Shortly after its inauguration in September 1969, the North-West Regional Office of the Anthropological
Survey of India was entrusted with a research project, 'Ethnography and Culture Change' in the Himalayan
region. Initially three communities from the Central and Western Himalayas, viz., the Bodh of Ladakh (Jammu
and Kashmir), the Bhotia of Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Pithoragarh (Uttar Pradesh), and the Kinnaurese of
Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh) were chosen for study. Dr. M. K. Raha and Shri S. N. Mahato, authors of the
present volume, were assigned the responsibility to undertake research work among the Kinnaurese of
Himachal Pradesh under the said project. Later on in 1972, the Anthropological Survey of India launched a
broad-based project, 'The Himalayan Border Area Studies' encompassing the entire stretch of the Himalayan
border. The earlier said project, for operational advantage, was merged with the newly designed one and Dr.
Raha and Shri Mahato continued their field investigation among the people of Kinnaur district of Himachal
The objectives of this project were broadly (i) to examine the nature of ecological adaptation to the Himalayan
environment, (ii) to understand socio-cultural implications of being located between major nations and
civilizations, (iii) to monitor trends of socio-economic changes since independence, and (iv) to study variations
of cultures between three different eco-zones and altitudes of the Great Himalayas.
Dr. Raha and Shri Mahato undertook their intensive field investigation in three different eco-zones of the
district in phases between 1970 to 1972 and the present account is the outcome of that study.
Information on communities inhabiting high altitudes is by and large scarce. Necessity for such information is
even more intensely felt in India as the entire stretch of the Himalayan heights within the Indian territory is
occupied by a multitude of discrete populations about whom very little is practically known. The present study
thus will fill up the information gap to a major extent, particularly from Himachal Pradesh.
The Human Societies in the High
Himalayas were in isolation from time immemorial. The Great Himalayan Ranges which have roughly fenced
India's north-western, northern and north-eastern borders, had taken in the lap too many human beings and
guarded them from the touch of the outsiders for centuries.
All these populations belong to various ethnic groups. Ancient Indian literature and mythologies refer to
various ethnic groups such as the Apsara, the Yaksa, the Raksasa, the Gandharva, the Kinnaur, the Dasa,
the Khasa, and many others who were believed to have affinities and link with some divine races, to be the
inhabitants of the Himalayas. They were said to live in different parts of this mountain.
The Himalayas even now-a-days can be called as the abode of numerous ethnic groups. From Jammu and
Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh (NEFA), throughout the Himalayan ranges we meet with different types of
people with varied cultures and activities. While there are nomadic pastorals who move with their livestock
from one area to another throughout the year, others are settled in the villages. While some practise terraced
cultivation with modern improved methods, the others still follow the crude method of shifting cultivation; while
polyandry is found to be practised by a number of groups, monogamy is the custom for the others "While
Buddhism (Lamaism) is the religion for a number of people, others follow Hinduism while still others have
Christianity or live in the world of their own deities and spirits" (Raha, 1977)
Very little is known about many of these ethnic groups who live on or around the international border. Except
some old accounts written by the missionaries, travellers and administrators, we have a very few
anthropological studies on these people, But after independence it was felt essential to know these people
living on and around our international border, particularly in the Himalayan region. This was necessary not
only for the strategic importance of the area, but also for the welfare and development of these people and the
This Survey has been working intermittently in the Himalayan region for the past several years but the
coverage so far has been rather scanty. Because of this problem of inadequate coverage there are many
communities on whom there is either a little or no information. It is necessary that this area of strategic
importance should be more thoroughly studied so that relevant information on the socio-economic life and the
trends of change are made available to the research scholars, administrators and social planners. It is with
this end in view that this Survey has drawn up a programme of comprehensive socio-cultural study of the
people of the entire Himalayan border area.
After the workshop seminar on the Himalayan Border Areas held in the Headquarters, Calcutta in the month
of July 1972, a detailed programme was chalked out and a national project on the Himalayan Border Areas
Studies entitled, "Society and Culture among the People of Himalayan Border Area: Structure and Change"
was drawn up. It was settled that most of the areas touching international border, particularly with Tibet, will
be covered first. For the purpose of this study the Himalayan international border area has been defined as
'the stretch of land lying between the Himalayan international boundary on the north and north-east and the
line running almost parallel to this boundary just where the Himalayan foot hills meet the plain'. It was finalised
that data under this project, will be collected on the traditional nature of the society and culture among these
Besides, special emphasis will be given on the following aspects:
1. Ecological adaptation to the peculiar Himalayan environment: It is presumed that due to the peculiar
geographical environment prevailing in the Himalayan border region the communities living there will pose
some distinctive socio-cultural features.
2. Socio-cultural implications of the location: The villages in the border region are located not only at the
frontier of a nation and civilization, i.e., India, but also in between nations and civilizations. As such, it will be
interesting to note the linkages and ties (if there be any) that are maintained by the border communities
across the border with their ethnic brethren within India.
3. Trends of socio-economic changes since Independence: With the spread of administration in the remote
parts of the border region the villages have also been subjected to a series of modern forces of change-
education, network of roads, community development, health measures, etc. These have naturally affected
the traditional society in a number of ways. The study, with 1947 as the base-line, will go into the detail of
the processes and mechanism of the change and its overall effect on the traditional life of the people.
4. The Western and Eastern Himalayan border regions: The Western and the Eastern wings of this border
region not only differ geographically but their inhabitants also manifest some sharp cultural contrasts. In a
general way, it may be said that the people of the western region, except some portion of Ladakh, show a
similarity and continuity with the Hindu cultural traditions. On the other hand, the people of the Eastern
Himalayas have retained the tribal characters. That is why we find the presence of caste system in the
Western Himalayas whereas this is either absent or functions in a very low key in the eastern region. Some
other differentiating features can also be found in the settlement pattern, types of dwelling houses, modes of
cultivation - terrace as opposed to transhumance, dress and ornaments, food habits, etc. The study shall also
take note of this comparative aspect of the society and culture in two broader ecological zones of the border
A common guideline emphasising various points on the structure and change of the society and culture
among the people of the Himalayan Border Areas was drawn up for the research personnel so that they can
undertake identical nature of studies among various ethnic groups in different areas with the idea that a
suitable comparative study in the whole region might be taken up in future.
Under this Himalayan Border Area Study Project, the North Western Regional Office of the Anthropological
Survey of India at Dehra Dun has been given the task of arrying cout anthropological research in the
international border areas in the Himalayas stretching from Jammu and Kashmir to the hill districts of Uttar
Pradesh. Accordingly, the authors have been given the task of undertaking research works in the district of
Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh bordering Tibet under the research project "Society and Culture among the
People of Kinnaur district, Himachal Pradesh; Structure and Change".
The attraction of the Himalayas is unimaginable. The charm and beauty of the land and the hospitality and
sweet behaviour of the people wiped out all our fear and anxiety. The attraction and appeal of the land and the
people of Kinnaur will remain immortal in our memory. These have become stronger during our repeated visits
to Kinnaur in the course of the project work.
Our first visit to Kinnaur district commenced in the months of May to July, 1970, long before the finalisation of
the Himalayan Border Area Study Project. At that time we had been given the project, "Ethnographic and
Culture Change Study among the Kinnaurese of Kinnaur". The next phase of field work under this project was
commenced on September 1970 and continued upto October. Thereafter successive field trips took place in
the months between June 1971 to October 1971 and May 1972 to July 1972. When the Himalayan Border
Area Study was taken up, we streamlined our methodology to suit the criteria laid down in the Himalayan
Border Area research project, "Society and Culture among the People of Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh:
Structure and Change". The criteria laid down in the above Himalayan Border Area Study Project were as
(a) In each district, three villages should be selected for intensive study. One village should be located as
near the border as possible. Such a village in the Himalayan region is invariably located at high altitude. The
other two villages should be selected from the middle and lower ecological zones of the district.
(b) Except in the Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Manipur, large multi-ethnic villages should be selected.
(c) The duration of field-work should range from three to six months depending on nature of the terrain, its
accessibility, climate and other ecological constraints.
(d) Field-data should be collected on the basis of the guide-lines. Village census, participant observations,
genealogical method, case-histories and biographies should be used as tools for collecting data.
(e) In all aspects of the collection of data, attention should be given to the socio-economic articulation of the
village with the outside world including that across the border. The tren.ds of changes taking place in these
villages since Independence should be recorded in detail.
For the purpose of study three villages were selected for study, one from each zone. The villages were
selected after carefully considering various criteria as laid down in the guideline and also various other factors
such as proximity to the district Headquarters, remoteness and so on. Necessary care was taken so as to
select the best suitable villages. For intensive study under the research project, three villages, Chango,
Kangos and Rogi were selected. The village Chango in Hangrang valley under Pooh sub-division, comes
under Zone-I and. also solves the criterion for selecting a village as near the international border as possible.
Chango is the last Indian village in that direction and is quite close to our border with Tibet. It is also a multi-
ethnic village and large in size. This is our high altitude village and is situated at an altitude of about 11,000 ft.
above mean sea level.
Our second village is Kangos which is situated in Nachar sub-division under Zone-II. It is our lower altitude
village with a height of about 7,500 ft. above mean sea level. It is a medium sized muli-ethnic village and quite
close to the Simla district (earlier Mahasu district).
Our third village Rogi is a middle altitude village having a height of about 9,500 ft. above mean sea level. This
village, quite close to the district Headquarters, Kalpa, is situated in Kalpa sub-division and comes under
Zone-III. It is a medium sized multi-ethnic village.
Besides the above three villages, extensive study was undertaken in three more villages situated in above
three zones. These villages are Namgia(10,000 ft.) in Zone-I (Pooh-subdivision) which is also one of the last
villages of India, close to the border with Tibet, Sungra (7,500 ft.) in Zone-II which is situated in Nachar Sub-
division and Duni (9,000 ft.) situated in Kalpa sub-division (Zone-III). All these villages are multi- ethnic
villages. Some research works were also undertaken in the village Sangla under Sangla sub-Tehsil of Kalpa
Sub-division. Studies in all these four villages along with those- three for intensive study, helped us in knowing
the structure and change of the society and culture in Kinnaur district in its totality.
During the period of field-work we took the opportunity of going through all relevant publications in the libraries
in Simla and Kalpa. Over and above, the library at our Headquarters and also the National Library and the
Library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Culcutta were also consulted.
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