International Seminar: The Himalayan Impasse

The interdisciplinary symposium, organized by the Dept. for Mongolian and Tibetan Studies of the University of Bonn, Germany, and sponsored by Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, will retrace how most of the South Himalayan region, once a vibrant hub between South, Central and East Asia became a dead end at the fringe of modern nation states. It will investigate, what direct and indirect impact this had on the local populations and how they learned coping with it.

On 28 & 29 January 2013, fifteen participating scholars and regional specialists will deliberate on the subject for two days in the premises of the Gustav-Stresemann-Institut in Bonn. External audience is most welcome and participation is free of costs. Food and accommodation is also available on the premises at reasonable rates. However, note that the capacities for accommodation are limited.

For general information about the seminar, pls. contact Thierry Dodin (UPP701@uni-bonn.de).

For practical information, pls. contact Jeannine Bischoff (jeannine_bischoff@yahoo.de).

Hardly any mountain range evokes the image of an impassable barrier as the Himalayas do. While this image might be accurate as far as geography, climate and ecology are concerned, when it comes to human population, the Himalayas were historically less a barrier than a bridge between north and south, connecting people through trade, political and religious relations, and even family and clan relations. Ideas, goods and skills transited through here in both directions to much further afield regions. Buddhism and other old South Asian cultural conceptions made their way to Tibet and from there spread up to Mongolia, Siberia and Manchuria. Foods, plants and medicinal knowledge travelled from Southeast Asia and today’s South China, reaching as far as today’s northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Salt, Borax and other minerals from the Tibetan Plateau found their way to South Indian markets, while, in the 19th century, Yak tails were exported to the United States via Calcutta to be used as fly flaps. Metallurgy skills and metal craft styles of Indian origin were transported to China via Nepal. South Asian Muslim traders houses established themselves in Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, from where they organised the commercial transport of goods between India, China, and Central Asia. Trading routes which crossed the Himalayas were also corridors for wars that continuously redefined political borders, creating a situation where states territories rarely match the lingistic-cultural realities left by thousands of years of human settlement.

In the second half of the 20th century, however, diverse political developments, in particular the final annexation of the traditional Tibetan state by the emerging People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1951, set a process in motion that was to gradually transfigure the region for ever. Conflicts flared up particularly from 1956 on, and tensions on the Himalayan border escalated to the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, following which most of the border was closed. The closure was less radical in Nepal, but here too the free transit of people, goods and ideas became a thing of the past. The new situation brought in many cases economic decline, cultural disorientation, social conflicts and general stagnation. Despite the emergence of new avenues and some successful coping strategies, the southern Himalaya remains till date marked by what was probably the deepest cut in its known history.

The aim of this international conference is to provide a comprehensive account of the ‘Himalayan Impasse’ by systematically retracing the regional disintegration processes which followed these developments, and analyse which strategies were developed to cope with the situation.


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