ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Nanda Devi: Seeking Resonance or Encounter the Uncontrollable


Linkenbach Antje - University of Erfurt, Max Weber Center for Advanced Cuktural and Social Studies, Erfurt, Germany


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


 Nanda Devi (7815m), western summit of a mountain range in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, is the abode of the goddess Nanda, the ‘blissful goddess’, worshipped in eastern Garhwal and Kumaon.

Nanda Devi has always attracted pilgrims and devotees; since the 1930s also European travelers and mountaineers. They describe Nanda Devi’s magnificent beauty; they meet her with devotional reverence, but also see her as nature’s challenge – a means to spiritual growth by mortal risk, or simply a majestic peak that must be conquered.

This paper discusses expedition and travel accounts of Nanda Devi (Aitken, Shipton, Alter, Roskelly…), exploring different perspectives on the mountain (sacred, secular, aesthetic) and the passionate search for “resonance” (H. Rosa). Of special interest is the account of the 1976 expedition (Roskelly). The expedition led to the death of mountaineer Nanda Devi Unsoeld (named by her father after the goddess), which in the aftermath became a legend in the region.  The expedition was still vividly memorized, when I did fieldwork in Lata in the mid-1990s, from where villagers had been part of the fateful expedition as porters or cooks.

The establishment of the Nanda Devi biosphere reserve and the ban on mountaineering has negatively affected the livelihood of local villagers. The paper will end by briefly reflecting on the ambivalence of ecological policies, in light of the current highly destructive infrastructure development and the Rishiganga disaster in 2021.