Quick Info

  • Fall
  • : Panther Program
  • : Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Studies, History, Less Commonly Taught Languages
  • : Late August - Mid December
  • : $14,999 In-State/$20,305 Out-of-State (Subject to change)
  • : Friday, March 3, 2017
  • : 2.75 GPA (2.5 for engineers), Pitt Students: Must have completed 24 credits on a Pitt campus, Clear Judicial Record, Open to Non-Pitt Students


Explore your interests in anthropology, history, environmental studies, and more on the Pitt in the Himalayas program.  All courses listed below are taught in English.  
This program fulfills all four foreign culture requirements for students in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and both foreign culture requirements for Pitt Business.
The courses below are updated for Fall 2017.

The Himalayan region is characterized by a tremendous range of social and cultural diversity that corresponds to climatic, ecological and geographical variation, as well as local and regional geopolitical factors.  Historical change from the emergence of early forms of social complexity centered on chiefs and their forts – from which the regional designation of “Garhwal” takes its name – through the development of kingdoms and larger politics shows the intimate link between geography, environment and socio-political transformation.  Similarly, local language patterns, regional religious practices, musical styles, mythology, food culture, sartorial fashion, architectural design, agricultural and transportation technologies and engineering and trade networks have all been shaped by the structure of mountain barriers, bounded valley communities and bracketed lines of communication that follow river systems.  Whereas the political economy of the Himalayas has been structured around agricultural production, and the development of elaborate field terrace systems, there have also been subsidiary economies centered on trans-Himalayan trade and pilgrimage as well as pastoral nomadism and transhumance.  Since the colonial period, the Himalayas have increasingly become a place for rest, relaxation, tourism and adventure, and this – along with further political transformations since Indian independence -- has led to the rapid development of urban areas.  This course will provide a survey of Himalayan history, society and culture with a focus on the relationship between nature, the environment and geography.  

The Himalayan region of northern India, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet is home to communities who identify themselves in several different ways using language, ethnicity, history, social structure, and systems of political organization to mark themselves as unique and different.  At the same time, communities get labeled by other social groups and are identified as distinctive for various reasons.  Often these labels reflect power and social hierarchy.  Some groups are marginalized and stigmatized whereas others assume positions of privilege.  Focusing on a number of examples and case studies from the Himalayas, this course will examine the politics of social hierarchy and tribal identity in the larger context of modern India.

The highest range of the Himalayan mountains define the boundary between India and Tibet.   Although seemingly insurmountable, this boundary has defined a zone of social, cultural, political and economic interaction that extends over two thousand years of history.  Moreover, Tibet – or the idea of Tibet -- has captured the imagination of travelers, writers and scholars, producing Orientalist conceptions of mysticism, spiritual wisdom and a utopian quest for Shangri-La.  This course focuses on the modern history of the relationship between India and Tibet in the Himalayan zone, focusing on the experiences of Tibetans living in the Himalayas, as well as those who make up the Tibetan diaspora all over the world.  The course will start with an examination of the historical relationship between India and Tibet.  This will be followed by an examination of the events that led to the exile of Tibetans in India.  The course will conclude by examining the many ways in which the Tibetan Diaspora is shaping the lives of Tibetans living in the Himalayas today. 

The Himalayas have inspired more religious thought, given rise to more forms of religious practice and are more distinctively featured in a spectrum of epic religious literature, than almost any other geographic region in the world, with the possible – but unlikely -- exception of a small parcel of relatively dry hilly ground between Jerusalem and Mecca.  In any case, Siddhartha Gautama was born and taught in the shadow of the lower Himalayas, where Buddhism emerged in the 4th century BCE.  Many specific mountains, lakes and rivers, as well as the broader geography of the Himalayas – most notably sacred rivers – define the landscape of Hindu mythology, pilgrimage and ritual.  The practice of yoga as a metaphysical philosophy is intimately linked to the idea of mystical Himalayan masters.  This course examines the development of religious beliefs and practices against the backdrop of majestic and sublime mountains in northern India

Students will work with the instructor to develop a reading list that reflects themes outlined above and write a research paper based on both field and library research. 

India is a social, political and economic environment in which a broad range of South Asian Medical Systems have grown and developed over the course of several thousand years.  In the past 150 years these systems have been institutionalized and professionalized within the framework of colonial and national medical and public health policy.  Many of these systems are intimately connected to the environment, and to the conceptualization, categorization, production and consumption of natural resources.  This course focuses on a range of systems of medicine:  Ayurveda, Unani, Tibetan Medicine, Yoga/Nature Cure, Allopathy and Homeopathy, as each one of these is supported and regulated by the Government of India.  We will also look closely at forms of ritual healing that involve supernatural forces, home-remedies that are based on local knowledge, and the relationship between food and health.  The purpose of the course is NOT to evaluate the effectiveness or medical value of these systems; it is to understand how these medical systems and health practices fit into a range of social, political, ecological, botanical and economic contexts.  Given that a number of these medical systems are intimately linked to Himalayan botanical and environmental knowledge, the course will focus on the relationship between South Asian medical systems and mountain ecology.

Students will work with the instructor to develop a reading list that reflects themes outlined above and write a research paper based on both field and library research.

Ranging in altitude from several hundred meters above sea level to over seven thousand, from subtropical forests to high altitude meadows and deserts, and from areas with little or no rainfall to regions that are among the wettest in the world, the Himalayas define a geographical region of enormous geological variation and biodiversity.  The goal of this course is to gain an understanding of this diversity, with a focus on ethology, the study of animal behavior and the interaction of animal species. 

Introductory, conversational Hindi. The course will focus on communication skills and vocabulary that is relevant to common everyday use in the context of program.

Coursework may count towards UCIS Asian Studies certificate.

On-Site Faculty And Staff

Dr. Joseph Alter Dr. Joseph Alter, a professor in Pitt's Department of Anthropology, has a life-long association with Mussoorie, where he has been conducting anthropological research for thirty years. Born in Landour and educated at Woodstock School, he has an intimate knowledge of Himalayan history, culture, and society that extends beyond research to local knowledge and experience. Dr. Alter's family home is adjacent to the Hanifl Centre, where students will be living during the program. Dr. Alter will not travel with the program but travel to Mussoorie to help students settle in to the program
Stephen Christopher first came to India as an undergraduate to study at the University of Hyderabad. Since then, he has taught in India, China, South Korea and at Syracuse University, where he is a PhD candidate in anthropology. In 2014-15, through a Fulbright grant he conducted fieldwork on the effects of affirmative action on caste inequality among a Himalayan tribe. An avid lover of all things Himalayas, Stephen has travelled throughout North India, Tibet and Nepal. He is excited to return to Mussoorie, where as a backpacker he began learning Hindi in 2009. As someone indelibly shaped by his first experience in India, he is thrilled to be part of Pitt in the Himalayas and contribute to the next generation of travelers and scholars. 
Ben Williams Ben Williams is a PhD candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University, working in the fields of religious studies, intellectual history and Indian philosophy of religion. In his dissertation, currently underway, Ben is studying the figure of the Guru (enlightened teacher) as portrayed in the writings of a monumental scholar of medieval Kashmir, Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975-1025).
Suniti Suniti Bhushan Datta is a naturalist, consultant wildlife biologist and mountain/wilderness skills educator based in Dehra Dun. Prior to graduating with a Masters degree in Wildlife Sciences from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, Suniti worked as a guide and volunteer researcher at Ranthambhore, Pench and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves. Subsequently, he has conducted intensive field research on large mammals in the Rajaji-Corbett Tiger Reserve landscape. He advises the Uttarakhand Forest Department on ecotourism, wildlife crime and human-wildlife conflict, and assists with bird surveys. His particular research interests include the relationship between elephants with their environment and infrasonic communication. He has trekked and climbed extensively in the Garhwal Himalaya and has an eclectic knowledge of the region. At the Hanifl Centre, Suniti teaches a course in Himalayan Ecology to visiting university students, and assists with school groups with nature and outdoor activities. Apart from a passion for wildlife, mountains and outdoor education, Suniti has diverse skills and interests that include trekking, mountaineering, astronomy, military history, aviation and photography. He is an avid endurance cyclist and occasional artist. He watches birds only as a hobby!  He is the author of, 'Birding in the Doon Valley', a book he began writing while a student at The Doon School.
Akshay Shah -

With more than two decades of experience in the outdoors including trekking across high passes in the Kumaon Himalaya, Akshay is an experienced and passionate trek leader, fond of simple mountain life and its rewards. He founded and managed Kumaon based social development NGO Lok Chetna Manch for more than a decade. He has worked for NOLS India as a consultant on their natural history projects.

Akshay is an instructor for courses in Wilderness First Aid & CPR and recently completed his WEMT at Missoula with Aerie Backcountry Medicine.  Based on decades of experience working on rural development projects, natural resource management programs and conservation in the Himalaya, Akshay teaches courses on Himalayan Geography and the Political Economy of Natural Resources.



The Hanfil Center’s dormitory-style accommodations include most of the amenities that you are already used to, including computer labs, laundry service, access to telephones and WiFi, a 24/7 on-site staff, medical facilities, and more.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, too.  

Pricing And Dates

In-State Fee Out-of-State Fee
$14,999 $20,305
Arrive in India Depart India
Early August Mid December

Keep in mind that dates change.  You shouldn't book airfare until given confirmation from your program manager.


Inclusions & Exclusions

As a part of your Pitt in the Himalayas fee, the following are included in the program:

  • Tuition for 12-15 credits
  • Housing
  • All meals
  • Health Insurance
  • Airport Transfers
  • On-Site Transportation
  • End of the year gala reception
  • Excursions

While your program fee will cover most of your expenses, keep in mind that you are also responsible for the following:

  • Study Abroad Administrative Fee ($400)
  • Round-Trip Airfare (~$1800)
  • Indian Visa (~$200)
  • Personal Expenses (~$1,500 - $3,000)

Remember that your lifestyle and spending choices can greatly affect the amount of money you'll need while abroad.  Visit our Budgeting page for more information.

Special Information

No foreign language proficiency required.
Sophomores, juniors, and seniors in any academic major with at least a 2.75 QPA are encouraged to apply. Juniors and seniors who have a 3.00 QPA or higher are preferred.

There are no prerequisite courses, but any previous coursework in anthropology would be beneficial. Applicants should be prepared for an academically (and sometimes physically) rigorous semester of study.

Ready to get started on your application?  

Program Staff

Brice Lynn

Walk-In Advising Hours: MWF 2-4 PM

Hey there.  I'm Brice and I'm one of the Assistant Directors at Pitt Study Abroad.  I'm a born-and-raised Pittsburgher (and have the accent to prove it).  My own study abroad experience as a Pitt student took me to Granada, Spain.  Between my host family, the food, and all of the embarrassing language mistakes I made, it turned out to be some of the best months of my life. Now, I'm here to help you make your own study abroad experience a reality.  When I'm not in the office, you can usually find me falling out of yoga poses, riding my bike, and ruining all of these physical activities with a plate of pierogi (extra butter and onions, please).  Get in touch with me at bel18@pitt.edu or 412-383-1029.