Exploratory trip to Humla

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Representatives from ICIMOD and the India-China Institute (ICI) of The New School (New York, USA) travelled to the northern parts of Humla district (a part of the Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL-Nepal), Nepal from 17 October - 3 November 2014. 

The ICIMOD team had three broad objectives:

  • To pilot test the documentation tool for cultural heritage sites in KSL-Nepal and to find innovative ways of learning about the region’s cultural heritage from the local communities;
  • To enrich the approaches to map the bio-cultural heritage of KSL (being developed at ICIMOD) as well as to find possible sites of future collaboration by working with social science experts from ICI, a potential research partner in the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI), and;
  • To locate key vegetation types in this remote part of KSL-Nepal using GPS, and to conduct the ground-truthing of vegetation-type satellite maps.

The team members trekked from Simikot, the district headquarters of Humla, to the border area of Hilsa, mostly in the Karnali valley. From there, they walked into the trans-Himalayan valley of the Limi River, a tributary of the Karnali. However, they could not cross the 5,010m high Nyaru-la pass due to recent heavy snowfall and adverse weather forecast in the region. So they had to walk the same route back. The team trekked a total distance of 249.6km, at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 4,500m, over a period of two weeks.

Along the route, the team gathered a lot of interesting knowledge and insights from the local communities regarding the sacred geography, about how the communities relate to Mt Kailash as a sacred site, and the contemporary changes occurring in the local political economy due to recent government policies and geopolitics.

The data was gathered through oral history interviews conducted with different families and knowledgeable local persons all along the route. Certain key cultural heritage sites, such as the Chhya Nagajung meditation cave complex and the Halji Gompa, both dating back to the 11th century, were documented using a range of photographic equipment.

Further, some significant observations were made regarding the vegetation cover and wildlife of the region, which were simultaneously mapped using GPS. The team also held fruitful discussions on possible concrete outcomes of a partnership between ICIMOD and ICI for mapping the sacred geography of KSL.