Locating Shangri-La in a Colonial Past: Himalayan History, Travel, Development and Myth-Making
Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)
Colby College. Anthropology Dept.
Mary Beth Mills
This paper has allowed me to look at my own beliefs and motivations for spending last year in Nepal. As someone who was fed on the images of National Geographic, my notion of what Nepal would be like clashed with reality and provided for my research paper, particularly the overly reflective chapter entitled "Hell and Some Helicopters" (Waldman, 1998). In this paper, I look to a more theoretical and historical approach to the analysis of tourism in the Himalayan region. I look to Western creations and Nepali recreations of various myth to justify what I see as a continuous colonial presence. I start with an introduction to the myth of Shangri-La. In chapter II, I place the myth's creation in the framework of the 19th century and British colonialism in the Indian Subcontinent and Himalayan Regions. It was during this period that the rhetoric of Himalayas as primitive. sacred, profaned, remote, and exotic were born, and I argue that these images were a reflection of the time and a lack of understanding of Himalayan cultures, religions and peoples. In chapter III I explore what the geopolitical situation looked like in contrast to the dominant imagery that was appearing. The historical conditions that motivated travel and the subsequent images that followed were colonial, and these conditions continued past the post-colonial time boundary of 1947. The post-colonial years have seen a perpetuation of the themes of the colonial period, which obscure the geopolitical realities, particularly in the form of tourism. In chapter IV I look at tourism from a more theoretical viewpoint, as a potential tool of "sustainable development" and a means of state and imperial control. By doing so I show what I believe is a major difficulty in post-colonialism; that colonial images reward those who perpetuate them and that they are slow to die. This is displayed in chapter V as I present examples from Nepal, India and Bhutan of the reproduction of 19th century myth. By following this argument, I intend to merge discussions of the anthropology of tourism with post-colonial theory. Throughout the paper, I attempt to use the voices of Himalayan peoples as proof that the problem is more widely known than might be perceived. Unfortunately, I could not incorporate as many local voices as possible as I wrote this paper on the opposite side of the world. Further fieldwork would lend support to this thesis, but even without it, it stands that the processes and problems of tourism have not been examined as thoroughly as possible, and doing so would be beneficial to anthropology, cultural studies and post-colonial theory, not to mention the millions of people who are effected by tourism on a daily basis.
Himalaya, Shangri-La, Nepal, Colonialism, travel, development, myth, sustainable development
Recommended CitationWaldman, Joshua, "Locating Shangri-La in a Colonial Past: Himalayan History, Travel, Development and Myth-Making" (1999). Honors Theses. Paper 453.
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