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This five-year project (2017-2022) on mountain cultures and travel histories in the Eastern Himalaya aims to explore religious expression in written and oral depictions of Himalayan travel. We hope to examine how historical and contemporary travelogues, guidebooks and guiding discourses construct mountains as sacred, utopian, or otherwise religiously empowered; to think about how individual transnational encounters define mountains in religious or spiritual terms, as expressed in oral histories of pilgrims, mountaineers, or residents of the Himalayan foothills; and to contribute to histories of Himalayan travel by local and international communities, contributing a globally informed perspective on sacred space and travel.
Our primary site is Mt Khangchendzonga, straddling India and Nepal, which was recognized by UNESCO as a natural and cultural World Heritage Site in 2016. This mountain has been the subject of guidebook writing in Tibetan since the fourteenth century, and local and international communities continue to travel around and to the region. We hope to add to the understanding of guidebooks and travel past and present, and examine how European and Asian forms of expeditionary travel have global impact. We hope to explore how mountain spaces are constructed by inflections of power and transnational forces, how religious practices interact with the environment, and how stories embedded in local landscapes shape a traveler’s experience.
The project involves text-historical, archival, and oral history research in Canada, the US, UK, India, and Nepal. Project researchers are located at University of Toronto in Canada, and in India at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok, East Sikkim, and the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC) in Yuksam, West Sikkim.
This project is funded by a grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.