M o u n t a i n

S h e p h e r d s

Evolving a New Model of Community-Owned Ecotourism
The Mountain Shepherds Initiative is the commercial spin-off of the Nanda Devi Campaign based on the equitable tourism principles laid down in the 2001 Nanda Devi Declaration. Its long-term mission is to serve as a new model of socially conscious and community owned ecotourism operations in the Uttarakhand region and beyond.

M o u n t a i n

S h e p h e r d s

For more information on Mountain Shepherds or the Nanda Devi Campaign, please contact us @ 43/2 Pkt 2, Vivek Vihar, GMS Road Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, 248001, India email: bhotiya@gmail.com tel: +91.971 931 6777 nandadevi.org | mountainshepherds.com

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

Today, 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.
Nanda Devi Biodiversity Conservation & Ecotourism Declaration, 14 October 2001 | Lata Village, Uttarakhand

The Story So Far...
The Mountain Shepherds story begins in the Niti Valley of the Indian High Himalayas where people have traditionally gained a livelihood as transhumant shepherds, traders, or farmers. However, with the 1962 India-China border conflict and the 1982 closure of the Nanda Devi National Park, an age-old trading relationship with Tibet ended as did all mountaineering and trekking expeditions to Nanda Devi, one of the Himalayas’ highest and most popular peaks. Both had a devastating cultural and economic impact, yet an incredible resilience born of the arduous life in the highest Himalayas allowed the local people to bounce back.

The staff of Mountain Shepherds are partners and shareholders in a community-owned company geared wholly towards sustainable and culturally appropriate tourism. Almost alone in this regard, Mountain Shepherds as a local company hopes to restore a sense of dignity to Himalayan tourism and mountaineering, not only for conscientious travellers, but also to set an example in the entire region.

1998: The Nanda Devi communities lay claim to their traditional land rights.

Thus in the 1970s, communities of the Niti Valley were at the forefront of the famous Chipko movement that saw village women led by Gaura Devi save their forests. From 1998 to the present, they have persisted in their efforts to regain access rights to the Nanda Devi National Park. With the creation of Uttarakhand state and its emphasis on the tourism sector, this later movement gave birth to the Nanda Devi Campaign for cultural survival and sustainable livelihoods. Sparked by the urgent need to ensure local control of the tourist trade, the campaign issued the progressive 2001 Nanda Devi Biodiversity Conservation and Eco Tourism Declaration to guide its future endeavours. Since then, the campaign has pioneered innovative programmes to raise awareness of the Nanda Devi region and the need for equity in the tourism industry. These programmes have embraced everything from artist camps to women’s festivals on Republic Day, technology training, and participation in regional and international academic workshops. Over successive summers, student groups from American and Canadian universities also visited the area as part of their studies in Mountain Geography and International Development. All the programmes sought to raise the global profile of the region and diversify the community’s economic strategies. In 2004, these efforts were recognized when the area was selected as a runner up for Best Ecotourism Destination by Condenast Traveler.

Mountain Shepherds is always innovating new treks and ventures for its clients while training staff in important skills. In 2007, high altitude yoga was offered for the first time. A world away from the congestion of Rishikesh, the beautiful and serene mountain meadows of upper Garhwal were found to offer an unparalleled experience and will now be offered with every itinerary.

With the Nanda Devi Campaign, the Niti Valley has become a hub of international academic activity. A unique combination of a culturally rich context, trekking opportunities, and a strong communitydirected research protocol has attracted university groups and individual scholars alike. Research topics have embraced everything from conservation policies to transhumant ethnography to gender studies.

Introducing Mountain Shepherds
In the fall of 2006, the Nanda Devi Campaign launched its economic activities in earnest. After three years of steady progress, a major grant was obtained from the Winterline Foundation to train local youth in basic mountaineering skills at the Nerhu Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi, India. These youth in turn would eventually become the major stakeholders in Mountain Shepherds, a new community-owned and operated tourism company initiated by the Nanda Devi Campaign. Representing the future of their communities, the NIM training provided a fresh start to many who could not finish school nor return to their traditional livelihood. With advanced training, the youth would be enabled to enter into more specialized and therefore higher paying work, and as such allow them to take greater advantage of the burgeoning tourist trade that has thus far relegated them to a service role in the very land they knew best. Most importantly, it would contribute towards strengthening local communities by increasing the chance of Himalayan youth finding gainful employment closer to home rather than in urban centres. Eventually, the recruiting area would also expand beyond the Niti and Mana Valleys, to include trainees from all over the upper Uttarakhand Himalayas.
2006: Graduation Day at NIM. Advanced training in method of instruction and search & rescue are already underway.

As a community-owned enterprise governed by the 2001 Nanda Devi Declaration, Mountain Shepherds is intimately rooted in the common struggles and concerns of the people of Upper Uttarakhand. Its many spin-off benefits include microcredit lending to community members, ancillary training such as English language courses, and raising the esteem and self-confidence of local people.