Background

Lata Village

The Mountain Shepherds Initiative represents a grassroots effort to evolve a new model of tourism in the High Himalayas. Beginning with the Nanda Devi Campaign for cultural survival and sustainable livelihoods in 2003, communities with the assistance of seasoned activists have prepared and actively promoted their own community-owned ecotourism plan and outreach campaign to develop interest in both the biosphere reserve and their unique trans-Himalayan culture. Mountain Shepherds is an attempt to bring these plans to fruition by throwing open the doors of Nanda Devi to the world.

]In addition to the goals of Mountain Shepherds, this web site aims 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 represents one of many efforts by the inhabitants to reclaim their land rights and preserve their cultural heritage. As an initiative that spans the globe, community leaders, social activists, western scholars, and well wishers are using internet communication technologies to communicate and coordinate their campaign across vast distances.

The Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve is significant in many ways. The sacred mountain at the core of the park is the highest in the Uttarakhand sector of the 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. However, owing to building ecological pressures, its gates were closed when the whole region was declared a national park and biosphere reserve in 1982.

Women of LataThe 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. The conservation authorities of the day failed to recognize that the Bhotiya had been an inseparable part of the landscape, 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 a much celebrated action that spread far and wide to other parts of the Uttarakhand Himalayas.

Recent moves by the newly created state government of Uttarakhand 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. These efforts culminated with the founding of the Mountain Shepherds initiative in 2006.