12 Dec 2016

Private Roads: Local road construction initiatives in the Himalayas

Dynamic Borderlands – Livelihoods, Communities and Flows: 5th International Conference of the Asian Borderlands Research Network (ABRN), Kathmandu, Hotel Annapurna, 12–14 December

Martin Saxer and Nyima Dorjee Bhutia


The construction of roads – and of border roads in particular – usually follows a top-down approach. Planning and financing are typically in the hands of government agencies, outside companies bid for tenders, and the local population is (at best) involved in the occasional “stakeholder meeting”. In Nepal, however, there are several cases in which substantial Himalayan border road projects started from local grass-root initiatives rather than government schemes. In this paper, we are looking into two such local initiatives in the districts of Taplejung and Humla, respectively. Driven by the particular interests of specific local groups, these private initiatives are directly related to government road projects that are considered either to be taking “too long” or to be following the “wrong route”; in other words, these local initiatives are reactions to what is perceived as a lack of essential infrastructure development and a pervasive feeling of being left behind.

In this context, these private initiatives at hand also have to be seen against the background of old Himalayan pathways of exchange and their current predicament. The visions of former prosperity and future development tied to these pathways are sometimes at odds with both NGO dreams of tourism-friendly “green roads” and official schemes of transport corridors that facilitate the orderly passage of goods and people. We argue that grass-root initiatives pushing for roads are an important aspect to understand the larger dynamics at stake in the Himalayan borderlands.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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