Join a group of adventurous students for the fall semester in North India to learn about the culture and environment of the Himalayas, one of the most spectacular and diverse mountain ranges on earth. You'll go on backpacking expeditions to the source of India’s sacred rivers, to ancient Tibetan monasteries in Ladakh, learn about conservation at India’s premier Tiger reserve, Corbett National Park, and experience life in a mountain village during a village home stay. The program’s academic focus is based on experiential education during field expeditions, including trips to the sacred city of Rishikesh on the Ganga, engagement with environmental activist organizations, a community-based conservation project focused on restoring biodiversity, and trips to visit numerous institutions that reflect the rich cultural heritage of Mussoorie. The program includes a “fall break” when students are assisted in making their own plans for trips to other parts of India, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, The Red Fort in Delhi or to Goa. The courses that you take in the classroom are contextualized as you explore the towns, villages and environment offered by the Himalayan Mountains. Excursions to sites of cultural and historical significance allow you to know the region in a way that time in a classroom simply cannot provide. Spend some time living with a host family in a small village, learning yoga at the birthplace of the practice, and trekking along one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the country.
As an engaged and active participant in this program, you will have the opportunity to:
- Gain a deep understanding of how the environment shapes culture
- Experience a life changing perspective on the fragile ecology of one of the planet’s most important ecological zones
- Engage with individuals who embody the rich diversity of modern India
- Develop eye opening insights on social, economic and gender inequality as well as an understanding of how people are finding creative solutions to these problems
- 3 meals per day
- Double or triple rooms
- Shared bathrooms
- Dining area
- Communal lounge space
- Communal kitchen stocked with pantry items
- Wifi and computer lab
- Laundry service
You will take 4-5 courses for 12-15 credits. Some of the courses are cross-listed between Anthropology and Environmental Studies departments.
These courses are approved for General Education Requirements:
- Himalayan Biodiversity – Natural Science, Specific Geographical Area
- Himalayan Geography – Specific Geographic Region
- Religion and Ecology – Cross-Cultural Awareness, Philosophical Thinking or Ethics
- Mountain and Medicine – Cross-Cultural Awareness, Global Issues, Specific Geographic Region
Ranging in altitude from several hundred meters above sea level to over seven thousand, from subtropical forests to high altitude meadows and deserts, and from areas with little or no rainfall to regions that are among the wettest in the world, the Himalayas define a geographical region of enormous geological variation and biodiversity. The goal of this course is to gain an understanding of this diversity, with a focus on ethology, the study of animal behavior and the interaction of animal species.
The Himalayan region is characterized by a tremendous range of social and cultural diversity that corresponds to climatic, ecological and geographical variation, as well as local and regional geopolitical factors. Historical change from the emergence of early forms of social complexity centered on chiefs and their forts – from which the regional designation of “Garhwal” takes its name – through the development of kingdoms and larger polities shows the intimate link between geography, environment and socio-political transformation. Similarly, local language patterns, regional religious practices, musical styles, mythology, food culture, sartorial fashion, architectural design, agricultural and transportation technologies and engineering and trade networks have all been shaped by the structure of mountain barriers, bounded valley communities and bracketed lines of communication that follow river systems. Whereas the political economy of the Himalayas has been structured around agricultural production, and the development of elaborate field terrace systems, there have also been subsidiary economies centered on trans-Himalayan trade and pilgrimage as well as pastoral nomadism and transhumance. Since the colonial period, the Himalayas have increasingly become a place for rest, relaxation, tourism and adventure, and this – along with further political transformations since Indian independence -- has led to the rapid development of urban areas. This course will provide a survey of Himalayan history, society and culture with a focus on the relationship between nature, the environment and geography.
Just as its great rivers carve and cleanse continents, the Himalayan landscape continues to anchor and reshape religious traditions across Asia. This course provides an introduction to the unusual and enduring relationship between these particular material mountains and an impressively diverse array of dynamic spiritual practices.
Designed as a whistlestop yatra, the course is a guided tour of a deliberately eclectic set of specific physical locations, including peaks, lakes, cities, roads, hill-top shrines, and street-side dargahs. With each stop we will examine the way Himalayan sites have acquired, transformed, and experienced traditions of sacredness. The structure of the tour enables us to follow a roughly chronological timeline, stretching from early indigenous practices to the emerging Buddhisms and Hinduisms of Lhasa, Leh, and the now-chockful Char Dham highways. This chronological approach allows us to consider the historical connections and shared intellectual genealogies behind many of Asia’s increasingly disparate religious traditions.
The locations studied vary from canonical (Lumbini) to quotidian (a small hilltop shrine just across the valley from our classroom). Attention is paid to sites near where students will live and travel. The course leverages the considerable field time afforded to students by linking weekly readings and research assignments to subsequent excursions planned as part of the overall Pitt in the Himalayas program. Reading selections are taken almost entirely from primary texts written from various positions within the religious traditions themselves.
Introductory, conversational Hindi. The course will focus on communication skills and vocabulary that is relevant to common everyday use in the context of program.
The Hanifl Centre was established in 2003 to promote the study of the Himalayan environment with a focus on outdoor education. The University of Pittsburgh has partnered with the Centre since 2013 and now runs three programs in the summer and fall. Hanifl Centre staff embody India’s multicultural modernity with a certified record of professionalism, having earned national and international recognition for their programs in leadership training and wilderness medicine. India’s first green design campus, the Hanifl Centre is near a nature reserve in-between India’s two most sacred rivers, the Yamuna and the Ganga. In 2019 Pitt’s Chancellor visited the Centre in recognition of our well-established partnership, innovative programs and proven record of success. To learn more about the Hanifl Centre please visit haniflcentre.in.
Salam! I’m Nazir and I'm your Study Abroad Program Manager. I was born and raised abroad and went to schools in Afghanistan, Iran, and the U.S. I also took classes in India and United Arab Emirates. I worked for the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and German Foreign Office for over ten years before moving to Pittsburgh in 2014. At the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, I assisted Afghan students to study in the U.S., and now I'm glad I have the opportunity to help you study abroad.
Schedule a Zoom appointment with me below or get in touch with me through email to discuss study abroad options.
Schedule an appointment with me using Pathways!
- Log in to Pathways or use the Navigate app
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Joseph Alter was born in the Himalayas and has been studying religion, culture and the environment in the mountains for thirty years. He is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh with research expertise in medical anthropology.
Please feel free to reach out to Dr. Alter with any questions about the academics of the program. His email is: JSALTER@pitt.edu.
Akshay Shah is head of programs at the Hanifl Centre. He is an environmental activist who has established conservation and leadership programs in the mountains. He is also a certified Wilderness EMT with expertise in community health and medicine.
Suniti Datta has lived in the Himalayas for decades and is an expert in natural history and field biology. Affiliated with the Wildlife Institute of India he has conducted field research on elephant ethology. He is an avid student of ornithology and the intricate relationship between birds and the mountain environment.
“Kutty” joined the Hanifl Centre in 2009. He has trekked extensively across the Himalaya and is an accomplished mountaineer having summited numerous peaks in the Indian Himalaya. In 1994, he co-led an Indian-American expedition to Nanda Devi (east) where he reached an altitude of 23,000 ft. In June 2011, Kutty led a group of Woodstock staff on an expedition to Banderpunch peak (20800 ft.) where 17 members made it to the top. Kutty is passionate about experiential education in the outdoors and continues to design curriculum and treks for Woodstock students and staff.
He is actively involved in developing new courses and works closely with US Universities in designing and delivering their “Study Abroad” programmes. His vision for training Trekking Guides in rural areas led to the centre’s pioneering effort in courses being taught in Hindi. He is also responsible for initiating the partnership with Aerie Backcountry Medicine of Missoula, Montana to offer affordable courses in Wilderness First Aid & CPR in India. Before joining the Hanifl Centre, Kutty worked for 20 years with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), as their India Director. NOLS is a US based school acknowledged worldwide as the leader in wilderness education. Kutty has taught NOLS courses in Kenya, Chile, Alaska, Wyoming and the Indian Himalaya.
Items Billed by Pitt
|Study Abroad Fee||$400||$400|
|Total Billed by Pitt||$16,699||$22,287|
Estimated Additional Out-of-Pocket Costs
|Personal Expenses||$1,500 - $3,000|
As a part of your Pitt in the Himalayas program fee, the following are included in the program:
- Tuition for 12-15 credits
- All meals
- Health Insurance
- Airport Transfers
- On-Site Transportation
- End of the year gala reception
- No foreign language proficiency required.
- There are no prerequisite courses, but any previous coursework in anthropology would be beneficial.
- You should be prepared for an academically rigorous semester of study.
- You should be prepared for a physically demanding semester with lots of outdoor activities including extended trekking to high altitude sites. The program includes two eight-day backpacking trips that are challenging but require no previous experience in the outdoors.
- Field trips include several journeys by train, bus and a flight by plane to the city of Leh, the capital of Ladakh at 12,000 ft above sea level.
- Due to the nature of the program, the schedule is subject to change. There may be instances where a guest speaker or visit needs to be rescheduled. We ask for your patience and understanding in advance.