The Himalayas is considered one wonder of nature that has intrigued visitors for a long time. Its high snow-clad mountains, rich flora and fauna, and scenic beauty is absolutely enchanting. It houses the highest and most extensive mountain system in the world, extending approximately 2,500 Km from North-West to South-East with widths ranging from 250 – 300 Kms. One of them is “Himachal Pradesh”, a mountain state in the north of India, with Tibet to its East. The landscapes of Himachal feature breathtaking mountain vistas, dense pine forests (over 3 million hectares of forests), terraced fields, fruit laden orchards, mountain meadows, rare and exotic varieties of plants and wild life. Five rivers flow through the state, and there’s an abundance of tributaries, lakes, waterfalls and hot springs. That sounds like an awesome vacation destination, right?
Let us not get carried away with the expansive nature and beauty of the location and miss a beautiful aspect of the Himalayas – its people. You want to find out more about the inhabitants who have over the years managed to preserve their history, culture, faith and occupations? Keep scrolling.
This entire range of the Himalayan Mountains serves as home to more than 50 million people, with another 450 million settled at the base of it. This entire population flourishes on the resources that flow from the Himalayas.
Today, the Himalayan population can be classified into three ethnic types, namely Aryans, Mongoloids and Negroids. But the truth about its original inhabitants still poses a point of debate. There is a belief that the first settlement in the Himalayas began in 1500 BC when a warrior tribe called Khasa migrated to its western range. This was followed by the migration of Tibeto-Burman people from Southeast Asia to the eastern and central Himalayas years later. These people were called the Kiratas.
Migration Leading to a Diverse Population:
Whatever be the case, one thing is for sure, and that is that migrations within the Himalayas and into it from external communities, has happened since the earliest of times. There are diverse reasons why people migrate to these mountains, from a quest for spirituality to a test of their personal will power and endurance, for profits, or to escape from the political pressure of their states and countries. All these and other factors combined over a period of time to give the Himalayas, an ethnographically complex population.
Ethnicity, Faith and Settlement:
If we could segregate the Himalayan people in terms of their ethnicity in the Himalayas, we would find that those living in the higher altitudes on the southern side and those in the northern slopes belong to the Mongloid ethnicity. This has remained unmixed because these specific inhabitants deliberately have a fairly low contact with outsiders. On the other hand, the middle and lower ranges of the southern slopes are home to mix and diverse ethnic groups with Aryan, Negroid and Mongoloid strains. And the reason for this can be attributed to regular migrations, invasions and conquests in these regions.
In terms of their faith, the Middle Himalayan and sub-Himalayan valleys are predominantly inhabited by the Hindus. Same is the case for the region from eastern Kashmir to Nepal. Those following Islam are mostly found in the western part of Kashmir, with their culture being similar to that of Afghanis and Iranians. The Greater Himalayan region in the north is mainly dominated by Tibetan Buddhists, with them being found from Ladakh to north-eastern India. In the eastern Himalayan region of India and nearby areas of eastern Bhutan, the culture and faith practiced is similar to those followed in Yunnan Province of China and Northern Myanmar. In Nepal, both Tibetan and Hindu cultures flourish, and as a result, this Himalayan nation has a mixed cultural identity.
Culture and Lifestyle:
In the Himalayas, one would be surprised to see that each distinct community and valley has its own socio-cultural methods to face the varied challenges of life. Culture experts argue that this is because they are literally cut-off from the rest of the world. The fact remains that physical isolation of the Himalayan people has had one positive result, and that is the preservation of centuries-old knowledge.
Another unique practice for all those dwelling in the Himalayas and its foothills is that they worship the mountain as their life-giver, preserver and protector. All the communities living in the Himalayan region are very nature-dependent, with strong ethnic and religious beliefs. However, this may not be exactly true for those residing in the arid wilderness of the dense forests of the eastern slopes and northern flanks – they are known to be quite fierce and warrior-like. This does not negate the fact that in the general sense, the people dwelling in the Himalayas are basically peace-loving and this can be totally experienced when exploring the various Himalayan destinations. Their warm hospitality makes one realise that they are totally respectful towards the environment they live in, and that their harsh living conditions do not hamper their spirits or way of enjoying life.
The Himalayan people are also known for their rich tapestry of traditional knowledge, which spreads across medicine, architecture and agro-forestry. Their occupation can be categorised as nomadic pastoralists and subsistence farmers; depending on their specific location and agro-climatic conditions. The majority of the Himalayan population sustains itself through agriculture and animal husbandry.
In the higher reaches of the Himalayas, society is quite liberal while in the lower ranges, it is more conservative. The mountain women folk are responsible for all the domestic activities like gathering fodder, fuelwood, farming and cooking while the men are responsible for trade activities or managing the animal herds.
Experts who have been studying the Himalayas lament that the sanctity of the Himalayas is being threatened by influx of tourists as they need to be transported from on destination to another which causes pollution to the environment (exhaust fumes and generators for power supply). Adding to the list is overuse of water resources during peak visits, which is scarce in some high-altitude areas of the Himalayas. Noise pollution is another source of worry.
The effects of over tourism are certainly hampering not only the Himalayan nature but its people as well. Though the situation is still under control, they fear it will not remain the same for much longer.
What a people and an interesting place to visit! Next time you want to take a vacation to the Himalayas, do what you can to help the people preserve the peace of the beautiful land.
Are there a unique people that the world should know about? Please share with us in the comment section.