A unique graduation ceremony took place at the Nerhu Institute of Mountaineering on Saturday, where thirty-eight youth hailing mostly from the upper reaches of Chamoli, but also from Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh districts, completed their basic mountaineering course.
Organized by SPECS (Uttarakhand) and sponsored by the Winterline Foundation (USA), composed of alumni of the International Woodstock School in Mussoorie, the boys underwent the 35-day basic training regimen in preparation of the inaugural International Women’s Trek of the Nanda Devi Campaign later in October.
The programme, “Capacity Building for Community Based Ecotourism: Mountaineering Training for Local Youth in the High Himalayas” – was held from August 20 to September 23, 2006 at NIM.
Harshwanti Bisht, a mountaineering legend, and also one of the first women to scale the Nanda Devi summit was the keynote speaker. In an extensive in depth address, Dr. Bisht asked, “What is Ecotourism? It is not merely a matter of garbage collection but a philosophy in its own right.” She also noted the visionary way that the Nanda Devi Campaign had furthered this philosophy in its activities and initiatives, winning international acclaim in the process.
Rajiv Rawat, international representative of the Nanda Devi Campaign and the developer of its electronic outreach efforts, offered profound respects to not only the teachers at NIM and guests from the local communities of the High Himalayas, but also to the graduates. “These fine young men represent the future of the great state of Uttarakhand,” he said. “They will not only lead the next stage of the Nanda Devi Campaign, the Mountain Shepherds Initiative, but also the basis on which community-based ecotourism can truly flourish.”
Master of ceremonies for the event, NIM Vice-Principal Major Vishal Thapa, echoed these sentiments, noting that this ceremony was a unique moment for NIM, and perhaps a harbinger of things to come, as the idea of locally-based tourism for local employment takes root.
As the primary organizers of the training event, Sunil Kainthola of Janadhaar and Brijmohan Sharma of SPECS were on hand to felicitate the new “Mountain Shepherds.” They subseqently accompanied the boys to Mussoorie for a joint trek with students of the International Woodstock School.
It will be recalled that the Mountain Shepherds Initiative has selected these youths through the gram sabhas of far flung villages from among those who were already involved in one way or another in trekking activities. The programme at the NIM has provided value-addition to their skills from an institution that matches any other in the world.
Also present were the proud mothers of the youth hailing from the Mahila Mangal Dals of the Niti Valley, who had been especially invited for the occasion. Chanderprabha Aitwal, who scaled Nanda Devi along with Dr. Bisht, in turn blessed the boys.
In addition to the basic training course offered by NIM, the following special sessions specifically tailored to the needs of the Nanda Devi Campaign were also held: