In public imaginaries, the lives of borderland communities in Nepal’s Himalayas are cast in a set of deeply engrained yet contradictory ideas: first, they are seen as “local communities” – blessed with precious cultural heritage to be safeguarded and developed for tourism; second, they are blamed for environmentally destructive border trade in wildlife and endangered medicinal plants; and third, as quint-essentially “local”, these communities they are seen as threatened by out-migration. In this paper, I argue that neither of these imaginaries, nor the analytical takes derived from them, are able to capture what is at stake. Trying to gain a better understanding of the contemporary experiences of these communities and the borderlands they engage with, I suggest two notions: pathways and place-knots.
The notion of pathways draws attention to the particularities of the mountainous Himalayan terrain where movement and exchange follow certain routes conditioned as much by terrain as by the vagaries of border regimes. In this context, proximity to a pathway is often more important than distance from an urban center. The notion of place-knots gives regard to the ways in which community is forged and maintained in highly mobile Himalayan trading societies, namely multi-locally rather than locally, e.g. between a mountain village, a neighbourhood in Kathmandu, and a borough of New York City. The notions of pathways and place-knots render visible the transactions, translocations and translations that shape these margins at the crossroads of global connections.