2002 Student-Faculty Fellows: Carthage College
The Price of Progress:
Pilgrimage Sites and Tourism Development in the Indian Himalayas
Mentor: James G. Lochtefeld, Department of Religion
Students: Nicholas John Barootian ’02; Sarah Ann Helminski ’03
Abstracts of Reflections
James G. Lochtefeld
I was deeply interested in our research project, and delighted at the prospect of returning to the Himalayas. Yet my primary hope was that this trip would be an experience Nick and Sarah would remember for the rest of their lives, and I was determined to do my utmost to make this happen. It was clearly a powerful experience for both of them, which is immensely gratifying for any teacher. What I did not anticipate (or fully realize until after our return) was how teaching and caring for these two has transformed me, in a way that I can only describe as “opening the heart.” Our research last summer ties in neatly with my own work and interests, but I think that the trip’s greatest benefits will appear in my teaching, in which I have taken up the task both to speak and to teach from the heart. In this way, I hope I better model some of the religious values that I teach in my religion classes, and thus teach students more effectively.
After spending almost six weeks in North India studying developmental tourism at Himalayan pilgrim sites, I found that I gained much more than a body of knowledge concerning Hindu pilgrimage. By involvement in Hindu worship and by observation of the people that dwell in pilgrim towns, I was led to a greater personal faith and a heightened sympathy for those members of our human family who remain helplessly in need. This experience in the magical “dwelling of the gods” was deepened by the awesome and constant presence of the Himalayas.
India changed me, and the path I will choose in life will be different because of it. After seeing the destruction arising from irresponsible, ill-planned development in the Himalayas, after hearing local residents talk about the detrimental changes in recent years, and after learning about development initiatives in the Uttaranchal region, I am convinced that I want to pursue a career in sustainable economic development.
Although this realization was the most significant, there were other affects as well. Doing research on site challenged me to think critically, and to place what I was seeing in its larger context. Living a slower-paced and materially simpler existence has given me greater appreciation for the smaller pleasures in life. Finally, the experience of being a “foreigner” has helped me become more aware of how I present myself to others, and has helped make me a more tolerant and agreeable person.
Our research examined how the promotion of tourism (and the development associated with tourism) was affecting three major Hindu pilgrimage sites: Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. All three sites are high in the Himalayas, are closed by snow for six months each year, and are in ecologically fragile surroundings. All three sites have been clearly influenced by the presence and history of access by motor roads, but each site’s development is intimately related to its individual history, context and circumstances.
Kedarnath is still accessible only after a ten-mile journey on foot. This isolation (and difficulty) mean that it has changed the least, at least materially. This same isolation has spurred some of the most striking religious changes, since its pilgrimage priests are the most aggressive in seeking patronage from foreigners to supplement their uncertain incomes. Badrinath has had a road since the 1960s, but also has a history of being a more cosmopolitan place, since it is on one of the trade routes to Tibet. At present it is by far the best developed and the most affluent of these three sites, and seems to be directed toward “high-end” tourism. Gangotri became road-accessible only in 1985, and its development has been compressed into a shorter time. It is also touted as a site for “adventure tourism,” from which visitors (of all sorts) can trek to the source of the Ganges. Not only did Gangotri have the most visible ecological problems-sick trees, contaminated water, trash, and uncontrolled construction-but it was the only place in which local residents said that development had adversely affected its religious atmosphere.
Venues for Sharing
Participated in a morning radio interview for the local public radio station, WGTD. We also hope to have the story of our trip published in The Carthaginian, the college alumni magazine.