi episode to galvanise the Chipko Movement, gaining worldwide fame. The shape of tourism in the Nanda Devi is a hot issue and it is likely to catch more flames with each passing day.


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Chipko Remembered Amidst Nostalgia and Conflict
By Biju Negi March 31, 2004 Jagigyan hum, beejigyan hum; Ab ni chalali choron ki Ghor apuna, baun apuna; Ab ni chalali auron ki (We have risen, we are awake; No longer will thieves rule our destiny It is our home, our forests; No longer will others decide for us) Maatu hamru, paani hamru, hamra hi chhan yi baun bhi Pitron na lagai baun, hamunahi ta bachon bhi (Soil ours, water ours, ours are these forests too Our forefathers raised these, it is we who must protect these too) Maatu bikigi, paani bikigi, bikigya hamara baun bhi Haath khaali, pet khaali, thikanu ni kakhi raun ki (Soil has been sold, water sold, our forests too have been sold off Hands bare, stomachs empty, we have no shelter to stay) — Dhan Singh Rana “Adivasi”, village Lata (Chamoli Garhwal)


was almost by accident late last year, in distant Canada, that Rajiv Rawat who manages the people’s website on Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve region, realized that the most dramatic and defining event in the regionwide Chipko Andolan of the early seventies, which had captured the nation’s and the world’s imagination was completing 30 years on 26 March 2004. But the idea set a large ball rolling. Thirty years is not a short time, even if it is not a long one either. In Lata and Reni, the two villages in the Niti valley of Chamoli Garhwal, which had been both the vanguard and the rearguard of the movement then, an entire generation was in the process of moving over. Bold young women and men of that time were now bent with age. Little girls who were then, were now married and gone to other villages, while the energetic little boys of nineteen-seventies were today languid and middle aged. Much had, indeed, changed – for the good or worse. If one thing had not changed, it was the memory of that fateful night in March 1974 when Gaura Devi, the head of the Mahila Mangal Dal at Reni then, led 26 other women into the forest in the dead of the night to confront the forest contractor’s labourers and dared them to use their axes. In the face of their quiet determination, the axemen relented and left the forest. The children of Lata and Reni have since been fed on folklore emanating from this derring-do which then turned out to be a signal victory for the entire movement. For instance, young men (and women) like Raju Guide (as he is called) of Lata, then only a toddler, remembers listening to any number of stories of the Chipko from his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other elders.

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Stories which cheered and inspired, but had, of late, started to leave a twinge of melancholy and a whiff of despair in the air. The social, environmental and political reverberations of Chipko were loud and far reaching. In India, the government redefined its policy and laws on forests, reworded the agenda of its forest department. The Movement – local, yet universal at the same time; taking place throughout the region, but remaining intensely local in each area - was hailed for providing new direction and fresh impetus to people’s movements and concerns. The women’s role and importance in the conservation of their environment was underlined and recognized worldwide, initiating gender concerns in conservation and development. The Movement and Gaura Devi were lionized in films, books and retells, and groups and individuals were felicitated and awarded. And just about everything seemed hunky-dory. But the aftermath of the Movement also spawned a generation of false babies and opportunists pretending to be nursemaids who then ran off with the babies. A whole range of careers have been founded on the Chipko movement, outside the region (and some within as well), while women and men who had struggled shoulder to shoulder slowly went into oblivion. If their voices were not heard it was because initially they were probably just happy and satisfied to have done their deed, and later they were left with no space to let their voices be heard. If Gaura Devi continued to be spoken about and eulogized by the new fraternity, it was because it could not do without this powerful symbol, even as it was convenient for these spokespersons to negate the cohesion of a unified, sustained struggle and reduce the entire movement to one dramatic action. Through the latter part of her life, Gaura Devi herself remained dignified and did not tire of receiving visitors and other attention, but her single wish that her only son Chandra Singh be given a government job remains unfulfilled to this day. As for Chandra Singh himself, though he basked in his mother’s glory, he also often worried about the increased expenditure on tea and food that more visitors meant! For the local community, Chipko’s victory became self-devouring, and the garland of gratitude around the people’s necks turned into a noose. The creation of Nanda Devi National Park in 1982 (and subsequently, the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve), out of the erstwhile forests of the community was apparently a conservation initiative, but had far-reaching, devastating effect on the community. With trekking and mountaineering banned, and the forests now becoming out of bound for the people, it seemed as if the people’s lives had come a full circle. Majority of the families in the region were hitherto engaged in providing guide and porter services to trekking and mountaineering expeditions – the annual earnings from this is loosely estimated to be around Rs 8000 per family. The ban caused this major loss. Oddly, having destroyed the local tourism infrastructure, the government has now opened limited tourism in the Reserve to be run exclusively by the government, with hollow talk of people’s participation. On the other hand, as a result of loss in grazing area, sheep rearing declined at a sharp rate, which in turn severely impacted on traditional wool and handlooms enterprise, once practiced by virtually every household in the region. No wonder,

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the people were half amused, when last year the government donated a wool carding machine to the women of Lata! Elsewhere too, wherever Chipko had taken place, life for the people over the last 30 years had turned more grim and people continued to battle for preserving their natural resources. In the Tehri district, a few years ago, the people of Advani region vowed to Chipko once again if their forests were clear-felled for hightension electricity line from the proposed Tehri dam site to Meerut, near Delhi. And, lately, the district court at New Tehri has ordered 15 days imprisonment for Vijay Jarhdhari and Kunwar Prasoon, two of the celebrated Chipko activists, for protesting against illegal mining at Kataldi village in Henwalghati region of the same district. In the Niti valley itself, in 1998, in a symbolic gesture, people made a forcible entry into the core zone of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve to highlight the denial of their traditional rights. So when Rajiv Rawat’s observation of Chipko completing a milestone was passed on to Dhan Singh Rana, the ex-pradhan of Lata and a major voice of discontent in the Niti valley, the latter thought it should be celebrated. In the past three decades, Chipko had been much written and talked about the world over, but not once was its anniversary celebrated anywhere. Dhan Singh felt if this anniversary is to be celebrated it is first the Niti valley’s right and duty to do so. He discussed the idea among his own people and those in Reni, and subsequently with people in other nearby villages, who all welcomed the idea instantaneously and wholeheartedly. The people felt it would be a good occasion to pay respect to their elders and rightful heroes who had set a path-breaking example in environmental conservation. At the same time, the occasion would also be a good time to re-analyse and redefine the Chipko movement in the present context, to reflect on its gains and losses for themselves, and to underline some historic wrongs and perhaps seek to correct them. To give the occasion and message a wider base and reach, it was decided at the gram sabha (Village Council) to not just celebrate that single day in history, but as homage to the women of the time, to celebrate it as Nanda Devi Women’s Festival, spread over two months beginning on 26 January, the country’s Republic Day. Moreover, it was also decided to enter the core zone once again on 26 March in a symbolic gesture. It was planned that people would gather at Lata a day before for a meeting and, on 26 March, go in a procession to Reni and onwards. When the news of people’s collective decisions spread outside the villages, things began to go a bit awry, and a few people from Reni village started backing out under the pretext of not agreeing to entering the core zone. This was obviously at the behest of the Forest Department, which felt threatened by any such action. Trust the government machinery to appropriate and dilute a serious occasion and, worse, disrupt people’s collective spirit through wily machination, for this is exactly what happened subsequently. It is widely believed, the Department financially supported one of its associate NGOs (Society for Community Involvement in Development - SFCID) and some Joshimath based contractors to instead organize Chipko’s 30th anniversary celebration at Reni. By

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thus creating a fissure, the government rightly believed the people would be restricted to village precincts and would not be able to enter the prohibited forest areas. For the people of Lata, this posed a dilemma. They did not wish to be part of government sponsored celebrations, and yet did not wish to aggravate the situation and add to a sense of division among the people. So, deciding to bend and retreat a bit, the plan of entering the core zone was discarded. With people divided, it wouldn’t have really worked, in any case. Meanwhile, as news of the people’s Chipko celebration spread through the internet – the website and some supporters’ individual mailing lists, messages of goodwill and solidarity started coming in from all over the world, which were translated and pasted up for the people to read at the Lata meeting. Friends, supporters and others from nearby villages and distant areas started congregating in Lata on 25 March. Over the next two days, more than 200 people marked their presence at Lata. Locally, about 16 villages were represented at the gathering. The meeting started with remembering all the pitr and elders, like Gaura Devi and Govind Singh Rawat, the unsung hero of the Chipko movement. On behalf of the gram sabha, Diwan Singh the oldest living person in Lata, a nonagenarian, presented the late Govind Singh’s widow and Dhoom Singh Negi (who had come all the way from Henwalghati, Tehri) with woolen pankhi, as a mark of respect and recognition of their role in the Chipko movement. Setting the tone for the meeting, Dhan Singh Rana stated, “At the time of Chipko, as far as the government was concerned, it had sold off these forests for felling. But for the effort of our elders, there might have been no forests left here today. But today, the government claims itself to be the saviour of these forests, and we are being branded as culprits.” He added, “As long as the forests were ours, we never or rarely heard of forest fires. But now there are forest fires almost every year. Our biree and cigarettes are blamed for these, as if we did not smoke earlier. We demand an impartial enquiry into forest fires ever since the forests came under government control.” Dhoom Singh Negi said that, for him, the visit to this area was like “coming on tirth (pilgrimage)” to the land of Chipko. In fact, his visit itself was historic for it was the first time that a Chipko activist from Tehri was visiting this area, thus seeking to bridge the artificial divide that had been created among the people of the two regions. He related some of the experiences of Chipko in the Tehri region and how the issues of deforestation and mining in the name of development were still like wounds continuing to fester. Veenapani Joshi from Dehra Dun said that she had always wanted to visit this land to see the women who through Chipko had inspired an entire generation of environmentalists. Addressing the women at the meeting, she said “I see the image of Gaura in all of you.”

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Jagat Singh of Lata and brother of Gaura Devi, was a keen guide and porter but is now partially paralysed. When asked about it, he lisped, “What paralysis! We were paralysed long ago when they closed these areas for us.” Raju Guide said, “Many of us are not much educated, but we were fruitfully employed earlier. Now we are all in the ranks of the unemployed.” Sunil Kainthola stressed, “The way the Forest Department is going about tourism, by organizing a mere one-day training for guides, is belittling the concept of community based tourism. Community based tourism is a serious business. It is not only a question of opportunities but also of responsibilities and of empowerment of the people.” At the end of the meeting a charter of demands was prepared, which stated: • • • • • • The community be given the ownership of the forests and forest land, and the people will take the responsibility of ensuring their safety, security and preservation. The government should announce Support Price for the agricultural produce by the people, and also ensure its purchase. Any loss of life and property by wild animals must be compensated for fully. The entire organization of tourism in the region must be handed over to the community which will ensure that no damage is done to the biodiversity of the region. All kind of losses accruing to the community as a result of the creation of the Nanda Devi National Park must be compensated for. A proper evaluation should be conducted of the loss of property and other economic activities as a result of creation of large hydro-electric projects in the region; and the expenditure on these projects be made public. The work and expenditures made by government and non-government organizations in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Region be made public. As has been successfully done in Lata, no project or research be conducted in the region without the permission or knowledge of the community or gram sabha of the respective area.

• •

Decision was also taken that next day, at Reni, the people will not disrupt the government sponsored meeting. Also, they will stay this side of the Rishi Ganga and go to the Reni function only if honourably invited and allowed to address it. Next morning, amidst the sounds of dhol and damau, songs and sloganeering, the procession marched towards Reni. The procession stopped this side of the bridge over Rishi Ganga, whereafter Smt Nandi Rana, the pradhan of Reni gram sabha and other women (who were present at Lata the previous day), came to formally invite the Lata people to the celebrations.


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As was apparent, the celebrations at Reni were organized in the government’s typical style – under shamiana, lots of banners announcing affiliations, a sizeable local and Joshimath crowd, and lots of official presence – SDM and DFO along with their retinue and wherewithalls. So it was very, very formal. The proceedings, unfortunately, were being conducted not by the community but by its Joshimath based representatives, basically contractors who also worked for the forest department. So it was a government programme all the way, what with the MC even warning the prospective speakers to “not be too smart”, in other words, don’t raise the real issues! Eminent veteran journalist Harish Chandola remarked that Chipko celebration was the community’s prerogative and should have remained so, and this should not have been a government celebration. He hinted that those very people against whom the entire Chipko Movement was targeted, were today sitting on the dais. Oddly, the main organizing NGO, SFCID, was not on the scene, which was actually not surprising considering the community is upset over his role in the death of one of their people sometimes earlier. Dhan Singh, the only person from Lata invited to speak, brought up this point while speaking, that the Forest Department is encouraging groups and organizations who are opposed to the local people. Having made their say, and not too willing to listen to routine speeches, the Lata group left the meeting. For the forest Department, Dhan Singh was the protagonist or the major thorn in its side. With he and his people gone, the DFO is also learnt to have left the meeting soon thereafter. The women who had been brought from distant places were left stranded and fuming. But the DFO couldn’t have cared less. For him, the women were not important. Nor even Gaura Devi. His agenda was to create a division in the people and not have them march into the forest. And in this, for the time being, he had succeeded. But, in so doing, fresh ground has been laid for conflict escalating in the future.


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Nanda Devi Recognized by Condé Nast: A Major Boost for Local Community Efforts
By Rajiv Rawat Campaign Press Release, June 30, 2004


he mountain paradise of Nanda Devi has been named runner-up in the destination category for the prestigious 2004 Condé Nast Traveler’s Ecotourism Awards.

In the tenth anniversary of the competition, 91 candidates vied for awards in three categories including destination, tour operator, and lodge/resort. A panel of judges representing ecotourism and general tourism markets evaluated each entry in a rigorous process lauded by ecotourism experts for its transparency and environmental standards. Based on the elements of nature preservation, local contribution, and guest education, the application put forward by the Nanda Devi Campaign achieved a score of 68 out of 100, placing it third amongst all entries. The awards are covered in the July issue of the world’s preeminent travel magazine that recently hit newsstands in North America. This outstanding recognition comes at a time when big tour operators in association with the state and central government are revving up to promote Nanda Devi, a peak in the Indian Himalayas as an up and coming tourist destination. However, it is the shoestring grassroots effort embodied by the Nanda Devi Campaign that is drawing international attention for its commitment to linking local economic empowerment and community-based conservation. In fact, this summer Lata, the gateway community to Nanda Devi, is hosting a variety of visitors including artists, craftspeople, researchers, and students from India and abroad. The artists in particular have been inspired by their week-long workshop organized by the Coleman Company and Alliance for Development in June to produce over 30 paintings to benefit the local villages. In an unique partnership of art for social change, the artwork will be exhibited online at the Nanda Devi Campaign’s web site ( as well as in New Delhi under the auspices of Uttarakhand Kalakar Samiti and Alliance for Development. Organizers including the painter and sculptor, Madan Singh Rawat, are hoping to raise funds from sale of the artwork so that 40 local unemployed youth can undergo training in mountaineering skills at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. Having come to create, share, and learn in the communities that overlook Nanda Devi, many of the guests have also taken up residence in the winter camps of the Indo-Tibetan Bhotiya people whose tradition of moving from summer to winter abodes has been followed for a thousand years. By reusing traditional structures rather than constructing new concrete monstrosities, this unique housing solution fulfills a key aspect of the historic 2001 Nanda Devi Ecotourism and Biodiversity

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Conservation Declaration, which has laid out a progressive vision for sustainable tourism in the region. In addition, residing in the village also benefits the local economy, preserves indigenous architectural heritage, and respects the land’s carrying capacity by adjusting tourism flows to the seasonal cycling of people and animals in high altitude regions. Nanda Devi as one of the tallest and most sacred peaks of the Himalayas is remarkable as much for its sheer physical majesty as its intense human drama. Situated in the state of Uttaranchal, India, Nanda Devi is surrounded by a barrier ring of 12 other peaks over 21,000 feet in altitude. This unique and magnificent formation has been recognized by ancient Hindu mythology (Nanda Devi means the bliss-giving goddess), and modern mountaineers alike, who came to scale its heights in dozens of expeditions following first ascent in 1936. Over the decades, these expeditions would come to embrace a whole range of experiences from cold war nuclear intrigues to heartbreaking tragedies and feats of unmatched mountaineering skill. In 1982, trekking and tourism that saw Nanda Devi become the second most popular Himalayan destination next to Everest, came to abrupt end with the creation of the Nanda Devi National Park and later in 1988, a UN-designated biosphere reserve. The closure put off limits the entire region to both tourists and local inhabitants. This had a devastating impact on the local economy and stirred resentment on the part of the Bhotiya. In a bitter irony, the communities had themselves saved their forests during the famous Chipko movement of the 1970s only the see their rights usurped by park authorities. In the late 1990s, as pressures grew to reopen the park, the local communities launched their own campaign to reclaim their rights over traditional lands. After a series of actions, this movement culminated in the ecotourism and conservation declaration, where in concert with environmental justice activists from throughout India, the Bhotiya stated their intention of pursuing a tourism strategy that would safeguard their human rights, cultural heritage, and environment, while recognizing the needs of disadvantaged members of their community. In the following years, this declaration guided them in the preparation of multiple strategies to implement their ideas including in early 2004, the holding of a women’s festival and celebrations of the thirtieth anniversary of Chipko where women took a leading role. As such, recognition from Condé Nast Traveler will provide a major boost to community-based tourism built around cultural survival, sustainable livelihoods, and minimizing the human footprint in such extraordinary places of the world. Many thanks to Keith Bosak of the University of Georgia for filling out the original application on behalf of Nanda Devi communities.


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Nanda Devi’s “Painting Hopes” exhibition goes online: Aims to raise funds for local youth of the Niti Valley
By Rajiv Rawat Campaign Press Release, July 6, 2004


his summer, art for social change and community empowerment were the themes that propelled a unique collaboration to benefit the local communities in the majestic environs of Nanda Devi and highlight the folk arts of the Uttarakhand Himalayas.

From June 19-24, over twenty artists from the Uttarakhand Kalakar Samiti (Uttarakhand Folk Artists’ Organization) made their way to Lata village in the Niti Valley to attend a week-long camp, drawing inspiration from the region’s scenic beauty and people to paint 32 separate pieces reflecting their inner and outer artistic visions. Organized by the Tri-Star Colman Company and the Alliance for Development that has long assisted the Nanda Devi communities in struggles, the camp’s goal was to generate artwork to raise funds for 40 local unemployed youth from the Niti Valley to attend the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi district, Uttaranchal. This skills training constitutes a major part of the Nanda Devi Campaign’s mission to build community-based ecotourism through local employment and capacity building. This collaboration is not without its precedents. Cultural activists have been engaged in the Campaign for several years. Presently, other items offered on the campaign web site include Garhwali-language poetry books published by the Lok Shahitya Evam Sanskriti Vikas Trust and movie soundtracks for the hit Teri Saun and the teledrama Maletha Ki Kool, provided under the auspices of Angwal Music, a local music producer. While supporting the people of the Niti Valley, these partnerships also help raise the profile of indigenous Uttarakhandi culture that is witnessing a renaissance since the Himalayan region was granted statehood in 2000. In association with the Uttarakhand Kalakar Samiti and Alliance for Development, the camp coordinator, painter and sculptor MS Rawat, will showcase the paintings in Delhi, however, you can also see them online at the campaign’s web site @


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espite its remote location along the Indo-Tibetan frontier, the NDBR can be reached relatively easily from Delhi. Proceed from Delhi to Hardwar by bus or train. Hire a taxi or take a bus from Hardwar to proceed to Joshimath along Highway 58. This partially double lane highway follows the Alaknanda river past Rishikesh and the five holy confluences (panch prayag), reaching Joshimath in approximate eight hours. Lata village, the gateway community to the NDBR, is a 25-km drive due northeast from Joshimath along the river Dhauli Ganga.


Nanda Devi

India’s second highest peak, revered mountaineering destination, biosphere reserve & UN World Heritage Site The bliss-giving goddess, daughter of the Himalayas & aspect of Parvati, patron deity of the Uttarakhand Himalaya Home to the trans-Himalayan Bhotiya, cradle of the Chipko movement, birthplace of Gaura Devi

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