Pitt in the Himalayas - Fall 2022

Join a group of adventurous students for the fall semester in North India to learn about the culture and environment of the Himalayas, one of the most spectacular and diverse mountain ranges on earth.  You'll go on backpacking expeditions to the source of India’s sacred rivers, to ancient Tibetan monasteries in Ladakh, learn about conservation at India’s premier Tiger reserve, Corbett National Park, and experience life in a mountain village during a village home stay. The program’s academic focus is based on experiential education during field expeditions, including trips to the sacred city of Rishikesh on the Ganga, engagement with environmental activist organizations, a community-based conservation project focused on restoring biodiversity, and trips to visit numerous institutions that reflect the rich cultural heritage of Mussoorie.  The program includes a “fall break” when students are assisted in making their own plans for trips to other parts of India, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, The Red Fort in Delhi or to Goa. The courses that you take in the classroom are contextualized as you explore the towns, villages and environment offered by the Himalayan Mountains.  Excursions to sites of cultural and historical significance allow you to know the region in a way that time in a classroom simply cannot provide.  Spend some time living with a host family in a small village, learning yoga at the birthplace of the practice, and trekking along one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the country.



What You'll Accomplish: 

As an engaged and active participant in this program, you will have the opportunity to:

  • Gain a deep understanding of how the environment shapes culture
  • Experience a life changing perspective on the fragile ecology of one of the planet’s most important ecological zones
  • Engage with individuals who embody the rich diversity of modern India
  • Develop eye opening insights on social, economic and gender inequality as well as an understanding of how people are finding creative solutions to these problems


The program is based at the Hanifl Centre for Outdoor Education and Environmental Study in Mussoorie.  Located at an altitude of 6500 ft above sea level, Mussoorie is a thriving tourist resort town with a panoramic view of the world’s tallest snow-covered mountains, a cool, comfortable climate, and numerous restaurants, hotels and coffee shops.  With access to a gym, climbing wall and swimming pool, the Hanif Centre also provides direct, easy access to forest land and isolated mountain villages. 
The Hanifl Centre is a small campus on the Woodstock School estate on the edge of Mussoorie, a colonial era town eight hours drive north of Delhi, the capital of India.  In addition to being a tourist resort town, Mussoorie is an educational hub with numerous international English language college preparatory schools.  Bringing together people from all over the country the town embraces linguistic, religious and cultural diversity. 


Where You'll Live: 
Located in a lush oak forest a mile and half from the edge of town, the Hanifl Centre has wifi, seminar rooms, a small field biology lab, library, and a dining hall as well as landscaped gardens and a campground.  With staff support from an experienced team of professionals, students live in a dormitory that is a 20-minute walk from the Hanifl Centre.  
The Hanfil Centre accommodations include most of the amenities that you are already used to.  
You can expect the following:
  • 3 meals per day
  • Double or triple rooms 
  • Bedding
  • Shared bathrooms 
  • Dining area 
  • Communal lounge space 
  • Communal kitchen stocked with pantry items
  • Wifi and computer lab 
  • Laundry service 
We do our best to provide the most accurate information about housing and amenities but due to the nature of the locations in which we offer programs and limited availability, these items are subject to change.  Contact your program manager with any questions. 
What You'll Study: 

You will take 4-5 courses for 12-15 credits. Some of the courses are cross-listed between Anthropology and Environmental Studies departments.

Explore your interests in anthropology, environmental studies, history and more on the Pitt in the Himalayas program.  All courses listed below are taught in English. About half the semester is spent in Mussoorie at the Hanifl Centre engaged in course work.  The other half of the semester involves expeditions, field trips, and site visits including hands-on experiential education activities.  Students spend program days at the Hanifl Centre campus engaged in seminar discussions, interaction with guest lecturers, structured educational exercises and experiential learning scenarios, with time in the afternoons, evenings and weekends to relax and explore the neighborhood of Landour and the town of Mussoorie. 

These courses are approved for General Education Requirements:

  • Himalayan Biodiversity – Natural Science, Specific Geographical Area
  • Himalayan Geography – Specific Geographic Region
  • Religion and Ecology – Cross-Cultural Awareness, Philosophical Thinking or Ethics
  • Mountain and Medicine – Cross-Cultural Awareness, Global Issues, Specific Geographic Region




Himalayan Geography (ANTH0730)

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 polities 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.

Mountain and Medicine - Health and Environment in the Himalayas (ANTH1797)
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.
Religion and Ecology (ANTH1798)

Just as its great rivers carve and cleanse continents, the Himalayan landscape continues to anchor and reshape religious traditions across Asia. This course provides an introduction to the unusual and enduring relationship between these particular material mountains and an impressively diverse array of dynamic spiritual practices.

Designed as a whistlestop yatra, the course is a guided tour of a deliberately eclectic set of specific physical locations, including peaks, lakes, cities, roads, hill-top shrines, and street-side dargahs. With each stop we will examine the way Himalayan sites have acquired, transformed, and experienced traditions of sacredness. The structure of the tour enables us to follow a roughly chronological timeline, stretching from early indigenous practices to the emerging Buddhisms and Hinduisms of Lhasa, Leh, and the now-chockful Char Dham highways. This chronological approach allows us to consider the historical connections and shared intellectual genealogies behind many of Asia’s increasingly disparate religious traditions.

The locations studied vary from canonical (Lumbini) to quotidian (a small hilltop shrine just across the valley from our classroom). Attention is paid to sites near where students will live and travel. The course leverages the considerable field time afforded to students by linking weekly readings and research assignments to subsequent excursions planned as part of the overall Pitt in the Himalayas program. Reading selections are taken almost entirely from primary texts written from various positions within the religious traditions themselves.


Himalayan Biodiversity (ANTH1801)

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.

Introduction to Hindi in India (HINDI0111)

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

The Hanifl Centre was established in 2003 to promote the study of the Himalayan environment with a focus on outdoor education.  The University of Pittsburgh has partnered with the Centre since 2013 and now runs three programs in the summer and fall.  Hanifl Centre staff embody India’s multicultural modernity with a certified record of professionalism, having earned national and international recognition for their programs in leadership training and wilderness medicine.  India’s first green design campus, the Hanifl Centre is near a nature reserve in-between India’s two most sacred rivers, the Yamuna and the Ganga.  In 2019 Pitt’s Chancellor visited the Centre in recognition of our well-established partnership, innovative programs and proven record of success.  To learn more about the Hanifl Centre please visit haniflcentre.in.

Your Pitt Study Abroad Contacts: 

Dr. Joseph Alter (Academic Director)

Joseph Alter was born in the Himalayas and has been studying religion, culture and the environment in the mountains for thirty years.  He is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh with research expertise in medical anthropology.

Please feel free to reach out to Dr. Alter with any questions about the academics of the program. His email is: JSALTER@pitt.edu.

Your In-Country Contacts: 

Akshay Shah

Akshay Shah is head of programs at the Hanifl Centre.  He is an environmental activist who has established conservation and leadership programs in the mountains.  He is also a certified Wilderness EMT with expertise in community health and medicine.

Suniti Datta (Instructor: Himalayan Biodiversity)

Suniti Datta has lived in the Himalayas for decades and is an expert in natural history and field biology.  Affiliated with the Wildlife Institute of India he has conducted field research on elephant ethology. He is an avid student of ornithology and the intricate relationship between birds and the mountain environment.

K. Krishnan Kutty

“Kutty” joined the Hanifl Centre in 2009. He has trekked extensively across the Himalaya and is an accomplished mountaineer having summited numerous peaks in the Indian Himalaya. In 1994, he co-led an Indian-American expedition to Nanda Devi (east) where he reached an altitude of 23,000 ft. In June 2011, Kutty led a group of Woodstock staff on an expedition to Banderpunch peak (20800 ft.) where 17 members made it to the top. Kutty is passionate about experiential education in the outdoors and continues to design curriculum and treks for Woodstock students and staff.
He is actively involved in developing new courses and works closely with US Universities in designing and delivering their “Study Abroad” programmes. His vision for training Trekking Guides in rural areas led to the centre’s pioneering effort in courses being taught in Hindi. He is also responsible for initiating the partnership with Aerie Backcountry Medicine of Missoula, Montana to offer affordable courses in Wilderness First Aid & CPR in India. Before joining the Hanifl Centre, Kutty worked for 20 years with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), as their India Director. NOLS is a US based school acknowledged worldwide as the leader in wilderness education. Kutty has taught NOLS courses in Kenya, Chile, Alaska, Wyoming and the Indian Himalaya.

Items Billed by Pitt

  In-State Out-of-State
Tuition $9,314 $14,902
Program Fee $6,985 $6,985
Study Abroad Fee $400 $400
Total Billed by Pitt $16,699 $22,287

Estimated Additional Out-of-Pocket Costs

Round-trip Airfare ~$1,800
India 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.

The amounts above are estimates based on the 2019-2020 academic year.

What's Included: 

As a part of your Pitt in the Himalayas program 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
What Else You Need to Know: 
  • No foreign language proficiency required.
  • There are no prerequisite courses, but any previous coursework in anthropology would be beneficial.
  • You should be prepared for an academically rigorous semester of study.
  • You should be prepared for a physically demanding semester with lots of outdoor activities including extended trekking to high altitude sites. The program includes two eight-day backpacking trips that are challenging but require no previous experience in the outdoors.  
  • Field trips include several journeys by train, bus and a flight by plane to the city of Leh, the capital of Ladakh at 12,000 ft above sea level.
  • Due to the nature of the program, the schedule is subject to change. There may be instances where a guest speaker or visit needs to be rescheduled. We ask for your patience and understanding in advance.