KATHMANDU: Wakhi advocate and cultural preservationist Didar Ali will receive the 2019 Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal “for remarkable service in the conservation of culture and nature in mountainous regions.”
Dr. Kumar Mainali, president of Mountain Legacy, announced the selection of Didar Ali: “As we observe the 100th birthday of Sir Edmund Hillary, we are pleased to be presenting the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal to a rising star in grassroots advocacy. Ali’s ambitious and clear-eyed projects augur well for future generations of local leadership and participation in mountain stewardship.”
The award will be presented at the International Mountain Museum in Pokhara, Nepal, on December 11 (International Mountain Day) during the Nepal Mountaineering Association’s fifth annual Mountain Festival.
Ali is a native of Gulmit in the Upper Hunza of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. Gulmit (pop. 5000) is an ancient town, set amid mountains and glaciers, and the people are Khik (called Wakhi by outsiders). The language is related to ancient Farsi and is spoken by a shrinking cohort in the Pamir region of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China.
For the past seven years, Ali has dedicated himself to the preservation and promotion of Wakhi culture and language. After completing an MBA in Pakistan and a degree in Tourism Management in Austria, Ali returned to Gulmit and initiated a panoply of projects ranging from a cookbook of traditional Wakhi recipes to the first Wakhi language primer for school children; both of these projects were sponsored by the Aga Khan Rural Support Program.
As CEO of the non-profit Mountains & People, Didar Ali has been a leader in community tourism development, environmental protection, and development of modern employment opportunities for Wakhi youth through training in computer science and Internet marketing.
Didar Ali has also received wide praise for his work with the Bulbulik Heritage Centre, which conserves and promotes traditional Wakhi music and dance, offering a safe place (despite strong taboos) for instruction of girls as well as boys.
An avid trekker whose favorite expedition is the historic Kilik Pass (elevation 4,827 m), which has served as the primary caravan route across the Pamirs, Didar expressed satisfaction at receiving the Hillary Medal in the centennial year of Sir Edmund’s birth.
“I have known several of the great climbers of the world, including Nazir Sabir-Pakistan, who is also from Gojal valley, and Reinhold Messner, but the legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand is of a different order. His contribution in socio-economic development, environmental protection, and promotion of the value of adventure is truly colossal. He will live forever as an inspiration for all of us to challenge ourselves to get out in the world, and to make it a better place.”