Recently, an event was held which marked the greatest step to date in the struggle for Bhotiya rights to the slopes of their blessed Nanda Devi.
The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) graduated a crop of students which come mostly from Niti Valley Garhwal, cradle of the Chipko movement. These boys and their mothers were honoured as leaders in realising the vision of the famous 2001 Biodiversity and Eco-Tourism Declaration issued by Gram Sabha Lata. They will form the first group of guides for the community-owned outfitter Mountain Shepherds.
Last May, a study team from Appalachian State University (ASU) departed Boone, North Carolina (NC) for Lata Village, Chamoli District, Uttarakhand. They were students and professors conducting the latest instalment of the summer field courses now a stalwart of the Nanda Devi Campaign’s eco-tourism initiative.
Aside from the desire to further link two mountain cultures, the group carried with their baggage 98 articles of clothing, 15 packs, 10 pairs of boots and shoes, 3 sleeping bags, 5 headlamps and other assorted trekking equipage. The items were donated by NC High Country locals.
Also recognising the need to encourage equitable, community based tourism was NC High Country local and Black Diamond Equipment representative, Jimi Combs. Combs provided an assortment of new packs and other hard goods which serve as the capstone for the project’s gift to the Bhotiya people of the Nanda Devi Campaign. The Campaign’s Mountain Shepherds initiative will be the direct benefactor of the gear as the young porters and guides, though highly trained and steeped in the tradition of their former guide elders, are lacking in the way of equipment. The entire donation was valued at $10,000 US.
Gear for the Garhwal worked closely with Mast General Store, a NC High Country purveyor of mountain goods. Individuals were able to bring their used gear to various store locations and drop the items off for later pick up by Gear for the Garhwal volunteers.
The project was conceived in collaboration with Dr Sunil Kainthola of the Alliance for Development when fledging trekking operations faced adverse conditions in the summer of 2005. Gear for the Garhwal is the latest development in the partnership between Boone, NC activists and the Nanda Devi Campaign. The hope is for the porters, guides, and cooks of the Mountain Shepherds to grow in number as has their cache of equipment. By providing the local Garhwali people donated gear from the United States Gear for the Garhwal has aided in critical infrastructure development. Such infrastructure can be difficult to build even for the largest of tourist corporations but for a community owned and operated organisation like the Mountain Shepherds such investments can often be a huge stumbling block.
The gear drive organisers and their affiliates have expressed their thanks to all who contributed. Local to local, mountain to mountain aid like Gear for the Garhwal is an excellent example of positive, bottom-up change in sustainable mountain development.