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Transcultural Encounters in the Himalayan Borderlands:
Kalimpong as a ‘Contact Zone’

March 06 - 08, 2015
Kalimpong, India

Flash is required!
Watch Conference Introduction by Markus Viehbeck
Flash is required!
Watch Keynote speech by Tanka B. Subba “Processes of Cultural Identity Negotiations in the Himalayan Region”


The hill station of Kalimpong played a vital role as a center of convergence for the complex transcultural processes that affected the entire Eastern Himalayan region in the twentieth century. Originally an important link in the tea trade route connecting the Himalayas, it became the main transit hub for the exchange of Tibetan and European commodities in the wake of the British Younghusband invasion to Tibet in 1904. Economic development was accompanied by a growth of its population. The historical presence of various local ethnic groups met with an influx of traders and the settlement of British and Indian colonial officers, Christian missionaries, Nepali laborers, Tibetan dignitaries, Western Tibetologists, spiritual seekers, scholars and adventurers. While pursuing their respective goals, these formed complex networks and shaped and exchanged knowledge between worlds that had known very little about each other.
Kalimpong thus became a salient space for manifold and complex cultural interactions. The study of such spaces in the colonial world has in recent years been enriched by new theoretical perspectives related to transcultural and postcolonial studies. With this workshop, we would like to focus on Kalimpong as a rich case study for stimulating dialogue between these different efforts, probing into various interconnected key areas, such as trade, religion, politics, media, scholarship, education, etc., using different methodological and disciplinary approaches.
In order to cope with the heterogeneous nature of this enterprise and to facilitate closer linkages between these different fields of interest the concept of "Contact Zone" will act as a point of connection. Developed in the investigation of travel writing in a colonial context (Mary Louise Pratt, 1992), it skillfully combines general currents of cultural studies to form a nuanced analytical perspective. While it acknowledges on one hand the importance of larger asymmetries of power (highlighted in early postcolonial discourse), this is counterbalanced by an emphasis on the agency of individuals that might not follow the logic of these asymmetries. It focuses thus on the dynamic potential of a "Contact Zone", where specific cultural forms of understanding and practice are negotiated in a continuing interactive process.

The conference brought together various international scholars on the cultural history of Kalimpong, many of whom are linked through Eastern Himalayan Research Network.

For detailed information take a look at the conference program and the abstract folder.




Markus Viehbeck

Assistant Professor | Buddhist Studies