State Policy and Local Performance: Pasture Use and Pastoral Practices in the Kumaon Himalaya

  • Christoph BergmannEmail author
  • Martin Gerwin
  • Marcus Nüsser
  • William S. Sax
Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


In the Kumaon Himalaya, British colonial administrators as well as agents of the independent Indian Union intervened heavily in pasture use by adopting rationally governed and scientifically sanctioned development schemes. These measures mostly originated from outside and largely ignored local cultural logics through which a pastoral life also takes its form. We use the case of the Bhotiyas of the Kumaon Himalaya to explicate this interaction of state policy and local performance. On the one hand, we analyse recent development trends that occurred after India started to liberalise its market in the early 1990s. On the other hand, we describe a ritual practice through which the Bhotiyas channel emerging power relations and conflicts towards the outside of their migratory cycle. We conclude by suggesting an interdisciplinary perspective on pastoral practices in the Himalayan region.


Bhotiya pastoralists State policy Ritual practice Interdisciplinary approach Kumaon 



We are very grateful to the people from the Gori and Darma Valley for their generous hospitality and for taking the time to participate in the research process. We are also obliged to our friends in the Uttarakhand Government and in several NGOs. For comments on an earlier draft of this paper, we appreciate the efforts of Hermann Kreutzmann. The responsibility for the final version rests completely with the authors. Finally, we are indebted to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for their generous grant of the ongoing project ‘Changing Strategies of Resource Use: The “Bhotiyas” in the High Mountain Border Region of Uttarakhand, India’.


1.Pahari literally means ‘of or belonging to the mountains’ and commonly refers to the major Hindu hill populations in Nepal and India. These people speak Indo-European languages that are also classified by this term.

2.For the complexity of ethnic ascriptions amongst various Bhotiya groups compare Bergmann et al. (2008) for Uttarakhand, Nawa (2000) for Kumaon and far-western Nepal as well as Ramble (1997) for Nepal in general.

3.The quantity of imported wool to the Gori and Darma Valley rose from approximately 800 kg in 1,841 to more than 330,000 kg in the year 1901 (Goudge 1903).

4.Sixteen annas equalled one Indian Rupee (INR).

5.These differences are linked to varying land ownership conditions in the winter settlements of Gori and Darma Valley. Milam, the largest of all Bhotiya settlements in the Gori Valley, recorded a reduction of migrating families from 600 in the 1930s (Pant 1935, 240) to only 23 families in 1981 (GoI 1984). Even though this trend further consolidated to only 18 families in 2004 (Nüsser 2006), a slight revitalisation has taken place during the last years so that 22 families were counted in 2010. In the Darma Valley, seasonal migration reduced more slowly from a total of 2,674 people in 1961 to still 1,210 persons in 2001 (GoI 1966, 2003).

6.The Indian Government was keen to reopen the Lipu Lekh pass, as this allows a selected number of Indian citizens to make the pilgrimage to sacred Kailash in Tibet. Trade, however, plays a rather marginal role so far.

7.The main seasonal crops are buckwheat, barley, wheat, mustard, pulses, peas, potatoes and some other vegetables, such as cabbage. Cultivation takes place on traditional village fields, small vegetable gardens as well as on agricultural plots in ruins of old village houses. The latter are often irrigated and used for aromatic and medicinal plants, especially Allium stracheyi (jambu) and Carum carvi (thoya).

8.The terms of this section that are put in italics belong to the Tibeto-Burman Darma language.

9.Different versions of this ritual were recorded in September 2008 in village Bon, Son, Dugtu and Dantu in the upper Darma Valley. The description is based on the performance observed in village Bon. Parts of the story are accessible in the Darma language in Dhakriyal (2004, 253–238).

10.‘Rajwar’ was the official title of the ruling powers in the Askot principality. They are considered as descendents from the medieval Katyuri kings of Kumaon, though their feudality became tributary to the Chand kingdom.

11.The tokar is the lower end, and the takuva, the upper stick of a spindle device, known as takli. The metaphor has clear sexual connotations, referring to male and female genitals.

12.This differs from a nomenclature reported in Stellrecht (1992), where sheep and goats are associated with high altitude pastures and ideas about purity. In the Dolpo region of western Nepal, however, yaks are the culturally most favoured livestock that also figures out prominently in rituals, even though sheep and goats are extensively reared due to their high reproductive rate and lower costs when compared to cattle (Bauer 2004, 25–38).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph Bergmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Gerwin
    • 2
  • Marcus Nüsser
    • 2
  • William S. Sax
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Social Anthropology, South Asia InstituteUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.Department of Geography, South Asia InstituteUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

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