Himalayan Journal vol.44
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.44

Publication year:
1988

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS OF THE HIMALAYA: THEN AND NOW
    (JACK GIBSON)
  3. MEMORIES
    (MAVIS HEATH)
  4. ZHANGZI - AUTUMN, 1987
    (JOSS LYNAM)
  5. BRITISH XIXABANGMA Expedition, 1987
    (LT COL M. W. H. DAY)
  6. MENLUNGTSE, 1987
    (CHRIS BONINGTON)
  7. KINGDOM OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
    (S. K. BERRY)
  8. RATHONG, 1987
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  9. PANDIM - DIARY OF A WAR-TIME ESCAPADE
    (LORD JOHN HUNT)
  10. MAKALU
    (GLENN PORZAK)
  11. CHO OYU, 1987
    (Dr MAURICIO A. PURTO)
  12. KUMAON SECRETS
    (GEOFF HORNBY)
  13. FIRST ASCENT OF CHIRBAS PARBAT, 1986
    (INDRANATH MUKHERJEE)
  14. KALANAG EAST FACE EXPEDITION, 1986
    (W. J. POWELL)
  15. CHURDHAR MORE OF THE LESSER
    (WILLIAM MCKAY AITKEN)
  16. A RETURN TO LINGTI, 1987
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  17. ASCENT OF KARCHA PARBAT, 1986
    (J. K. PAUL and S. N. DHAR)
  18. A TRYST WITH PHABRANG, 1987
    (ANIL KUMAR)
  19. BRITISH KISHTWAR EXPEDITION, 1986
    (BOB REID and EDWARD FARMER)
  20. CANADIAN KASHMIR HIMALAYAN
    (JOHN A. JACKSON)
  21. UNKNOWN SPITI: THE MIDDLE COUNTRY
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  22. PICNIC ON A GLACIER -A KARAKORAM JOURNEY
    (STEPHEN VENABLES)
  23. THE GOLDEN PILLAR
    (A. V. SAUNDERS)
  24. PROBLEMS OF ACCURACY IN REPORTING MOUNTAINEERING
    (ELIZABETH HAWLEY)
  25. HIMALAYA-OUR FRAGILE HERITAGE
    (N. D. JAYAL)
  26. THE CONTINUING STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  27. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  28. IN MEMORIAM
  29. BOOK REVIEWS
  30. CORRESPONDENCE
  31. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1987

HIMALAYA-OUR FRAGILE HERITAGE

N. D. JAYAL

Geologic birth and fragility of the Himalaya
THE HIMALAYA ARE, geologically speaking, a young and still growing mountain range. Sixty million years ago a plate of the earth's crust carrying the Indian land-mass travelled 5000 kms from near the South Pole and collided with Eurasia and upheaved the Himalaya. The tectonic forces that brought the Himalaya into being also created an extraordinarily complex environment exercising a very powerful influence upon the entire subcontinent. They are the major factor in determining the climate of India, the bene-ficient monsoon rains and affording protection in the winter from the cold Siberian winds. They also produce their own climate, ranging from near polar in the higher reaches to tropical humid in the foothills of its eastern segment. The winter snows are stored by the Himalaya for feeding the perennial northern rivers. The climate and geologic variety have contributed towards the creation of diverse ecosystems ranging from the cold desert of Ladakh to the tropical rainforests of Arunachal Pradesh, and encompassing an enormous wealth of natural living and non-living resources. The rain-shadow effect is pronounced, and even the northern or southern aspects of slopes have a decisive influence over vegetation. The indigenous human communities have evolved rich diverse cultures adapting themselves to often hostile environment with remarkable vigour and resilience. Such an immense variety of resources are the greatest and also the most vulnerable assets of the Himalaya, for this young mountain chain is extremely fragile and highly susceptible to any thoughtless interference in the natural balance of its sensitive ecosystems.

Perils of 'opening up’
With extension of communications and increasing urbanization, the influx in large numbers of people from outside into the farthest reaches of the Himalaya can easily imperil its sensitive ecosystems. Unadapted to outside processes the communities and cultures within such ecosystems often lose their identity and quality or perish altogether. Opening up of mountains facilitates exploitation of re-lources, hydro-power, minerals, timber, plants and animal produce to such an extent that greed overtakes and undermines not only the mountains but also the vast plains below. This is the plight of Himalaya today and, with it, the very foundation of human societies in the Gangetic and Brahmaputra valleys are endangered.

Reprinted (abridged) from India (Brijbasi Printers), with kind permission of the author.

Unsustainable 'development'
For centuries the natural resources of the Himalaya were utilised by hill communities to meet their basic requirements of food, fuel, fodder, fertiliser, fibre, shelter and water on a sustainable basis and without disrupting nature's balance. Life-styles of such communities evolved in harmony with the surroundings despite the fact that mountains are not the best habitats for man, what with physical constraints reducing their capacity to support large populations. However, with 'development', waves of people with a new philosophy of life based on the market economy entered the mountains and introduced an exploitative approach which has disrupted the erstwhile delicate balance. Forests were taken away from community ownership and reserved for meeting commercial requirements of timber in the plains; a network of roads was extended into the mountains for exploitation of timber, plant and mineral resources; and gigantic hydro-power schemes to support industries elsewhere were launched. At the same time, the human and domestic animal populations of hill communities also increased adding to the already heavy pressures on the limited natural resources of the mountains. With the disappearance of vegetation on an extensive scale, water and fuel resources dwindled and soils rapidly lost their productivity. This has led not only to large scale migration of the hill people for economic survival to the plains but also made it impossible for those left behind to survive without great hardship in their desperate search over long distances for fuel and water. This indeed was the genesis of the now famous Chipko movement in the hills with the realisation by the remnant hill communities comprising largely of the womenfolk that their survival depended upon the protection of their life-supporting water and soil resources provided by the forests.

Chipko - a hill people's movement to save their ecosystem
The reservation of the best forests in the last century from the people's control for commercial use by our alien rulers led to conflicts and large scale denudation of the Himalayan forests. The resulting degradation of the delicate mountain ecosystem and impoverishment of the people's life-support systems in effect gave birth in the early seventies to an important grassroots environment movement for the protection of forests in particular, called Chipko9 in the Central Himalaya. But the roots of this movement extend deeply in India's aranya or forest culture which thrived in the woods. The sages who lived in forest ashrams with their students developed a philosophy which believed in the co-existence and interdependence of all forms of life; and that all creations such as birds, beasts, human beings, rivers and mountains have life; that all life is sacred and merits worship; and that austerity and wisdom are worthy of respect. This cultural legacy was gradually supplanted, under the impact of colonial rule, by materialistic values. The policy of reservation and commercial exploitation of Himalayan forests was resisted earlier in the century by the people of Uttarakhand and, as patch-work settlement, panchayat or community forests were created. After Independence, the hill people pledged to revive the friendly relationship between the forests and forest-dwellers, disturbed by commercialisation, and sought termination of exploitation in favour of people's forest labour cooperatives, availability of raw material for local forest-based small industries and revision of forest settlement. The change in land-use pattern brought about by substituting mixed natural forests by monoculture pine plantations leading to accelerated soil erosion, coupled with a rapid increase of population, forced a majority of able-bodied men to seek employment in cities in the plains. The main burden of managing the family and caring for the aged, the children and cattle and carrying on agricultural operations thus fell on the shoulders of the womenfolk. They walk long distances to collect such basic necessities of life as water, fuel and fodder, rendered scarce by the loss of tree cover. The women were inevitably in the forefront of a movement for survival that rapidly spread in the villages to establish the right of the local people over the Himalayan forest resources. Actions to stop tree felling by hugging the trees had taken place by 1974 in four different places and demonstrations against auctioning the forests were organised in 1977. The women of Advani village in Tehri Garhwal tied sacred threads round the trees marked for felling and declared their firm determination to save the trees even at the cost of their lives. Eventually the state government was compelled to impose a moratorium on felling of trees in areas exceeding 1000 m altitude and 30 degrees slope. The Chipko movement has provided an alternative plan of development in the Himalaya by emphasising that the main products of the forests are soil, water and oxygen which are all vital for human survival. There was, therefore, urgent need for practising austerity in the use of forest products that need felling of trees, through the use of biogas and solar energy for cooking and by recycling of paper. The hope for the future lay in re-afforestation through the villagers' own efforts rather than through state ownership and action, as the people were in the best position to protect and plant trees that fulfil their basic needs. The Chipko movement realised that to swim against the tide, small groups of humanitarians, scientists, social activists and compassionate literary men were needed. Chipko's search for a strategy for survival has indeed global implications. Whatv Chipko^ is trying to conserve is not merely local forest resources but the entire life-support system, and with it the option for human survival.

Adverse impact of tourism and mountaineering
Another dimension to the pressures of developmental activities mentioned above was introduced by tourism and mountaineerings rapidly gaining popularity in the mountains during the short summer months. Foreigners were allowed access to many hitherta prohibited areas and streams of expeditions to a number of popular peaks led to serious depletion of the limited biological wealth during the crucial growth period in the few summer months. The ingress of scores of large expeditions each year into the Nanda Devi Sanctuary is a classic example of rapid resource depletion of a unique marvel of nature's mountain architecture where scores of endemic species have evolved under natural protection for millenia. The slow growth of the plants can be judged from the fact that at high altitudes the birch tree attains a diameter of two centimetres in six years while a juniper bush takes twenty years for the same growth. To save such priceless heritage areas from destruction, it became inevitable to extend to them protection to facilitate the slow process of restoration of its biological and natural assets. In these circumstances, such national natural heritage areas as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and the Valley of Flowers have been accorded total protection from all forms of human interference, except for purely scientific work, as National Parks or Biosphere Reserves.

Key to restoring complex ecosystems
Mountains must be our refuge for contemplation and recreation,, and for many societies their very survival depends on them. But before irretrievable damage is done, we must carefully assess to what limits the system can be exploited or developed. Even non-consumptive exploitation such as tourism or mountaineering can cause havoc unless planned with meticulous care and consideration for the fragility of the ecosystem. The Himalaya are also a sensitive international border, subject to deployment of people requiring a network of strategic roads which are often constructed thoughtlessly and destructively. The ecological hazards of constructing major dams in the Himalaya and their environmental implications have not been fully realized. It is clear that a massive rehabilitation programme is urgently needed to save the Himalaya from serious ecological degradation. A comprehensive resource survey and planned, integrated development with river catchment areas as units, keeping long range perspectives in view, are the key elements for restoring the complex Himalayan ecosystems.

Sensitive and 'small' approach to development
Any programme for managing and developing our mountain areas, should always consider the delicate cultural balance the hill people have evolved to survive in their often very harsh environment-It is easy to destroy this balance by the large scale advent of modern plains' cultures and values which are often brazenly exploitative. The denudation of the Central Himalaya has already created disturbing sociological problems leading to emigration and to eco-disasters in adjacent areas. For the hill peoples, very carefully drawn up plans of direct relevance to them need to be implemented to buffer them against cultural shocks and ease the pressure on their largely subsistence-level existence. Schumacher's concept of 'small is beautiful' epitomises the approach to development of our fragile mountains and their sequestered inhabitants which must exclude grandiose projects of great eco-destructive potential.