Changing Geographies and Imaginaries: Himalayas and Trans-Himalayas
Timeslot:07/29 | 09:40-10:00 UTC+2/CEST
The British Imperium mapped the Himalayan mountains through a massive cartographic exercise, and decided that these ranges formed a natural border for the Empire. Yet a close look at Himalayan histories shows that there was a close connect between the Central Himalayas (Uttarakhand, Western Nepal) and the trans-Himalayas (Western Tibet). This linkage was manifest in a ‘verticality’ that enabled mountain communities to optimise use of varied habitats across different altitudes through an annual cycle of movement across ecological zones, with the Tarai marshes (south) as the natural border. By connecting Kumaun to North India through railways and motorable roads across the Tarai, British rule eroded the northward orientation and brought to the fore narratives that focussed on the southern connection.
In Kumauni literature, however, we discern a different imaginary which describes earlier (pre-colonial) journeys and geographies. In folk legends, journeys connect cultivators and herders across Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan landscapes. Stories about love and longing across diverse regions (valleys, pastures, high mountains and waterless expanses) are often connected through ascetics, the Naths. We also find a Sanskrit text, the Manaskhand, that constructs a sacred geography. Probably, composed by Dasnam Sanyasis, to exercise control over trade routes, it sanctifies the entire region, Kumaun to Kailash Manasarovar, through pilgrimage. Using these sources, the paper will try to map the imaginary of a mountain people, the Paharis of Kumaun.