Taking Control of a Tourism Industry: Mountain Shepherds Initiative

Nanda Devi, one of the tallest mountains along the Garhwal Himalayas, takes its name from Hindi meaning Bliss-Giving Goddess. Nanda Devi stood for a long time as the tallest peak in the Indian country and in the entire British Empire, hailing people with a passion for climbing from all parts of the Western World and otherwise. The first ascent was made by four American undergraduates of the Harvard Mountaineering Club coupled with four experienced British Mountaineers and was the first of what has totaled to 13 complete ascents to this day.
Anglo-American Summit Team first to ascend Nanda Devi, 1934
One of Britain’s first climbers and explorers Eric Shipton expressed his joy while treading on the mountain terrain in the diary that he kept in 1934 in Nanda Devi: “Each step I experienced that subtle thrill which anyone of imagination must feel when treading in hitherto unexplored country. Each corner held some thrilling secret to be revealed for the trouble of looking. 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?”
This set the stage for subsequent climbs of this summit and inspired the Mountain Shepherds Initiative to focus on a new model of tourism, leading to capacity building and employment of youth from the region.
Snow capped Nanda Devi in daylight
The Mountain Shepherds Initiative represents a grassroots effort to evolve a new model of tourism in the Himalayas. Beginning with the Nanda Devi Campaign for cultural survival and sustainable livelihoods in 2003, Mountain Shepherds has promoted communities and activists to come together to promote community-owned ecotourism.
The all-women activist group led by Gaura Devi carved a place for the Chipko community as one of the world’s greatest global environmental movements in history. The inspiring story of their movement was put in a book, “Emancipated Women-Folk of Uttarakhand”, by the Himalayan Action Research Centre. An abridged version was recounted by C.S. Lakshmi in her Hindu article, Lessons from the Mountains: The Story of Gaura Devi.

The reunited women of the activist campaign, 2001

The main interests of Mountain Shepherd are to preserve both the biosphere reserve and the unique trans-Himalayan culture of the Chipko heritage community. The villagers outlined their tourism approach in the ‘ Nanda Devi Declaration ’ in 2001, representing efforts to actualize Mountain Shepherds with a focus for equity and conservation. Up on a mountain, at the clearest and finest points of our world, we find a movement to savor a clash of culture and ecology.

Mountain Shepherd ensures that local culture and way of life is not lost at the expense of Nanda Devi climbers.

  • It has built capacities of more than 70 youth from remote areas in a variety of skills necessary for responsible tourism in the Himalayas ranging from search and rescue methods, energy medical response, life saving techniques, nature guides, yoga and cooking.
  • To ensure minimization of ills of tourism, a systematic garbage management system has been put in place. The exposure of local communities is increased through direct interaction with visitors and through participation in tourism fairs.
  • Some of the avenues through which the locals earn apart form daily employment include direct sale of carpets and woolen products from remote villages, homestays, mule services for treks, porters/guides for treks, and local transport.
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A painting from Mountain Shepherd organized artist camp, 2004
Mountain Shepherds has transformed from a seasonal trekking company to become one of the most popular lodges for trekking and skiing. The future plans involve improving infrastructure to strategic locations, expanding the network of people and promoting the capacities of youth in other tourism potential areas.
Taking control of a tourism industry with community responsibility, cultural survival, and ecological sustainability at the forefront.
Contact: Dr. Sunil Kainthola, Director
Phone: 9719316777
Email: kainthola@gmail.com Website – http://mountainshepherds.com/

Iliana Foutsitzis is a recent graduate of Northeastern University’s Political Science curriculum. Before embarking on a law degree Iliana is spending a gap year in New Delhi, India interning with the Niiti Consulting team. Contact Iliana at ifoutsitzis@gmail.com.

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