ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Alpine Orientalisms? The Garhwal Himalayas under the Eyes of Swiss and Austrian Mountaineers (20th century)


Bornet Philippe - University of Lausanne, SLAS, Lausanne, Switzerland


34 – Religious and Environmental Encounters: North Indian Mountains Through the Eyes of Travellers


 The contribution first gives a brief overview of the diversity of perspectives from which visitors to the Garhwal Himalaya and its religious sites have redacted narratives describing their visit: travel accounts, diaries of pilgrims, narratives of exploration and mountain climbing, ethnographic studies and others, by both Indian and European authors. We then turn to two specific examples from the early / mid 20th century: a text dealing with a Swiss expedition of 1936 led by Arnold Heim (1882–1965) and Augusto Gansser (1910–2012), Der Thron der Götter (1938) / Throne of the Gods (1939), and a text dealing with an Austrian expedition of 1938 led by the doctor Rudolf Jonas (1909–1962), Im Garten der göttlichen Nanda (1948). We focus on the following questions: what aspects of the environment (geology, flora and fauna) are these texts interested in? Do they limit themselves to “scientific” observations, or do they include symbolical, aesthetic or spiritual considerations? Are they emphasizing differences between their own experience of the mountains and that of the people they encounter on their way (especially pilgrims and sadhus)? Or are they, on the contrary, underlining continuities on the basis of a similar experience of mountainous spaces, in Europe and in India? In sum, what are the contours of the kind of “alpine orientalism” at work in such texts?