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Man and His House in The Himalayas (Ecology of Nepal)

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Item Code: NAM719
Author: Gerard Toffin
Publisher: Vajra Books, Nepal
Language: English
Edition: 1991
ISBN: 9789937623551
Pages: 248 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 11.0 inch x 8.5 inch
Weight 660 gm
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Book Description
Preface to the Second Edition

The study of Himalayan traditional architecture

This book was first published in French in 1981 by CNRS, National Centre for Scientific Research (France), under the title L'Homme et la maison en Himalaya. It was subsequently published in English in 1991 by Sterling Publishers, in New Delhi. It seems to us-the author and the publisher-that the earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May 2015 might be an appropriate opportunity, for obvious reasons, to republish it. These massive seismic events, along with the ineluctable effect of modernity and globalization, will no doubt sound the death knell for a large part of Nepalese vernacular architecture in the affected areas.

In fact, this vernacular regional architecture, mostly farmhouses constructed by local builders with locally available materials, without using the services of a professional architect, is likely to gradually disappear. The building designs and their associate socio-religious representations described in the volume will therefore bear witness to traditional Nepali rural and urban housing. They deserve special attention from local people, architects, researchers and planners.

One of the main points of interest in the volume is that it covers a wide range of vernacular architectures, representative of Nepal's different ecological zones, from the Tarai, to the mountains. In addition, it illustrates house types, methods of construction and the lifestyles of a large number of populations in Nepal, not only various Janajati ethnic groups, but also Parbatiya caste people. One chapter is even devoted to a low-caste group (Po de). One other section deals with the monumental buildings of the Kathmandu Valley. The volume thus captures the biological as well as the cultural diversity and richness of Nepal and of the Himalayas beyond.

Man and his house in the Himalayas particularly highlights the symbolic dimensions of the house in this region of Asia. Beyond their physical contours, the dwellings and settlements of the Himalayan range embody a number of social and religious implicit meanings. They reverberate ideas and representations about the cosmos, the relations of power within family or village, the opposition between the sacred and the profane, as well as the dichotomy between sexes. In the major languages spoken in Nepal, for instance, house terms convey interesting parallels with the human body. Several examples are given in the book. These parallels are not mere coincidences. They transform dwellings in meaningful spaces for their inhabitants. Through these complex processes of symbolization, the materiality of constructions is transfigured. The house is metamorphosed in a symbolic space, a matrix of ideologies, rituals and mental images, which must be explored thoroughly.

For those who are interested, I must mention that the French edition of the current book was followed by the publication in 1987 of a second volume (also in French) which I edited with Denis Blamont, a geographer. This book was published by Editions du CNRS under the tile: Architecture, milieu et societe en Himalaya. It deepens the themes explored in the first work. Unfortunately, up to now, it has not been translated to English.

I am including in this Preface two texts that I recently wrote. The first is a scholarly presentation of traditional building techniques in the Himalayas and some of the current changes affecting them. It was written in association with Joelle Smadja, a geographer at CNRS, for a British Encyclopedia of architecture which has not yet been published. The second text appeared in The Kathmandu Post, on 10th May 2015. It shall be reproduced with some additions and revisions. These two essays throw light directly on our subject and on the rapid change affecting traditional architecture in this region of the world.

Fragile vernacular architecture

The great earthquakes (maha bhukampa) that hit central and eastern Nepal so heavily on 25 April and 12 May 2015, has caused considerable damages to traditional homes and historic monuments, ranging from dangerous cracks to total destruction. According to UN, it has destroyed or badly damaged more than 900,000 homes. Some villages, especially in worst afflicted districts like Gorkha, Nuwakot and Sindhupalchok, had been totally razed to the ground. The Kathmandu Valley has been badly affected but the hills have also greatly suffered, for instance in Tamang, Gurung, Ghale, Kirant and Parbatiya areas, mainly among the poorer families who lived in the old precarious housing. Despite some controversies among engineers, clay-mortar houses (brick-and- mud constructions) have proved to be less resistant than those using cement-mortar or those reinforced by cement. The use of traditional building techniques and of standard local materials has thus been seriously questioned. Rebuilding projects will have to take into account this architectural fragility in a zone that is so prone to seismic disasters. They are in demand for quake-resilient materials and structures. Houses exclusively made of bamboo have been presented by some NGOs as a solution, but other materials like corrugated zinc roofing, jasta, and concrete seem to be preferred by the population.

Ranging from an altitude of 100 to more than 8,000 metres, stretching over a distance of 2,500 km and watered by a humid tropical monsoon flow that decreases from East to West and is blocked by the high range in the North, the Himalayas cover a vast array of environments. The contrasting ecosystems provide varied renewable natural resources widely used by populations in their domestic architecture. At an altitude belt situated between 3,500 and 1,800 m, tree species such as Abies spectabilis, Quercus glauca, Pinus excelsia and roxburghii among others in the central and eastern Himalayas, Cedrus deodara in the western Himalayas, as well as various sorts of bamboo, play a particularly important role in construction materials. At a lower elevation (Tarai and Bhabar areas), in the foothills, Shorea robusta, sal in the local language, as well as various Graminae and reeds are also of central importance in making buildings.

Up to an elevation of about 4,500 metres, the region is home to numerous kinds of dwellings that are determined by the availability of natural resources and by climate conditions. Let us consider a transect in the central Himalayas, from the top to the lower belt. In high-altitude Tibet and Tibetanized arid areas, characterized by a mineral landscape, stone or/and rammed-earth houses organized around a courtyard, with few openings to protect the occupants from the cold, and with terraced roofs suitable for drying grain and combustible materials, are the dominant feature. The walls are thick (0.45 m). In the Nepalese middle mountains, the wooden facades of Tamang houses, for instance, with a shingle roof weighed down with stones, differ markedly from the wattle and daub walls and thatch roofs of the houses inhabited by the multi-caste and multi-ethnic hill populations. In some cases (Gurung ethnic group, Bahun caste) houses are not of a rectangular shape but have an elliptical or round form (warmer and stronger, so it is said) and are covered by conical thatched roofs.

Newar houses in the Kathmandu Valley, for their part, have heavy sloping roofs made of tiles and highly decorated overhanging eaves. In the eastern middle hills (Arun valley) and Terai [Jhapa] of Nepal, houses are often built on piles and their walls are woven out of bamboo and reeds. In addition, all over the Nepalese mountains, roofing stone or shingles cover fixed shelters for herdsmen. At lower altitudes, mobile shelters for shepherds (Nepali: goth) with mat-top covers are a ubiquitous sight. These temporary structures characterise an economy in which livestock roams all year round over the fields, fertilizing them. In the western Tarai plains, the walls of Tharu houses are made of ochre-coloured mud and clay (wattle and daub) and are covered by a large sloping thatched roof which is supported by several rows of wooden poles. The roof extends out over the low outer walls. The house is very dark because there are only a few small openings to protect the household from the heat.

In far eastern humid Arunachal Pradesh (India), where subtropical rain forest covers more than 70 per cent of the area and where the population practises shifting cultivation, villages occupy clearings in the middle of the forest. Houses are made of bamboo and wood. Sloping roofs are made of banana or palm leaf and of thatch, and can be transported when the village is displaced. To protect them against humidity and wild animals, houses and granaries are built on piles.

Despite the numerous contacts between groups over the course of history, the vast ethnic diversity of the Himalayas is still reflected in its architecture and spatial patterns. Social and cultural elements playa crucial role in most geographical regions and within most populations. For instance, from the western to the eastern part of the Himalayas, Tibetan and Tibetanized houses present common architectural features. They normally comprise at least a ground floor for keeping animals and for food storage (salt) and a first floor that is used as a kitchen-cum-living room, oratory and grain store. In the most affluent families, dwellings have an additional storey and servant quarters. In most cases, the tripartite religious structure of the world, divided between the gods of the upper regions, the deities of the intermediate realm, and the klu spirits of the underground world is often applied to the house. This provides a cosmological dimension to the dwelling and reinforces its vertical scheme.

The tent of the Tibetan nomadic herder wandering over the Tibetan plateau is also worth mentioning. It is made of good-quality yak over hair which is taken from the sides of the animal in the month of June. The tent is of a rectangular shape and consists of two halves; the right side is masculine, the left side feminine. It covers a hexagonal area ranging between 12 and 28m2•

The houses of the Newars, inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and who have settled in many small towns throughout Nepal, display their own compartmentalization of vertical space, their own structure reflecting their social patterns. The polarity between pure and impure is a central feature. Their houses are tall, from two to three storey's high. Each storey has its own function. The ground floor is used as a stable or shop, the first floor as a bedroom and granary, the second floor is traditionally a large open living room with no dividing partitions, and the third one (attic) is used as a kitchen and oratory for the household deities. These houses used to be famous for their carved wooden windows that are now on the verge of extinction. The most opulent ones were highly influenced in the early twentieth century by the Rana style. Their facade incorporates neoclassical Western decorative elements such as: pilaster, stucco figurations, volutes, meander designs, Rocaille decor, capitals with angels, caryatides, mascaron with foliage faces, painted stucco plaques. By and large, the Newar house of the Kathmandu Valley constitutes a unique piece of traditional architecture.

In the West Kameng district (Arunachal Pradesh), within the Nyishi polygamous tribal society, the length of the house represents the number of hearths which itself depends on the number of wives a man has. It is said that in the past this number could reach 25, yet a house with 5 to 10 hearths is not a rare sight today. At the front of the house, a veranda and a platform always face eastward, which is an auspicious orientation since the sun, which is venerated, enters the house directly. Major rituals are performed here. A smaller veranda is built on the opposite side facing westward. This is where the grinding of grain as well as husking or other activities are done and the place through which foreigners enter the house or leave it. Dead bodies are also taken out on this side.

In the western Tarai plains (Dang-Deukhuri District), Nepali Tharu villages are mostly oriented along a north-south axis. The houses are built side by side in two rectilinear rows facing each other. Dwellings are built on a level piece of ground that forms the floor. Tharus live in large joint-family households, some of which can include eighty or ninety people. The inner rooms, occupied by nuclear families, are separated by partitions that consist of large grain storage containers. The kitchen and the deity room are the innermost part of houses. The outer walls (in some cases the inside walls as well) are decorated with molding in relief, flower designs, paintings, animal figures, engravings.

In all cases, houses are constructed without architects. Yet, craft-specialists are sometimes required, coming from outside the village. From the religious viewpoint, the main post and the fireplace are of great sacred significance in most of this vernacular architecture. They are often associated with the household's ancestors and prosperity. Whatever the case, the threshold between the inner and the outer part of the house is always clearly marked and is the place where important rituals are performed.

Since the 1970-19805, significant socio- economic transformations due to the opening of this region onto the outside world, to forest protection and to restricted access to resources have led to several architectural changes. There has been an individualization of housing due to children leaving their large family house and to changes in building materials, especially for roofs. In the hills, straw used for roofing now competes with the need to use it as fodder for cattle, while in the middle mountains fir trees for making shingle now have to be purchased. Today roofs of these types are often replaced by slate, corrugated iron or even flattened tin cans. In the Kathmandu Valley, traditional bricks that are molded using local earth are being replaced more and more by concrete. In this region as in other urbanized areas, the traditional architectural heritage is in decline. By and large, throughout the range, Westernized modern houses tend to be built in a chaotic fashion, with no organic relation to the land or to each other.

Treasure in ruins

The deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April 2015, together with its numerous aftershocks, has devastated the Kathmandu Valley's cultural heritage. In total, across central Nepal, 721 monuments have been affected in 20 districts, 133 totally destroyed, 229 slightly affected and 40-40 of them are in a state of demolition.' Beyond the loss of human lives and the priority given to looking for and rescuing survivors, it is a terrible tragedy for the whole of Nepal. The damaged buildings were the heart and soul of the country's identity. They sustained a sense of pride among all Nepalis. This destruction has been a particular blow to the Newars, whose architectural achievements and historic monuments have greatly suffered. In addition, these monuments were a major tourist attraction for international travelers and largely contributed to the country's overall economy. Their loss will trigger considerable financial, political and cultural consequences.

Among the seven groups of monuments and buildings in the region, which are on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, three (the royal palace squares in the three ancient Malla capitals), including the nine-storey Basantapur tower in Kathmandu, have been almost totally destroyed and two others (Svayambhunath, the double-roofed temple at Changu Narayan, dedicated to Vishnu), have been partly damaged. In fact, Changu Narayan needs to be reconstructed. In Patan Darbar Square, the temples of Shanker Narayan, Char Narayan (also called Jagannarayan) and Uma Mahesvar (made of stone) have totally collapsed.

Yet many other temples, former monasteries and various key buildings have been hit. The iconic, 60-metre high, white Dharahara tower built in 1832, which was one of Kathmandu's most visible monuments, has been razed to the ground. Kastamandap, the temple that gave the capital city its name, and Kalomochan temple built in the Mughal style by Jang Bahadur along the Bagmati have been reduced to pieces of wood and rubble. More than ten neighborhood temples in Patan have been flattened. In Bungamati, the Rato Mastyendranath temple was destroyed during the festive performance dedicated to the god. The damage caused to the structure of Rana palaces and mansions still needs to be assessed but the nineteenth- and twentieth-century parts of Hanuman Dhoka, the Kaiser Library of Kaiser Mahal, the Durbar High School, Lalitkala College, parts of Singha Durbar, and the Nepal Association of Fine Arts (NAFA) Naxal building are now in dilapidated condition. Outside the Kathmandu Valley, the palaces of Gorkha and Nuwakot, and the temple of Manakamana have also been seriously hit.

In fact, the Kathmandu Valley is a concentration of an exceptional number of historic monuments, both secular and religious. These buildings were erected between the twelfth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, if we include the exceptional Rana palace architectural heritage. Some caityas are even older and date back as far as the fifth century A.D. The maintenance is ensured by local bodies or by private individuals. Other sites come directly under the Ministry of Culture's authority.

These temples and monuments altogether represent a unique testimony to Nepalese culture, with the major part belonging to the ancient civilization of the Kathmandu Valley, which is one of the most vibrant in the Himalayas. Despite successive mega earthquakes over the ages (1833, 1934, for instance), and the current unrestrained wave of urbanization, these temples and monuments have for the most part survived and are visited and used for various functions (both secular and religious). They are part of the recognized urbanscape; they are living places shared by all. When destroyed in the past, they were (save some exceptions) rebuilt over the centuries. Yet, during the process of reconstruction, many temples were altered in shape, size and style. Domes replaced multi tiers and many were plastered with a white wash concealing the original work of the Newari style of temple architecture. Despite these changes, he Kathmandu Valley is an exceptional living museum of bygone ages, representing successive superposed historical layers.

Some monuments have resisted more than others. Pashupatinath's main temple has seemingly not been affected. The situation varies enormously from one place to another. Surprisingly, the five-tiered Nyatapol, the Dattatreya, and Bhairavanath temples in Bhaktapur have more or less resisted, with minor destructions. Similarly, Patan's stone Krishna Mandir has not collapsed. In the same manner as in 1934, the stone pavement, locally referred to as Bhairava, on which the city of Panauti is built has preserved its main local historic monuments. But the second earthquake, of magnitude 7,3, two weeks later, on the 12 May, have affected some more buildings such as the Kumbhesvar temple in Patan, which lose its last tier, and worsen the casualties in Bodnath and Svayambhu stupas.

The vulnerability to earthquakes of each historical site varies according to its individual location, shape, and construction. Unfortunately, after the 1934 earthquake, temple repairs were hastily made, using cheap, flimsy materials (like mud and mortar). Walls held together by strong metal sheets, such as in temples at Pashupatinath, or those used in the renovation of Patan Darbar Square (Patan Museum), have proved to be more solid. The number of recent renovations, the underground structure, and the height of a building are also of great import in these matters. Whatever the case, most of the buildings have been greatly weakened.

Historical monuments playa crucial role in the symbolic imagination and are closely linked to the identity of human groups. Temples and other outstanding buildings are vital historic landmarks. They are living realms of memory. I vividly remember, in June 1973, the hopelessness of many Nepali residents of Kathmandu when parts of the Singha Durbar were in flames and fell to the ground. Such a desperate reaction reveals a deep attachment to the monuments of the past. In fact, monumental buildings memorialize the nation's intermingled historical eras. They are constituent element of the collective memory and symbolically charged sites.

UNESCO has announced an in-depth expertise of the damage "based thereon to advise and provide support to the Nepalese authorities and local communities on its protection and conservation". Emphasis should be laid on the restoration techniques to be used, given that the 2015 earthquake has shown the extreme fragility of these monuments. Yet, total quake-resistant temples in this country so affected by seismic activity are difficult to imagine. This structural weakness is apparent even in day-to-day life. In the 1980s, I myself saw the roofs of Vishvanath temple in Patan Darbar Square fall down all of a sudden during the rainy season, quite independent of any felt earthquake.

Past experiences attest to the fact that the UN's cultural organization will hardly be able to undertake the preliminary archiving work and the subsequent rebuilding task on its own. Other forms of cooperation with individual countries will be required. At any rate, the reconstruction will take many years, perhaps even decades.


For the past twenty years or so, a small group of ethnologists of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France) has been working in the Himalayas. Despite widely varying areas of interests, every researcher has had something to say on habitat, if only to discuss the house inhabited while working on the field. Here as elsewhere, domestic habitat is the point of anchorage of the family group and lies at the centre of the various networks which constitute the very fabric of social life. It exercises a widespread influence on society as a whole and includes within its purview political, religious and economic phenomena, difficult for the ethnologist to ignore if he stays in a village for any length of time.

This rich collection of data has been further supplemented by a series of studies of a more specific nature devoted to the construction sphere. Undertaken within the framework of the G.R.E.C.O. Himalaya- Karakorum (C.N.R.S.) by architects and construction specialists-sometimes in close collaboration with ethnologists-these studies bring out other aspects, more technical, more functional perhaps, of the house, enabling a better comparison of the different types of architecture in the zone under consideration.

The aim of publishing this collection is to give an outline of the research work accomplished and to compare the viewpoints of the various researchers.

This work also constitutes our response to another major concern. At a time when, under the patronage of the U.N.E.S.C.O., an exhaustive inventory of the national Nepalese heritage is being drawn up, covering the most representative edifices of the Himalayan civilizations, it seemed desirable to us to draw attention to another kind of heritage, more modest, more familiar, more fragile: domestic habitat. This task is all the more necessary as "vernacular" forms of architecture are very much the order of the day. Architects and ethnologists now realise that the house is as much a part of the culture of a given population as the palace or the temple and tells us as much about the religious representations of its inhabitants as the most sacred monuments.

The Himalayas are the ideal place to study such domestic architecture. Stretching between the high Tibetan plateau of Central Asia and the tropical plains of the Indian sub-continent, they offer an infinite variety of house types. Double sloping roofs, inclined to varying degrees, or flat roofs; roofing in thatch, tiles, roofing stone, shingle or mats; mud, brick or stone walls, simple mat or thatch screens; single level horizontal buildings or vertical buildings with two, three, four storey's, etc.: the differences within this single zone are immense.

Such diversity may be attributed to reasons that are both geographical and cultural. The Himalayan regions cover an extremely wide range of ecological milieux from the tropical zones (Terai) of the Indo-Gangetic basin, close to sea level, to the interior valleys, situated at an altitude of over 4000 m, of the high chain, with an intermediate zone of highly compartrnentalised hills which vary from 600 to 2000 metres in altitude.' The transition is so rapid that although the traveler approaching Nepal from the South arrives in a hot, flat and humid region, already he is able to perceive the snow-clad Himalayan chain in the distance. The numerous kinds of natural milieux subject the inhabitants to radically different constraints. In some places, one has to fight against the heat and parasites to ensure reasonable living conditions; in others, It IS a battle against the persistent and penetrating cold of the high mountains; elsewhere, torrential rainfall:-the eastern hills of Nepal receive in four months twice as much rain as Paris gets in a year-threatens each year to destroy everything in its wake-cattle, fields and habitations. The form and arrangement of the habitat are an expression of the need to adapt to given physical conditions. In the bordering Terai plain, the houses (Tharu) are built of light materials, with thin walls, to provide maximum ventilation, indispensable in the case of humid heat. In high altitude houses on the contrary, everything is designed to fight against the cold and to maintain an internal temperature which man is able to withstand: solid construction, use of heavy materials, location of the cattle shed on the ground floor to provide some heat to the upper inhabited rooms. The materials used also bear the stamp of the milieu: habitations may be made of mud, stone, wooden planks or plants (reed, straw, bamboo) according to the flora of the region, not to mention the combination of methods often adopted. The physical constraints explain to a large extent the profound harmony which unites the house to its environment: the Tharu (tribal group of the Terai) habitation has a plant-like appearance that merges with the exuberant vegetation, whereas the high altitude house blends in perfectly with the austerity of the arid landscape.

Cultural reasons also contribute to this diversity. For these ecological zones, with such highly contrasting bio- climatic conditions of life, are inhabited by populations who differ from each other linguistically, culturally and physically. The Terai includes groups whose language and culture are completely Indian, the Madeshes and certain ethnic groups who today also speak Indian languages, such as the Tharus, of whom more shall be said later on in the book. The hill zone contains numerous tribes belonging to the Tibeto-Burrnese linguistic family, such as the Gurungs, the Tamangs, the Magars and the Limbus and of the Indo-Nepalese, Khas- Bahun or Parbatiya, a mixed population where North Indian elements have been superimposed on an ancient Indo-European background, and who show affinity with the Paharis ("hill dwellers") of Uttar Pradesh (India). The Kathmandu Valley, an extremely fertile alluvial basin situated in the heart of the Nepalese country, is mostly inhabited by a highly Indianised population belonging to the Tibeto-Burmese language group: the Newars. The Tibetan enclaves in the North are occupied by populations of the Tibetan language group and culture, and they are referred to as Bhotiyas by the inhabitants of the Middle country. Thus, without it being possible to assign to each group a fixed territory because of the numerous migrations which made the ethnic groups move from one place to another over the course of history, there is a close relation between the ecological layer and the population, in the ethnic and linguistic sense of the latter term. Connected to this notion of arrangement in layers is the utilization of different economic resources-transhumant breeding, intensive agriculture, trade-which has a bearing, as is to be expected, on the general appearance and organization of domestic habitat.

We must, at the very outset, make clear a point in theory and methodology to avoid any ambiguity whatsoever. Between strictly ecological and cultural factors, it would appear that more often than not, it is the latter which prevail and which give to the house its originality. Terrains displaying similar characteristics like the Terai give rise to very different house types and similar house types are built on varying terrains. Transplanted outside the Kathmandu Valley to which they originally belonged, the Newars reconstructed for example exactly the same house type as the one they left behind. This uniformity would become even more evident if one were to examine religious edifices: the Tibetan monasteries are built in identical fashion, be they at an altitude of 4000m or 1500m in the Kathmandu Valley, or even at sea level (Buddhist buildings of Bodh Gaya and Samarth in India). And "Nepalese" style temples can be found both in the Kathmandu Valley, where this style originated as well as in the Nepalese hills. To come back to domestic habitat, the cultural milieu influences not only the psychological and cultural values attached to the house, but also its form and internal arrangement. Everything proceeds as if a certain "cultural model" was associated with the habitations, a model difficult to dissociate from the other socio- religious institutions of the considered group. Culture thus takes precedence and chooses its path from the range of options provided by the physical environment, altering in some cases the primary forms.' We believe, therefore, that an in-depth study of the house, particularly if it is undertaken in a country other than that of the observer, must necessarily deal with a very wide area of anthropology, integrating the contributions of several specialists, beginning with those whose task is to build and design houses in Western society. In the final analysis, ethnology must be given a decisive place.

The impact of political and economic factors cannot be ignored when studying the development of architectural forms. The relationship between a house and the system of values that it propagates should not be examined from a completely synchronic point of view, in a watertight compartment, by abstracting it from the surrounding context. The cultural specificity of the house does not exclude selective borrowing or rejection of cultural elements, in accordance with the trends set by the dominant group. The uniform structure of the house in the Nepalese hills, described by P. Sagant in a recent book,' is in fact the result of a long historical process during the course of which the tribes belonging to the Tibeto-Burmese language group of the eastern regions gave up the old house type-built on piles according to the accounts of XIXth century English travelers-to borrow from the Indo-Nepalese house type, when the latter succeeded in extending their power and domination over them. In fact, one is inclined to believe that the Thakali habitations described in this very book by F. Morillon and P. Thouveny are representative of the highly Tibetanised recent forms, far removed from their initial model. There is certainly nothing more misleading that the apparent uniformity observed in the hills of the Middle country in modern day Nepal-M. Gaboriau has found similar uniformity in the central part of the country-if one tries to imagine the form and general appearance of these habitations 150 or 200 years ago.

The present volume, comprising thirteen contributions written by ethnologists, architects and a "companion carpenter", all of whom have stayed in the field for an extended period of time, tries to illustrate the diversity of the Himalayan habitat. As this is in the nature of a preliminary work, it does not include a comparative study in the strict sense of the term. The confrontation of several monographs aims however at formulating the problematic and bringing out the various research orientations.

The book begins with an article on the house of the Tharus, a tribal group of about 1,50,000 members, the native inhabitants of the Terai. This is followed by two contributions which complement each other to a great extent and which are devoted to the Indo-Nepalese of the Middle country, who constitute the majority of the Nepalese population. The Newars as a whole, a highly distinctive group, epitomizing a profoundly urbanized civilization in contrast to the other groups which are essentially rural in nature, form the subject matter of the third part of this book. Four chapters are devoted to the hill tribal's: the first deals with the Limbus, the second with the Majhis, the third with the transhumant pastors and the last chapter with the Thakalis. Finally, the fourth part deals with a highly typified group, that of the populations of Tibetan language and culture.

The book should not be viewed as an inventory. Each author has dealt with his subject following his own interests and inclinations. This explains the great variety of styles and the highly contrasting points of view, ranging from a purely architectural approach to a far more sociological perspective, which considers the house as a symbol of a given social and political organization. Far from disrupting the unity of the work, the diversity of approaches only reflects the extreme richness of the subject and the numerous ways in which it can be studied. It is up to the reader to decide the prospective merits and worth of each article.

A word finally on the structure of the book. Twelve articles deal with Nepal, a country particularly favored by the C.N.R.S. for ethnological research in that part of the world over the last twenty years or so. The thirteenth article deals with Ladakh which has only very recently been opened to the West. The limitations of the work are thus obvious. Immense zones, extremely rich from the ethnographic point of view, like north-eastern Pakistan, the NEFA and the Assarnese foothills, have not been covered. We hope that in order to fill these gaps, this collection will be followed by other publications on regions not easily accessible today on account of the prevailing political situation.

We have been helped in the publishing of this book by L. Barre, architect, who chose the illustrations and designed the cover in association with G. Bulot, and by C. Jest, ethnologist, who gave us the benefit of his knowledge of the Tibetan milieu. Several other people have participated in this common enterprise and helped in the production of this work. We would like to thank in particular G. Bulot (Publications Service), D.Fautret and F. Beaujean (photo Division) of the C.N.R.S. of Mendon-Bellevue, as well as L. Boulnois and L. Cayla (C.N.R.S.) GRECO Himalaya-Karakorum. The drawings are by the authors themselves, except for a few-signed-which are the work of L. Barre.


A Tharu House in the Dang Valley13
The Middle Country of Indo Nepalese Castes
The Indo-Nepalese House in Central Nepal: Building Patterns, Social and Religious Symbolism33
From the Fountain to the Fireplace: The Daily Itinerary in Domestic Space among High Indo-Nepalese Castes54
The Kathmandu Valley: The Newar World
Urban Space and Religion: Observations on Newar Urbanism 71
Traditional Newar Building Practices in the Kathmandu Valley 80
The Pode House: A Caste of Newar Fishermen 115
The Tribal Hill Zone
With Head Held High: The House, Ritual and Politics in East Nepal129
How I Built My House155
Habitat of Nepalese Transhumant Pastoralists161
Settlements and Houses in the Thak Khola172
The Upper Himalayan Valleys
Settlements in Dolpo193
Two Houses in the Tibetan Cultural Tradition: in Pisang (Nyi-Shang) and in Stongde (Zanskar)209
Vernacular House Form in Ladakh225
Postscript 243

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    A. You can track your orders simply entering your order number through here or through your past orders if you are signed in on the website.
  • Q. How can I cancel an order ?
    A. An order can only be cancelled if it has not been shipped. To cancel an order, kindly reach out to us through help@exoticindia.com.
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