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Department of Social Anthropology


The four-year multidisciplinary ‘Himalayan Connections: Melting glaciers, sacred landscapes and mobile technologies in a changing climate’ (HimalConnect) project researches the environmental perceptions and management strategies of so-called ‘remote’ communities in Nepal and Bhutan, drawing on long-term, place-based understandings of landscape at a time of climate change and increased technological connectivity. It is co-hosted by the Department’s Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit and the Department of Religious Studies, University of Oslo. In Cambridge, Sr RA Riamsara Kuyakanon Knapp works with Co-Is Dr Hildegard Diemberger at MIASU, and Prof Bhaskar Vira of the Department of Geography. After a launch workshop in Oslo, the first year of the project was spent in fieldwork in Humla, far western Nepal, culminating in a stakeholder workshop co-hosted in Kathmandu, with national partners ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development).

The HimalConnect project had an eventful past year. As air pollution levels dropped and the Himalayan peaks emerged in clearer skies, 

the pandemic partially recast the project’s modus operandi. While travel to remoter field sites was curtailed after several months, Riam’s unexpectedly extended stay in Bhutan enabled her to observe the sudden prominence of internet and cellular technology in disseminating televised ritual blessings and empowerments to protect against coronavirus, and how local rainmaking rituals became re-deployed into pandemic prevention rituals at state level, as Bhutan mobilised all resources, technological, social, governmental – and spiritual, against the spread of COVID-19. 

Back in Cambridge, with MIASU co-editors Professor David Sneath and Dr Hildegard Diemberger, and Assistant Editor Libby Peachey, Riam is finalising the edited volume Cosmopolitical Ecologies Across Asia, to be published in the Routledge Environmental Humanities Series. She is also convening project-related sessions at this year’s RAI and RGS conferences, and in the initial stages of preparing another edited volume. The Himalayan Connections project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council, with collaborating partners in Nepal, Bhutan, Paris, Prague and the United States.  


Image: Remote sensing and GPS mapping technology are a part of daily life and work for environmental monitoring. The image shown here is of glacial lakes in various states of being.