‘What else?’: Community Perspectives on Tourism-led Urbanization in Spiti, India

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The remote Spiti Valley in northern India, is experiencing a tourism boom, which, in turn, in fueling a construction boom in the villages of the region. The region offers a unique landscape – a rocky high altitude desert with splashes of greenery. Rare wildlife can be spotted in winters, with the region under a cover of snow. Perhaps the most important component of the region’s cultural attractions are the monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism. Today the fragile Himalayan ecosystem is threatened by the rapid urbanization and increasing tourist loads. Social structures and cultural practices are under stress. Two questions lead this project. (a) What are the community’s aspirations and concerns with regards to tourism and urban development in the Spiti Valley? (b) Why, despite witnessing undesirable urban outcomes in numerous Himalayan towns, has very little changed in terms of tourism policy in this sensitive region? The study examines attitudes towards tourism in Kaza, a small town in the Spiti Valley, facing rapid urbanization as a hub for the fast-expanding tourism sector. Based on a survey of residents and business-owners (N=420), and in-depth interviews with key informants, the paper reports the principal narratives in the region on the themes of growth and sustainability.
Sustainable tourism, Community based tourism, Himalayas, Small towns