photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
community activities
culture and customs
employment and income
environmental knowledge
family life
food security
justice and crime
livelihood strategies
social change
social institutions
social relationships
spiritual beliefs
traditional skills



introducing the area

 the themes
 the partners
 the testimonies

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The Himalaya, meaning "abode of snow and ice", contain the highest peaks in the world. The most populous and fragile of the world's mountain chains, the wider region is made up of four mountain ranges spread over eight Asian countries. The Himalayan arc, the most imposing and highest of these, stretches across the southwest of China and the north of Nepal, Bhutan and India. The area of north India where these testimonies were collected has long been known as Dev-bhumi - the land of the gods. It has many of the country's most sacred pilgrimage sites, and is the source of the holiest of Indian rivers, the Ganges. The interviews were gathered in the high valleys of Garhwal in Uttaranchal and Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. Uttaranchal was previously part of the larger state of Uttar Pradesh but after a long struggle for self-representation, it became a separate state in November 2000. It is home to Nanda Devi, India's second highest mountain.

landscape in IndiaAlthough the narrators inhabit a small area of such a vast range, their personal stories touch on many of the development dilemmas that characterise the region. Many narrators still live in villages some distance away from the nearest road, yet none have remained untouched by social, environmental and economic change, and many bear witness to how dramatic those changes have been within one generation. The impact of education and increased migration are key issues, as are the effects of a changing natural environment, especially as a result of deforestation, mono-culture forestry, the decline in traditional agriculture, and large-scale infrastructure development, notably road-building and the construction of the Tehri Dam.

the themes

group of women in India"This is the age of transition," says Mohan - a view echoed by many narrators. In the past, villagers grew or made most of what they needed for food, shelter and livelihoods, and bartered to acquire other items. People were specialists in a wide range of crafts and skills - from musicians to masons, priests to potters, doctors to drummers. Now, warns Mohan, "people are losing many of their old skills, [yet] they are not being sufficiently trained or educated in modern ones." Roads and other developments have brought access to consumer goods, agricultural and other innovations, better health facilities - and education, a powerful force for social and economic change.

Many narrators approve of the new opportunities education should bring. Yet there is concern that in practice, young people often go to the cities for further study and then fail to return, leaving mountain farming to the less educated, the elderly - or the truly committed.

This picture may seem somewhat bleak, but these interviews are exceptionally lively and interesting. They are not only rich in culture, knowledge and history but also in positive ideas on development and ways forward. Many people accept that past practices have to change as communities open up to wider social and economic influences, but they stress it is essential to take some of the strengths from the past and build on these as well. In particular, people advocate a return to some farming practices of the past, including cultivating traditional crops.

Control over local resources and making the best use of them is a key issue. The interviews are full of stories of how big business and new roads have opened up forests, for example, to outsiders - and how poor policies have compounded the devastating effects of deforestation. A number of narrators are working on their own to turn unproductive pine plantations back to mixed forests, and several women have defied social norms to lead successful local anti-logging movements. Indeed, activism takes many forms in these interviews, and women initiate much of it.

People's knowledge of the region's rich biodiversity is extensive. Sadly, many older people feel that their knowledge, based on accumulated experience rather than formal schooling, is gradually being undervalued as "bookish" knowledge predominates. Moreover, environmental changes mean that the variety of wild and cultivated plants as well as wildlife is indeed diminishing, and there is a real sense of urgency in their call for more environmentally aware development policies.

Many factors, but notably education and the need for cash incomes, have greatly accelerated the trend for migration. The effects are wide-ranging, not least a decline in the old collective activities, in which everyone contributed to major works from house-building to maintenance of irrigation systems. Overall, though, the energy, wisdom and resourcefulness of the narrators, with their varied backgrounds and experiences, shines through their accounts. United in their connection to the mountains, they are full of ideas for the future.

the partners

hill village in IndiaThe interviews were gathered between December 1993 and January 1999 over a wide area. The narrators come from different castes and although most are Hindu, there are several Muslims and Buddhists. The dedicated team of interviewers, drawn from different NGOs and professions, was coordinated by Indira Ramesh, and consisted of Devendra Bahuguna, Uma Bhatt, Anita Nautiyal, Kusum Rawat, Rajendra Bahuguna, Pratap Singh Bisht, Khem Raj Mishra, Sadan Mishra, Ramila Negi, Opendra Negi, Bandana Bisht and Pradeep Bahagana. Translation into English was done by Anoop Mehta and Shagoon Rawat, with additional work by Indira Ramesh, Padma, Manisha Chowdhery, Ramesh Gairola and Kusum Nautiyal.

The Himalaya Trust (HT), a non-governmental rural development organisation based in Dehra Dun, has acted as a focal support point for the project. The main focus of HT's work is to restore the rapidly disappearing community forests, and protect biodiversity and water resources. It supports local initiatives and its programmes are implemented entirely by the communities themselves. The Himalaya Trust has also published Eternal Wisdom, a series of three Hindi booklets drawn from the interviews and edited by Indira Ramesh with Vir Singh and others, and illustrated by Soumen Chakravarty. The booklets cover biodiversity; gender; and traditional farming practices, and are an invaluable record of "a culture that celebrated the interdependency of man and nature".

Together with some of the interviewers Indira Ramesh has also worked to take the oral testimony approach a stage further and develop a community radio project. As one interviewer pointed out: "80% of village people listen to the radio, yet they know nothing about what is happening in the neighbouring village 10-12kms away." The project aims to break down such isolation and stimulate discussion between and within villages.



Local language booklet 1 (Hindi):
> Download booklet part 1 (pdf, 2.08 mb)
> Download booklet part 2 (pdf, 1.58 mb)
> Download booklet part 3 (pdf, 1.42 mb)

Local language booklet 2 (Hindi):
> Download booklet part 1 (pdf, 1.93 mb)
> Download booklet part 2 (pdf, 1.80 mb)
> Download booklet part 3 (pdf, 1.79 mb)

Voices from the mountain: India

A selection of oral testimonies from Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh states
> Download booklet (pdf, 608 kb)


the testimonies

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Sudesha   female/50   activist/farmer   Rampur village, Henwal valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   10   Jagat   male/44   self-taught forester/ farmer   Kot Malla village, Alaknanda Valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   11   Attar   female/60   midwife/ farmer   Sunara village, Rawain, Yamuna valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   12   Bihari   male/60s   leader of grassroots organisation   Budakedar, Balganga valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   13   Chatra   female/50   field coordinator for Samakhya   Bhelgandi village, Mandakini valley, Tehri Garwhal  
Summary Transcript   14   Jubli   female/55   head of Mahila Mangal Dal   Chatti village, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   15   Bhagat   male/67   farmer   Chansu village, Sangla, Baspa valley, Kinnaur  
Summary Transcript   16   Krishna   female/60+   farmer   Nigulsari village, Nichar, Sutlej valley, Kinnaur  
Summary Transcript   17   Ram   female/67   farmer   Krabha village, Nichar, Sutlej valley, Kinnaur  
Summary Transcript   18   Lakupati   Female/80   Farmer   Chaura village, Nichar, Sutlej valley, Kinnaur  
Summary Transcript   19   Radhakrishan   male/75   farmer   Khwada village, Balganga valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   2   Kalyan   male/93   tea shop owner/farmer   Sileth, Khadi, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   20   Yagjung   female/59   weaver   Harsil and Dunda villages, Bhagirathi valley, Utta  
Summary Transcript   21   Asuji   female/58   midwife   Visoi village, Jaunsar, Yamuna valley, Dehra Dun  
Summary Transcript   22   Hira   female/53   weaver/farmer   Vauna and Ghamsali, Nandakini valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   23   Kammo   female/57   farmer   Dhanras village, Tons valley, Dehra Dun  
Summary Transcript   24   Champal   male/90   trader   Harsil and Virpur villages, Bhagirathi valley, Utt  
Summary Transcript   25   Shanti   female/55   weaver/farmer   Dunda village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   26   Talib   male/55   former pastoralist   Maindhrat village, Tons village, Dehra Dun  
Summary Transcript   27   Mir   male/73   former pastoralist   Dhanras village, Tons valley, Dehra Dun  
Summary Transcript   28   Vijay   male/41   activist/farmer   Jardhargoan, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   29   Savitri   female/50   head of Mahila Mangal Dal   Sabli village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   3   Mahesha   male/67   shop keeper/ farmer   Khumera, Mandakini valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   30   Dhoom   Male/57   horticulturalist   Chandra Dhungi village, Alaknanda valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   31   Bhailya   Male/98   farmer   Kot Malla village, Alaknanda valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   32   Maheshwari   Female/45   Panchayat member   Netala village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   33   Beena   female/25   head of regional panchayat   Chamiyala village, Balganga valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   34   Bachandei   Female/70   Farmer   Dharwal village, Bhagirathi valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   35   Ramchandri   Female/55   farmer   Pata village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   36   Prabha   Female/54      Nagthat village, Yamuna valley, Dehra Dun  
Summary Transcript   4   Bachani   Female/72   activist/farmer   Adwani village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   5   Avatar   male/75   mason/carpenter/ farmer   Kumali village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   6   Vimla   female/58   head of Mahila Mangal Dal/farmer   Dargi village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   7   Tegh   male/74   farmer   Bilog village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   8   Mohan   male/60   ayurvedic physician   Chamba, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   9   Satye   male/45   farmer/waged work   Goni village, Alaknanda valley, Tehri Garhwal