Professor Harshwanti Bisht is one of the UIAA’s newest volunteers having joined the Mountain Protection Commission (MPC) last year. She is a retired academic and based in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand, one of the Indian Himalayan states.
“My professional background is indirectly related to climbing and mountaineering,” explains Professor Bisht. “My Doctoral research work was on Tourism in the Garhwal Himalaya with a special focus on mountaineering and trekking in the Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts of Garhwal. A large number of mountaineers, trekkers and pilgrims visit every year, mostly concentrated in the Gangotri-Gaumukh area.”
Gaumukh, the snout of the 28km long Gangotri glacier is the source of river Bhagirathi and the main tributary of river Ganga. The area is noted for its many high peaks and glaciers and attracts in excess of 100,000 tourists a year. Professor Bisht has dedicated significant time to aiding the biodiversity of the area, helping plant some 12,000 birch saplings at the very source of river.
Mountain protection is one of Professor Bisht’s passions. She was initially nominated for the MPC in 2007 but recovery from a major car accident meant she was forced to take a break from her work with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) and couldn’t fulfil the position. She was delighted when last year the IMF put her candidature forward again. “My desire is to support the UIAA Mountain Protection Commission by contributing to conversations and projects related to mountain tourism, ecological preservation and right to access issues”. Today she is also one of two Vice Presidents of the IMF as well as serving as the Chairperson of areas concerning mountain protection.
“My first impressions of the UIAA are that it is a global body which is working for the protection of the mountains, mountaineering, climbing and mountain communities,” reflects Professor Bisht. “This is achieved by the General Assembly, Management Committee and different Commissions working holistically for the development of mountaineering and climbing and the protection of the environment, people, culture and society.”
Although she refers to herself as ‘not a professional climber’ Professor Bisht’s experience in the mountains, and at high altitude, is considerable. She has climbed Nanda Devi (7,816m) and few other peaks in Indian Himalaya and participated in the Indian Everest Expedition of 1984. In her academic career, in addition to presenting at international seminars, she has edited two books on Tourism and Himalayan Bio-Diversity in (English) and the other titled Environmental Movements of Uttarakhand in (Hindi) and wrote and contributed to numerous research papers and popular articles on mountain tourism and ecotourism.
The MPC with many significant projects, papers and declarations on its agenda to deliver over the coming years will undoubtedly benefit from Professor Bisht’s expertise.