Heidelberg University > South Asia Institute > Dept. of. Geography >

Changing Strategies of Resource Use:

The 'Bhotiyas' in the High Mountain Border Region of Uttarakhand, India

Project Team
Prof. Dr. Marcus Nüsser
Prof. Dr. William Sax
Dipl. Geogr. Martin Gerwin
Christoph Bergmann, M.A.

Duration: 2010 - 2013
Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Project number: NU102 / 10-1 and 10-2

Although South Asia is one of the epicenters of twentieth-century border-making it has, remarkably, been largely ignored by borderland scholarship. We want to introduce one of South Asia's most important border regions into academic discourse, namely that part of the Indian federal state Uttarakhand bordering to Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (People's Republic of China). What distinguishes this border region and makes it so interesting is a tangled interplay of changing environmental, cultural, and political forms to which the local populations constantly have to respond in order to make a living there. We focus on the so-called 'Bhotiyas', former trans-Himalayan traders whose ethnicity and livelihood was traditionally associated with the Indo-Tibetan border that was sealed as a result of the India-China war in 1962.

In our research we examine their changing strategies of resource use on the working hypothesis that local livelihood negotiations are dependent on shifting and interacting webs of relations or scale constellations through which spatial realities are being framed. These constellations are both constituted through social practice and shaped by the physical conditions of the environment. We expose how the biotic and socio-cultural resources required for making a living in a high mountain border region are strategically employed, regulated, and negotiated. On the basis of our empirical findings we seek to develop a new, interdisciplinary model of resource use that combines anthropological and geographical theory and methods. This model will contribute to the growing field of borderland studies.

Figure: Research area in the high mountain region of Uttarakhand (M. Gerwin, M. Nüsser, N. Harm).
Mountain village in the Darma Valley (M. Gerwin 2009).