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Bates College

Publication Date

Spring 2022

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


Mustang and Dolpo are at a tipping point of connectivity and community change as road development brings the districts closer to Nepal’s economic centers. In this independent study, I document contemporary trade relationships between Mustang’s Sangda and Dolpo’s Chharka, currently separated by three days of unmotorable trail. Through in person interview, archival research, and photography, I document methods of economy and community in three villages- Mustang’s Phelag and Sangda, and Dolpo’s Chharka. I focus upon future community prospects of Sangda and Chharka as road development between the two progresses.

As the two villages exchange goods, develop familiarity, and host traders from one another, forms of community and trust develop demonstrated through trust, systems of credit, unspoken rules of reciprocity, and seller loyalty. However, as road development progresses, residents of both villages opt for cheaper purchases and more lucrative trades in Nepal’s middle hill and Terai marketplaces made accessible by road, diverting a longstanding trade relationship south of the Himalayas.

This paper explores changes brought about by road development, forms of economic community, and hopes for the future, namely improvements in education and medical care.

I begin by grounding this project in my account of the mountainous journey between Sangda and Chharka. I then move to defining my approach, a combination of written ethnography with historical analysis, coupled with photographic narrative. I then ground my account of the Mustang-Dolpo trade route by providing detailed account of political and economic change in each district, namely the closure of the once fluid Tibetan border, the decline of the salt trade, and the construction of the Beni-Jomsom-Korala road along the Kaliganaki corridor. I then provide account of methods of economy for three villages, Phelag, Sangda, and Chharka along the studied route.

I conduct analysis of the trade community shared between Sangda and Chharka, document current and future prosepcts for Chharka’s healthcare system amidst the promise of road development.

I conclude with photography documenting road driven change in Phelag, and a group of traders traveling from Chharka to Sangda.


Asian History | Asian Studies | Development Studies | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Transportation


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