Questioning Development

By Claude Owen

We had to make choice the other day, between going off on a two-day hike with Pana, or staying in the village and immersing ourselves in the culture of the people. I was quite torn on this decision; on the one hand, there was coincidentally a wedding being held in the village—a ethnic experience that I might never be able to witness again—and on the other, I was in the middle of the Himalayan mountains, a geographical majesty that would be criminal to neglect. I ended up choosing to go off hiking, partially due to the promise of a trek though snow capped mountains, and partially because we would still have the opportunity to explore the village for the few days after we returned.

There is simply no way to describe the hike without addressing the beauty of the mountains. Yes, the climb was physically draining, and at the end of each day I was exhausted, but all of that was quickly forgotten when standing under the Assi Ganga as it formed a massive waterfall, or when we were sitting on the ridge of a mountain at over 10,000 feet, staring at the three peaks that create Bandarpunch, the holy mountain of the Hindu monkey god. Despite the snow filling my boots, my gloves long having fallen out of my pocket, and my fingers threatening to freeze, my breath was lost as we stared at hidden horizon. And I promise that was not only because of the altitude.

Trust me, check out the pictures.

Yet at the same time that we were gazing at these earthly wonders, a nagging thought kept pushing my mind. Beyond Agora, in the distance behind the ridge, a dust cloud rose ominously into the sky. For centuries, Agora has been relatively isolated, protected from the pressure of the outside world by its remote location. This is not the future that is promised for Agora. For the first time in history, a road is being constructed which will allow a quick commute to and from the village. Its protective barrier is being removed.

My torn view of this road does not sum up the entire story though. There are good aspects that will come from its construction as well; for instance, the villagers currently have no quick access to a hospital (on our way up, we passed a group of men carrying down a sick villager who could not breath on their shoulders) and their commute to Uttarkashi to sell their crops only includes whatever them and their mules can carry down the cliffs. Agora wants this road.

But as an outsider—someone who has no stakes being held by the economic prosperity if the village—I can’t help but feel a sense of longing for the culture that is lost by the modernization of the community. How long will it take for mechanical plows to replace the hands that are currently working the fields? How long will the unique language survive after Hindi speaking travellers begin to be accommodated for? Is this sacrifice worth it for the benefits that will be brought to the people? I don’t have the answer, and I’m not sure it is even my place to ask the question. All I see is the community is changing, and what something that once made this place special is being threatened.

One thought on “Questioning Development

  1. Welcome home, Claud! You’re keenly observant and thoughtful. I enjoyed your post tremendously. Your thought process is well beyond your years. Change is inevitable and difficult to handle at times. The locals, both on the islands and in Agora, probably have mixed feelings about how to proceed or even whether to proceed with modernization. It will probably happen for all of them and we can only hope that they will be a peace with their decisions.

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