The Heritage tourism-forest conservation-livelihood initiative of the women’s collective called Maati Sanghatan in the Himalayas, is centred at the nearby village of Sarmoli in Uttarakhand state. Their nature-based and community-owned tourism initiative offers opportunities to visitors to participate, learn and contribute to community efforts to preserve and present collective practices and memories of place as a sustainable livelihood option.
A similar effort to preserve local memory lies behind the stories of the objects in the extensive collection of domestic and commercial objects made by a retired octogenarian history teacher in nearby Munsiyari. Collected when “people were throwing items away because plastic and metal came to use”, the collection has been built from contributions from individual homes in many villages. The collection, called Bhotiya Tribal Heritage Museum, provides a glimpse into the trading past of this settlement, once a major hub on the old India Tibet trade route, closed over five decades ago since the Indo China border war of 1962. The Bhotiya villages emptied, their residents moving down to the plains and far away Delhi, leaving only a few who collect medicinal herbs.
Both initiatives create a public engagement with different aspects of community memory and knowledge, either individually held, or common and collective, but now mostly forgotten. The project will explore the repository of narratives shared between the two, to see how attempts to retain community memory in the wake of modern knowledge systems emerge from an engagement with global technologies, and a locally emerging belief that “we may lose what we have by keeping it to ourselves”. In the past, different aspects of Munsiyari’s position on the trade and pilgrimage route found mention in oral and written traditions. Today, transforming community skills and traditions finds new voice in the sharing brought about through sustainable conservation tourism and livelihood initiatives, and after many decades, the population of this corner of the high Himalayas is growing once again.
Research Team: Surajit Sarkar