Himalayan Journal vol.58
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Harish Kapadia
    (A. D. MODDIE)
    (Lt. Col. A. ABBEY)



IN THE TRANSFORMATIONS of many regions of the world since 1850, hardly any coherent study has been made of one of its most fascinating regions, the Himalayan, from the Hindu Kush to the Indo- China-Myanmar borders. It is illustrative of every conceivable form of change from the climatic and ecological to the cultural, and to Denis Ventu's unbalance between state and civil society and the internal system in his New World Order; more appropriately disorder in the conflicts of political systems, people's aspirations, and a seeming clash of Huntingdon's civilisations. In terms of the 2002 concept of Planetary Garden, Mountain Futures, the Himalayan region is the Earth's highest eco-development challenge; besides becoming President Clinton's cockpit of the most dangerous place in the world, with terrorist fundamentalism, Maoist and ethnic civil strife, on the boundaries of three nuclear states. A long way from the earlier unknown, imaginary Shangri La of peace and spirituality.

I visualise three major tidal waves in this transformation. The first from 1860 to 1920, the opening up of a geographical and spiritual Shangri La by the Pundits of the Survey of India, going back to the fascinating Silk Routes between West, South, and East Asia, once trod by Marco Polo and the early Jesuits of the 17th century; the home of the mysterious Dalai Lama, and of the god Shiva on remote Kailash, the Hindu heaven. The second wave from 1920 to 1962, from the penetration of Tibet by the early Everest expeditions (1921-24), the mountaineering, scientific and political opening up of this hidden world. The third from 1962 to the present, with the increase in political and demographic seismicity, the growing eco-development problems, the more intense scientific and infrastructural opening up of the region; not least, the transition from Louis Dumont's traditional Homo Hierarchicus to modernising Homo Politicus. In a flash of genius, C. Rajagopalachari, free India's most insightful political leader once described ancient India as a governmentless civilisation. The global Himalayan transformation since 1850 has similarly been from a governmentless civilisation to a political cockpit bedevilled by incapable and warring governments in a new phase of territorial sovereignty and boundary awareness; where earlier social and religious cultures seemed less conscious of sovereignty and boundaries. Cultures and trade flowed without much bureaucracy.

Note : (Paper submitted to 'Planetory Garden', 2002, Mountains Future, 2nd International Symposium on Sustainable eco-system, Paris, France, under the theme Globalisation of Hindukush Himalaya Region).

The first wave of globalisation after 1860 came surreptiously through the amazing and indefatigable efforts of the Survey of India through its mapping 'Pundits'. With little training and ingenious measuring devices like the Tibetan prayer wheels, they ventured through the Great Himalayan Divide into the unknown lands of Tibet and Central Asia, ultimately leading to the first knowledge of the source of the Indus, Satluj and Brahmaputra in the region of the holy Kailash. They located Lhasa's longitude and latitude. The pioneering travels of the first of this adventurous breed, Nain Singh Rawat of Milam extended from Leh to Lhasa and Guwahati, a distance of over 1300 miles, 1200 of which was in terra incognito. One of his journeys took him to Kashgar over the Karakoram Pass in what was then Chinese Turkestan. His fellow Milamwqi Kishen Singh, perhaps the greatest of the 'Pundits' of the Survey, penetrated to Central Asia as far north as Lop Nor. These journeys were for scientific, political, and trade purposes, preceding the famous Great Game or British apprehensions of a Russian approach into Central Asia and Tibet, which they regarded as a threat to the buffer of their Indian empire. The Great Game culminated in Francis Younghusband's famous expedition to Lhasa in 1905, when they found no Russians! This trans-Himalayan expedition may be compared historically with Commander Perry's opening up of Japan when he sailed into Yokohama harbour in 1853; both significant events in the early beginnings of the globalisation of Asia.

About the same period, Aurel Stein's famous travels in Central Asia opened up the art and history of ancient times in Shangri La, when Buddhism, art, and trade travelled from India to Central Asia. While the work and travels of the Survey Pundits, of Younghusband, and of Aurel Stein may have been the opening of a new world to the West; it must be remembered that the religious geography of the Himalaya region, Gaumukh, the source of the Ganga, of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Pashupatinath, and Kailash had been known more than a thousand years ago by the great Vedantic crusader, Shankaracharya, by the poet Kalidas, and by thousands of sages and pilgrims. The knowledge then was confined to the religious discourse of the sub-continent to the land of the Hindu/Buddhist spirit.

In this first phase between 1860 and 1920, a significant aspect of globalisation of the region was in the quiet but revolutionary change of the British 'raj' from customary local village governance of land, forests and water, when these were community assets; to a takeover of these by the state. The timber from Himalayan forests went into sleepers for the new railway system of the sub-continent, and the national timber market. But this revolutionary change created socio- ecological problems since then till today in the eco-development of the Himalayan region, and future threats of deforestation, floods and silting in the Himalayan-Gangetic system. Commercialism spared sacred groves.

The money economy now began to penetrate these remote hill regions from the plains, and, that itself enhanced the trans-Himalayan/ Indian plains trade through trading communities in the Himalayan region from Kashmir and Ladakh to Johar in the Central Himalaya, and Darjeeling district and Sikkim in the east. Tea plantations were put down from Darjeeling to Kangra, the first sizeable modern industry in the Himalaya with a global market.

In this first phase, the British established a chain of hill stations, the beginnings of urbanisation, in the entire region from Landi Kotal to Shimla, Mussoorie, Nainital, Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Shimla became the summer capital of India, Nainital and Darjeeling, capitals of their respective provinces of U.P. and Bengal (Kathmandu and Thimphu, the capitals of Nepal and Bhutan, were virtually closed to the outside world till after 1951.) They became important centres of government, trade, and education, centres of modernisation beside the old pilgrimage centres of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Pashupatinath, and the Kailash region. Modernisation arose alongside tradition, with railways, the telegraph and motor cars. Also, with early Gurkha military recruitment into the British-Indian army, more Himalayan people came out of their mountain villages and went into the wide world.

The second phase of Himalayan globalisation from 1920 to 1962 was primarily a mountaineering and a political opening up of the region to the outside world, as never before. The first British expeditions to Everest, 1921-24 blazed a trail, which led to more expeditions to Everest in the 1930's, the first peaceful penetration of Tibet; to the first ever discovery of the Nana Devi sanctuary to human eyes in 1934, to expeditions to K2 Kangchenjunga, Nanga Parbat, Annapurna, and other highest mountains of the world. With these the Sherpa community of remote Solu Khumbu became, with the Gurkhas, the most famous Himalayan people in the world. These mountaineering thrusts led to the discovery of the world's largest glacier systems in the Hindu Kush region. Following Dr. Hooker in the 1840's in Sikkim, Kingdon Ward discovered the richest and most beautiful plant bio-diversity in the hidden 'planetary garden' of nature in the eastern Himalaya; a botanical treasure for science. The number of plant species in Bhutan alone is reported to be 5000, and 9000 for the whole Himalaya. Many of these species found their way to the Kew Gardens in London.

1947 and 1962 saw the disappearance of the British empire, the emergence of the new states of India and Pakistan, the change in the Rana regime and the early attempts at party democracy in Nepal, and the early opening of Bhutan, a closed state earlier. It brought Maoist China to Tibet and the disputed Indo-Tibetan frontiers. The flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet to India in 1959 was an important historic turning point, indicating a clash of Tibetan Buddhist and Chinese Communist cultures. It led to the uprooting and transplantation of that earlier Lamaistic culture to India, a return of Buddhism to its homeland after a millennium. It was a period of unprecedented political turmoil. In and after 1947, there was the Kashmir question between Pakistan and India, and the Indo-Chinese conflict in NEFA in 1962. There was much unrest in Tibet itself between Tibetans and Chinese; more than an invasion, the destruction of an ancient culture and its institutions.

This period saw the beginnings of hill development in agriculture, horticulture, and infrastructure, besides mining and early tourism. On both sides of the Himalaya, border roads thrust forward close to the frontiers. These constituted a significant opening up not only of the Himalayan region, but also the very significant hills/plains relationships, economic, social and political, yet to be researched. The one major happy happening in all this turmoil was the 'Indus Treaty' between India and Pakistan, with the help of the World Bank, for the sharing of waters of a major river system; a model yet to be repeated in the Ganga-Brahmaputra systems.

The third wave of globalisation, 1962 and 2001, experienced an intensification of all problems. Shangri La was a bygone dream. Glaciers were melting. The realities of the 20th century intruded into the earlier soulful Abode of the Gods, and of recluse saints, monks and pilgrims. Mindsets were changing fast to a wider world.

First and foremost, political seismicity increases, between and within Himalayan states. Where hitherto mule trains passed with simple goods, large armies faced each other with armaments. There were the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 (the latter largely in East Pakistan) in the plains and mountains of the north-western region, with a temporary peace in Tashkent. The Indo-Chinese border problems from Kashmir to NEFA fluctuated between periodic local clashes to many boundary talks; not yet finally resolved. Tibet boiled with the destruction of monasteries and Tibetan culture, and the Hanisation of Tibet with 2 million Chinese in a poor country of only 6 million Nepal has been steadily rendered unstable with its Maoist movement, and the writ of the government limited; apart from its internal problems between mounting populations in the Terai and in the hills. Bhutan, relatively stable, has suffered a demographic influx of Nepalis. The region has lost its earlier peace with clashes of politics, culture, ideology, eco-degradation and demographic pressures. Populations have doubled in Himalayan states in the last 30 years. Hill's carrying capacities have been far exceeded, and the money- order economy of hill migrants does not suffice to compensate. The loss of the earlier border trade with Tibet after 1960 has been a heavy blow to hill trading communities on both sides of the Himalayan divide.

On top of severe demographic pressures on cultivable hill lands not exceeding 15% of the total land area is over 60% in the Gangetic plain the problems of deforestation, floods and the fatal drying up of hill springs have accentuated the hard lot of the Himalayan people. Kumaun University have found that in Nainital and Almora districts, over 50% of hill springs were drying up. The Chipko movement in Garhwal was a symptom of the clash between the hill people's need of forest biomass and the commercial need of plains industries.

Areas of forest cover are either confused with forest lands under the control of the Forest Department in the Indian Himalaya, or estimates of good, medium, and poor canopy vary. In Deforestation, Property Rights, and Incentives in Uttarakhand by E. Somanathan (1990) show satellite data for 4 Kumaun districts as follows:

Poor forest canopy 30%

Medium forest canopy 59%

Good forest canopy 11%

A scientific micro study done by ecologists J. S. Singh and Uma Pandey, Energy Flow Relationships between Agro and Forest EcoSystems in Nainital district (Kumaun University, 1984) showed:

a) good forest cover under 5% (60% and above canopy);

b) as much as 16.6 ha. of forest land was needed for only 1 ha. of cultivated land for fodder needs, a ratio 16.6:1

c) for fuel needs the same ratio varied from 5.8:1 to 21.3:1, or a rough average of 13:1.

d) but the forest land available p. ha. of cultivable land was only 1.58 ha., leading to huge eco-system energy deficits, because of poor forest management, low productivity, and mounting population pressures.

Both in India and in Nepal, there have been prolonged conflicts between governments and local hill people in the management of local resources of forests, pastures, and water. While global and local scientific resources have been brought to the scene, findings vary considerably. Like Himalayan water run-off, there seems to be a huge run-off of varying scientific data, not yet mobilised for practical mountain region eco-development by government agencies. It is the central problem of the Himalayan region. So, basic eco-development concepts as sustainability and carrying capacities are hard to operationalise. Not least because of the lack of cohesion and capability of local communities over the last century, with some rare and remarkable exceptions. There are local caste and ethnic problems and the central problem of village institution-building, or rather re-building after centralised governments destroyed earlier custom-built local governance of natural resources over a century.

So, globalised science brought to the Himalaya has faced enormous operational difficulties. An outstanding example of globalisation in Himalayan eco-development has been the founding of an international body. ICIMOD in Kathmandu since 1983, run by the eight governments of the Himalayan region, with German and Swiss donors. Another example has been the joint international study of the effects of El Nino in Monsoon Asia, extending to snowfall in the Himalayan region. The districts of Nepal have eco-maps.

Global warming and threats of climatic change are already perceptible in the Indian subcontinent, where temperatures have risen 0.6° C in the early stage of the last century. The Himalaya as the climate maker for Asia, is a critical region, for itself, the Indian sub-continent, and Asia. More so, in the forecast that global temperatures are projected to rise 1.4°C to 5.8°C by the end of 21st century, a very rapid change in ecological terms. All life in the region is at stake. There is already not enough reliable long-term micro-climatic data for the Himalayan region. It would be desirable if a regional coordinating agency like ICIMOD, Kathmandu could initiate and coordinate more long-term scientific studies among the Meteorological agencies of the eight governments of the region, atleast till 2150. This would involve micro-climatic studies on a large enough scale for each agro-climatic sub-region of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya; including further studies of alarming receding of glaciers; the Pindari 13 metres and the Gangotri 30 metres a year. ICIMOD may pursue this also with the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of scientists which advises UNFCC.

The paramount problem most calling for international effort by the countries of the region, India, Nepal, the Tibet region of China, Bhutan and Bangladesh, is the macro problem of training and utilising the vast water resources of the Ganga-Brahmaputra region. It has been an extremely complex political and technical problem involving;

- the scientific monitoring of snow cover and water equivalent from space to ascertain river discharge, the radiation budget of the atmosphere with weather satellites, micro and macro climatic data;

- studies of the effect of deforestation and aforestation on floods;

- the intractable problems of dams, hydro-power and water sharing between mountain and reparian states;

- the Farraka dam problem between India and Bangladesh and flushing the Hoogly to save Calcutta port.

All these have proved too formidable for resolution between the states of the region. There is also the dream concept - far from a project yet-of the enormous hydro-electric potentials of Pe at the U- bend of the Tsang-Po/Brahmaputra, with a 8000 ft drop in 50 miles, with a power potential of 20 to 30 million Kw. Such await the kind of statesmanship of the Indus and Mekong river agreements, with a far higher order of globalised minds and politics. For the present, about 20 major dams from Afghanistan to Bhutan still provide a formidable task of politics, resources, and management; apart from fears of seismic threats to them. The Tehri dam in Garhwal has been a classic case.

Two major aspects of recent globalisation in the Himalayan region are, (a) the remarkable penetration of all media, press, radio, and TV into those remote Himalayan villages, the global village of the air; b) the growth of global tourism especially in Nepal, Ladakh, Tibet and Bhutan, Kashmir has suffered from cross-border terrorism. The latter has been a matter of long controversy over;

- its negative impact on eco-systems with high consumption tourists;

- waste in resorts and remote, high camps;

- pollution of all kinds, especially from Kathmandu to the South Col on Everest;

- the low economic benefits of local people.

The greening and cleaning of the tourist and mountaineering Himalaya seem gigantic tasks, begun by a few NGO's with limited means and limited success. If Himalayan governments want higher tourist incomes, they have to do far more.

In this context, global ideas of Nature Reserves, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Biotic and Biosphere Reserves have come into being in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan in the region. Their management effectiveness is in some question, as in the case of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. To end the senseless, high cost military operations in the Siachen in the Karakoram, the world's highest battleground; it has been suggested that it be converted into a trans- frontier peace park, as elsewhere on international borders. In these isolated areas the concept of the 'planetary garden' is sought to be introduced into the Himalayan region.

All over the world globalisation is represented by cities and towns. The once quiet retreats of British hill stations, and the remote capitals of Kathmandu, Gangtok, Thimphu and Lhasa, now hold threats of unplanned, soulless urbanisation. The quiet Vice-regal retreat of Shimla is now a congested city with sky-scrapers on steep hillsides. In 1947, Gangtok was a quiet hamlet. It is now an over-crowded town of bazaars, hotels, and barracks. Darjeeling has become a squalid slum. In 1950, there was not a single hotel in Kathmandu. It is now the cosmopolitan capital and airport of Himalayan tourism, the hub of Nepal's major new industry, and a place of urban pollution. The Potala city of Shangri La is now both a military camp and an international tourist airport. In these ways, the Himalayan region has seen urbanisation change in half a century, from the traditional concept of the small nagar, with its heart in temple monastery and palace, into international centres with cultural discontinuities, social and political conflicts, congestion and pollution, ugly conglomerations of bazaars, barracks and bureaucracy. Ranjit Hoskote has aptly called it a globalisation that is seen as a joyous blurring of borders ... an emancipatory hybridity of choice, in defiance of the imposed and hereditary values of specific cultures at birth. Temple and palace give way to hotel, restaurant, shopping centre and slum, with mass transport and mass entertainment in mass squalor. Once centres of quiet urbanity of traditional king, governors and high priests, lamas in ancient temples and monasteries, they have become modernising centres of crude power, of tourist wealth, of congested bazaars and traffic; yet with shortages of power, clean drinking water, and modern sanitation, the basic needs of modernity.

In this ugly transition from nagar to hill-station to hybrid tourist capital, the German aid restoration of Nepal's traditional capital, Bakhtapur is a gem of creative international wisdom in urban re-creation. It shows a way from helpless traditional nostalgia in crumbling ruins, to modernisation with a cultural, meaningful foundation. There is an environmental continuity of the spirit in Bakhtapur, the grace of the past with modern facilities. It is a joy to see the languishing art and culture of ancient artisans and architects scientifically restored by sensitive modern architects and town planners. Bakhtapur is an inspiring example in the messy process of Himalayan urbanisation going the way of plains urbanisation. In contrast, Srinagar, once a beautiful retreat of Mughal gardens and a busy centre of Kashmiri craft enterprise, a trading centre of the old Silk route, has become a graveyard of fear and terrorism and failed politics. The future urban Himalaya is a creative, ecological, tourist and governmental challenge. It needs more Bakhtapurs, Thimpus and Punakas even in a cyber age. Community can absorb computer, temple can go with telecommunications. The main needs are creative planners and cultured citizens, both with authentic roots in history and natural environments. There also lies future tourism wealth.

And now, at this time of writing in the celebratory Dusshera-Diwali season of 2001 in a Himalayan cottage, the most amazing historical irony hits the planners of planetary gardens in Paris. The fiery aircraft crashes on New York's WTC Towers and the Pentagon half way across the globe, send retaliatory global forces crashing into the wider Hindu Kush Himalaya region from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south to target Kabul and Kandahar. The Great Game a century ago turned into an imperial myth when Younghusband found no Russians in Lhasa in 1905. But by 1990, the great Soviet empire suddenly crumbled, between the quiet spirit of revolt at the Berlin Wall and the dockyard protests at Grantz in Poland; and a fierce war in far off Afghanistan. Now the world's lone super-power, and its allies, find the centre of global geo-politics in this same wild and remote region astride the Hindu Kush; from which fierce fundamentalism puts out global tentacles to destroy its Satan in another world in secretive 'jehad', Himalayan geology fault lines and seismicity seem now transformed into the world's civilisations' fault lines, with unpredictable seismity on a Richter scale above the disastrous 8. Diplomatic governments may deny Huntingdon, but the reality is close. In a brief century, the old Shangri La from Kalidas, the Sanskrit Shakespeare's peaceful Meghdoot to Aurel Stein's fascinating discoveries of a past civilisation of art, culture and trade, crossing the Hindu Kush Himalaya witness the crashing down of the Bamiyan Buddhas; so symbolic of a fateful clash of forces between Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and oddly, communist minds, minds where civilisations are bred and destroyed with and without fire power.

And while this ironic intercontinental conflict between the world's most advanced technological states, and the medieval world of 'jehad', 'fatwa' and tribal warring becomes the world's most dangerous place, in a region of three new nuclear powers threatened by fanatical tribalism; one is left wondering of the future of that other globalising process earlier in this essay, and the eco-development processes of over 60 million people in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Peaceful ideas planned only three months ago in distant idyllic Paris, another centre of civilisation, to reach planetary gardens in Earth's high places in and after 2002, now seem in a vortex of human madness. A monsoon storm of the human spirit has suddenly burst over the once silent, sacred Shangri La.

The 14th Dalai Lama, once the pre-eminent spiritual centre of that Himalayan world, now sits far from Lhasa's Potala palace in exile in Dharmsala in the Western Himalaya; contemplating, meditating, wondering if and when that planetary garden of the human spirit and the Himalayan earth will ever return to the sublime Roof of the World.

If the globalisation of the Himalayan region can be personalised in the life of a single personality it is this 14th Dalai Lama, especially with his philosophy of Universal Responsibility. Let me explain how and why. In most modern media and discourse, globalisation is primarily referred to in its economic and technological manifestations, in which capitalism and markets dominate, and in which the focal points are WTO, World Bank and IFC. Yet, in this one and a half centuries of the globalisation of the Himalayan region, one has had to cover a far wider spectrum of geographical discoveries, of military invasions, of changes in trade, technologies, industry, and tourism, of change from temple, palace and 'nagar' to urban conglomerations, of changes in eco-systems and climates, of rulers, administration, and demography. So, in reality, globalisation involves a total revolutionary change, which may be summed up in three classical words most aptly; and which have passed into the international vocabulary, though one originates in Germany and the other two in India. They are 'Weltonshaung' or World View, and 'Dharma' and 'Pta', or Sustainability in a natural cum spiritual order in cultures, values, ecology and global climates. The Hindus Kush/Himalayan region has thus seen total transformations in 'Weltanshaung' and in 'Dharma' and 'Pta'; and it is an on-going future process.

What is now mankind's answer at a time and region considered to be the 'World's most dangerous'? That indomitable spirit which pilgrimaged to worship at Badrinath, Kedarnath, Pashupatinath, Leh and Lhasa for two millenia; that same spirit which climbed earth's highest summits of Everest. K2 and Kangchenjunga; that quiet spirit of life which made millions of humble people trudge up and down these hills carrying loads of wood, fodder, and water for hard survival in depleting eco-systems; that spirit will outlive the madness of these harsh days, as it has survived many harsh centuries. Let that be the answer, the message to distant planners in Paris of Planetary Gardens in high places.

"Go", said Rudyard Kipling, the creator of Kim;

"Something hidden go and find it, go and look beyond the ranges,

Lost and waiting for you. Go."


Views on the present developments in the Himalayan regions.