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Journey through the Heart of the Himalaya: Unveiling Stories of Resilience, Climate Change, and Community Wisdom in Joshimath and Niti Valley"

My journey to Joshimath and the Niti Valley began in September 2022 when I had the opportunity to conduct a reconnaissance survey of the area as part of my work with Bath Spa University. It was my first visit to Joshimath, and I was immediately captivated by the positive aura of the place. Also, we met with the Pradhan of the Raini villages and had discussions with government officials regarding our planned visit with Bath Spa University and students in May 2023.

Once again, my visit to Joshimath and the enchanting Niti Valley commenced in with the team from G. B. Pant national Institute of Himalayan Environment (NIHE) and Bath Spa University. Our team comprised of researchers, scientist from the NIHE, as well as students and faculty from Bath Spa University (BSU). The team was led by Dr. Jagdish Chandra Kuniyal, Sci-G, NIHE and Dr. Rich Johnson, Dr. Ceri Davies, faculty from BSU. The purpose of this visit was to ascertain local community knowledge of historical flood occurrence and impacts in the upper catchment of Dhauliganga river, which is located in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand.

Journey was filled with scenic views as we travelled through winding roads that passed through stunning valleys. As we ascended to higher altitudes, we were captivated by the breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks, cascading waterfalls, and ever-changing landscapes. However, we also observed some environmental degradation, due to widening of roads that has led to landslides in certain areas.

During our stay in Joshimath, we had the opportunity to explore Raini Village, which had experienced a devastating flash flood on February 7, 2021. Interacting with the local residents made me aware of the challenges they face while living in such high-risk areas. Despite these hardships, they continue to lead their lives with resilience and unity. I had the privilege of meeting Kumari Bali Devi, a strong supporter of the Chipko movement, who beautifully conveyed the essence of the movement through her song.

The experiences shared were incredibly insightful. They shed light on how climate change is affecting the region, reveal community-driven adaptation strategies, and highlight areas where external support is required. Moreover, by acknowledging their experiences, we validate the challenges they face.

Throughout my journey, I actively collected historical knowledge about floods from the local people, who warmly shared their experiences and stories, especially the women. While we encountered some challenges during our visit, the beauty of nature and the kindness of the local people never ceased to amaze us, making for a smooth and unforgettable experience. The sense of belonging and hospitality I experienced from the locals made me feel as though I was part of their community.

The people who have lived in these areas for generations possess invaluable knowledge about the patterns of rainfall, flood risk, and how to adapt to changing conditions. They remember the flood that took place centuries ago. They have connected these disaster incidents with their cultural events, such as marriages, births, and various social gatherings. By involving them in the decision-making process, we tap into this wealth of traditional wisdom. No one understands the specific needs and vulnerabilities of these villages better than the villagers themselves. Their input can help tailor solutions that are practical, sustainable, and culturally sensitive. Their knowledge has been instrumental in recollecting information about historical disasters, and it has somehow contributed to our achievement of the visit. I would like to express my gratitude to all the informants who assisted us and shared their valuable knowledge, enabling us to accomplish the work.

These are just a few of my experiences from the journey, and now, I will share the experiences of other team members.

Kumari Bali Devi, a strong supporter of the Chipko movement

Experience sharing by other team members

As a member of this team my takeaways from this fabulous experience are:

• Multi-national/ interdisciplinary research teams provide a powerful crucible to share ideas, culture and expertise. They empower research advancement, ringing new understanding to global challenges such as DRR;

• Local knowledge has a significant contribution to make to DRR. Our work reveals it is not sufficiently harnessed in research or policy-practice approaches. Local communities need to be further empowered to be partners in developing resilience;

• Environmental and societal challenges in the Indian Himalaya, are not a new phenomenon, so we must better learn from the past, to better equip mountain communities for the apparently increasing occurrence of cascading disaster impacts.

- Dr. Rich Johnson – Faculty, BSU

Undertaking this field research in an international collaboration between GBP-NIHE and Bath Spa University was a really exciting and demanding challenge for both staff and students alike. To be able to work in partnership with, and learn from, GBP-NIHE faculty and postgraduate students was a privilege for the UK-based staff, students and graduates. It enabled us to understand and apply research practices developed in a previous collaborative research project by UK and Indian colleagues to a new location, as well as to inform teaching pedagogy and future collaborative research projects.

From a personal perspective, I will always be grateful to have been provided the opportunity to undertake research in the Indian Himalayan region, see new landscapes at an altitude I had never imagined I would go to, meet new collaborators who are so knowledgeable about the area, and, most importantly, be so warmly welcomed into the local communities through the village workshops. Whilst the data is yet to be fully analysed from our pilot study, recording and documenting the local community’s knowledge and experiences will no doubt help our collective understanding of historical hazards and community resilience strategies, and to provide a platform on which local knowledge can formally contribute and enhance the DRR policy planning within our ever-changing environments

I would also like to acknowledge and thank our financial sponsors including the UK Turing Scheme and the Royal Commonwealth Society (Bath branch).

- Dr Ceri L. Davies- Faculty, BSU

I found travelling by road in India an exciting, sometimes alarming and educational experience. Describing the connectivity of fellow road users whether human or non-human as a ‘system’*, in itself, is an accurate reflection of these relationships. Observing the intermingling of drivers and bike riders somehow manoeuvring around pedestrians and animals including cows, goats and dogs who share the road with equal rights and dignity is a miracle of understanding, cooperation and coordination. The use of the vehicle horn is the accepted method of communication on the busy roads informing place and awareness and animals also seem to react to this. Drivers and riders have an inbuilt spatial awareness where the tiniest of spaces is used to pass and avoid connecting with fellow humans and animals.

- Debra Edwards - Student, BSU

This trip has been filled with unforgettable moments. Getting a chance to visit the villages on the banks of the Dhauliganga river and having the opportunity to incorporate the rich knowledge of the people embedded in this dynamic landscape into our research has been very valuable. The day we spent in Kosa village was especially memorable. It was a rainy day in the mountains, and we were all quite cold. After the village meeting, the generous people of Kosa insisted that we should have a hot meal before our journey back to Joshimath. Sitting underneath the shelter in front of the school building, looking up at the highest peaks of the mountains disappearing into the clouds above us while eating steaming hot kapa was a moment I will cherish for a long time.

- Iðunn Jónsdóttir – Student, BSU

Both people and place were inspiring. Getting to immerse in traditional Indian culture as well as witness Nanda Devi and the snowy mountain peaks. Combined, it made for a truly unique once in a lifetime experience. Every village member was happy and welcoming, being cooked for and celebrating with each other reminded me the importance of community belonging, and how these traditional ways of life are so valuable to protect.

- Molly Croft – Student, BSU

This experience reminded me of the importance of education and the empowerment of girls. It highlighted the transformative impact that education can have on individuals and their communities. Visiting Joshimath and its remote villages is a journey that reaffirmed our commitment to understanding and working with local communities, and a reminder that field visits has the potential to make a lasting impact not only on research but also on mind.

- Arushi Sharma – Researcher, NIHE

Working with the team from Bath Spa University for my first field visit to Joshimath, a remote high-altitude village in Uttarakhand, was a truly magical experience. This educational expedition promised to be a unique and enriching journey. For me, it was an opportunity to not only explore the pristine natural environment but also to connect with the resilient local communities of Joshimath who call this high-altitude region their home. This field visit provided a remarkable chance to learn from the local people, fostering a sense of mutual learning and cooperation. Observing the work of the Bath Spa University team, from tour preparation to data collection, was truly enchanting. It was a transformative experience that allowed me to delve into the high-altitude region and the community of Joshimath, gaining a deeper understanding of their unique challenges. This expedition not only enriched my academic knowledge but also left a lasting impact on my heart.

- Sumit Kumar – Researcher, NIHE

It’s hard to focus on a single event to summarize the experience of an incredible trip, and this is certainly true of my time working alongside colleagues from Bath Spa University and GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment in Uttarakhand. However, one day stands out for me: day three of our village data collection spent in Kosa. It encapsulated the varied and spectacular scenery on our long drives up the Dhauliganga valley as well as the change in climate that accompanied the increasing altitude. Nearby peaks appeared momentarily through low clouds, creating an atmosphere later enhanced by a cold wind and rain. It was a privilege to conduct research in such a location, and we left well fed and on a high which was only topped by the moon rising over snow-capped mountains in the distance on our drive back to Joshimath.

- Jacob Sudell - Student, BSU

In the nutshell, the journey to Joshimath and the Niti Valley was not just a research expedition; it was a profound and enriching experience that transcended academic boundaries. It reaffirmed the significance of collaborative research, cultural immersion, and community involvement in addressing the pressing challenges faced by mountain communities. The memories and lessons learned during this journey will continue to inspire and shape the work and lives of all those who were part of this extraordinary visit

Blog by -

Nidhi Kanwar


Head Quarters

G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment