The Holy Mount Kailash: Bridging communities, countries and rivers
CASE STUDY • Rajan Kotru, ICIMOD
Spread over an area of about 31,000 km 2 the Kailash Sacred Landscape is an ecologically diverse, multi-cultural and fragile landscape. It is located in the remote southwestern portion of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, with parts falling in the far-west of Nepal and northeastern flank of Uttarakhand in northern India. This landscape has distinct biophysical features and historical and cultural significance, which are well documented (see www.icimod.org/ksl). Across the three countries, the landscape is characterized by a fine network of religious places and sacred sites, high-altitude lakes, snow peaks and permafrost areas. Its network of religious sites spreads across the three countries sharing the landscape. Most important among these are Mount Kailash and lake Mansarovar (both within the Tibet Autonomous Region), which are the ultimate pilgrimage destinations for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Bonpos.
The landscape is also the origin and headwater of four of Asia’s major rivers: the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra and Karnali. The Sutlej ultimately meets the Indus and Karnali, and through many other river systems, flows into Ganges. These rivers support the lives and livelihoods of a million people in the Kailash Sacred Landscape alone and have a great significance for ecosystems (rangelands, wetlands, and forests) and their interfaces, mega- habitats, and biodiversity, while also safeguarding the cultural linkages and sustainable development of local populations. To address accelerated environmental changes due to climatic and other drivers of change (population growth, globalization, and outmigration), Nepal, India and China are implementing a transboundary collaborative programme that has evolved through a participatory,
iterative process among various local and national research and development institutions. Through the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative, an integrated ecosystem management approach at a landscape level has been shown to be of immense value in sustaining the ecosystem services that strengthen local livelihoods and cultural heritage, as well as the river systems that are part of greater river basin systems downstream, such as the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra.
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