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Architecture in the Himalayas

Ar. Manuj Agarwal, who is doing research in the Himalayas, shares his impressions, thoughts and objectives for finding the right solutions for architectural development in hilly regions.

For the last seven years or so, we have been raising structures in the Himalayas with either low or nil boarding school in Bhimtal (near Nainital), an Ayurveda retreat located between Devprayag and Rishikesh, a Geeta Academy near Chamba (in Uttrakhand), and many other small and big residences/cottages in and around the Himalayas. We are also working with INTACH on its Uttrakhand Chapter's Ganga riverfronts from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi and down till Rishikesh; with NGOs that are educating masons on Structural Safety and Building Construction in the highly Seismic Zone, and with the Government of Uttrakhand as advisory. We try to imbibe the philosophy and the design principles which are completely in response to and within the context of climate, local inhabitants, local materials and the landscape, and we are taking this to colleges to educate our new generation of architects. We are also doing research on Urbanizing Himalayas - An Urgency for Sustainable and Identity-based Development. This involves travelling and photographing the human settlements in the hills - from the nomadic Banjaras (cattle people) to the British colonial developments.

The Himalayas is the lifeline of the subcontinent as it is an eternal source of sweet water supply and energy. Unfortunately, the rapidly increasing population, settlements, and development is deteriorating the environment and

depleting the natural resources. The less enlightened government, lack of qualified planners and developers,

unawareness of the people, and negligence of the administration is equally responsible for the degradation.

When I chanced upon an opportunity to design a resort near Thimpu in Bhutan, I was totally impressed by how modern

development demands can be met in harmony with nature while respecting the cultural identity and archi character of the place. I was intrigued as to why such a model of development is not there in places like Mussorie, Nainital,

Shimla, Katra, Rishikesh etc. Rapid urbanization, increased tourist activity, lack of planning and implementation has led to haphazard development, overruling the natural constraints. As a result, these places are heavily choked and are fast decaying.

There is an urgent need for setting guidelines for the future growth and development before it is too late. My research. objectives are enumerated as follows:

• To understand the process of urbanization in the hills and to investigate the shortfalls coming in the way of balanced


• To identify one such region (eg. Garhwal in Uttrakhand)) facing urban decay and record the major causes.

To study the present development pattern and its impact on the ecology and aesthetic environment of the region.

• Identify another region with the same ecology and need for development (eg. Bhutan) that has developed well.

• Develop a comprehensive and environmentally suitable system of growth for the region.


Establish a relationship with the local people and make them aware that their indigenous solutions are the most sustainable. The research briefly traces the transition in the urban structure and the architectural character of the Garhwal region from the colonial background to the post-Independence era. The aim is to comprehend the impact of this transition on the ecology and the aesthetics of the environment. The research will try to suggest any definite corrective measures, development patterns, policies and guidelines for future developments that can be applied in any Himalayan region.

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