Although much work has been done on
the geography, geology, tourism and
pilgrimage of the Himalayas during the last
four decades. very little is known about the
archaeology, early history and cultural
heritage of the region in the context of socio-
The main objective of the present work is
to understand the socio-economic and
cultural aspects of the Himalayas in a
historical perspective. The work also aims to
identify correctly the races and peoples with
their age-old customs, languages and
religious ceremonies and also to bring to light
the historical records which have so far not
been studied thoroughly and methodically.
The objective is also to document and study
the development of culture in the context of
trade and commerce from earliest to recent
times in so far as they are reflected in the
archaeological monuments and archival
material, as these are being gradually lost due
to commercial pursuits, negative impact of
tourism and human vandalism. An attempt is
also being made here to present as thorough
an account as possible of the traditional
society of the western Himalayas, which has
changed drastically in the recent times.
It is hoped that the present work will
generate interest in the readers all over the
world to conduct further studies on the
Himalayas and also to create awareness about
its cultural and ecological preservation.
Dr. Fonia is a renowned archaeologist well known for his research work in the Himalayas. Through his extensive survey, excavation and field studies he has garnered evidence to reconstruct the various stages in the evolution and development of food producing, nomadic and semi-nomadic trading communities in the Himalayas on the basis of local environment. Being associated with Archaeological Survey of India for last three decades, he availed the opportunity to extensively explore the region. He retired as Additional Director General in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), New Delhi. Prior to this, he served ASI as Director of various sections including World Heritage, National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities, Publication, Exploration & Excavation, Regional Director-North, Director-in-charge, Kedarnath Restoration Project and also as adviser to the authorized person for the excavations at Ayodhaya. Besides, he was also nominated as Member Secretary of Central Advisory Board of Archaeology, National Screening and Evaluation Committee and also of the Expert Committee on Amendment of Antiquity and Art Treasures Act. Dr. Fonia has represented India at several international conferences including South Asian Archaeology Congress in Italy as also at Wisconsin, U.S.A. He also has the distinction of having led the joint collaboration between India and Afghanistan in the field of Archaeology, Archives and Museum. Dr. Fiona’s work on the subject is distinguished by its authenticity and the resonance of the Himalayas seen through the eyes of a scholar and a naturalist.
Great poet Kalidas describes the Himalayas in his famous initial sloka in the Kumarasambhava
There is a mountain in the north, ensiled by Divinity, named The Himalayas, the king of all
mountains, stretching from east to west; it is located on the earth as a measuring rod.
Swami Vivekananda expounds this sloka as follows:
Important words in the verse are devatatma (divine soul) and manadanda (measuring rod). The
poet implies that the Himalayas are not merely a wall, accidentally constructed by nature. It is
ensued by divinity and is the protector of India and her civilization, not only from the chill,
icy blasts blowing from the Arctic region, but also from the deadly and destructive incursions of
invaders. The Himalayas further protect India by sending the great rivers such as the Sindhu
(Indus), the Ganga and the Brahmaputra perennially fed by melting snow and irrespective of the
monsoon rains. Manadanda implies that the poet affirms that the Indian civilization is the best
of all human civilizations and forms the standard by which all other human civilizations, past,
present and future must be tested.
Such was his high esteem about the importance of the Himalayas.
For ages, the Himalayas have been the source of inspiration to the people of India that had
exercised a spell over sages, saints and yogis, and had drawn the attention of writers and poets.
Adi Shankracharya established the first of his four mathas in the Garhwal Himalaya at [oshimath
and took Samadhi at Kedarnath. The famous Sikh Guru Gobind Singh made a reference to Shri
Hemkund Sahib, viz. that in one of his previous births, he had meditated on the shore of lake
which was surrounded by seven snow-covered peaks. The Buddhist saints from Punjab and
Kashmir yogis and scholars from Vikramshila and Nalanda Universities visited Ladakh and selected
some caves in the region for meditation. These caves were later selected for building monasteries;
this has provided a unique theme, that of living in unity despite diversity conveying a message of
peace and tranquility.
Thus, the Hindus and Buddhists have always looked upon the Himalayas for spiritual
attainment and established there holy shrines and places of pilgrimage, such as Brahmakamal in
Assam, Pashupatinath in Nepal, Amaranth in Kashmir, Vaishno Devi in Jammu, Badrinath,
Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Hemkund and Jageshwar in Uttarakhand, Jwalaji in Himachal
Pradesh, and Mansarovar-Kailash in western Tibet; Buddhist monasteries at Alchi, Hemis,
Lamoure, Padam, etc., in Ladakh, Taboo and Lahul-spiti in Himachal Pradesh. These pilgrim
centers provided interaction and movement of ideas among various groups of people and also
provided peaceful channels of communication between hill people and the people from plains.
Nicholas Roerich, a great artist, philosopher, explorer, poet and archaeologist of recent
times, has beautifully described the significance of the Himalayas in his poetic yet blessed verses:
Here is the Abode of Rishis.
Here resounded the sacred Flute of Krishna.
Here thundered the Blessed Gautama.
Here originated all Vedas. Here lived Pandavas.
Here - Gessar Khan. Here - Aryavarta.
Here is Shambala.
Himalayas - Jewel of India.
Himalayas - Treasure of the World.
Himalayas - the sacred symbol of Ascent.
Oh, Bharata the beautiful! Let me send Thee my heartfelt
The present study is primarily concerned with the borderland area of western Himalaya,
which forms the natural boundary between India and Tibet (Map 1). To the south-east it divides
the western Tibetan districts of Garo from the Uttarakhand borderland, midway it separates
Ladakh region of Rukchu, Zanskar, Purig and Dress from Lahul, Spiti, Kullu, Kistwar and Kashmir
and in the west extends towards Chilas and Gigots. The natural subdivision of the western
Himalayan range extending from west to east comprises Nubba Valley along the Nubba and the
Sheyok river, Ladakh on the Indus, Zanskar on the Zanskar river, Changthang around the lakes
of Tsokhaar, Tsomoriri and Lucking or Pangong Lake, Purig, Suru, Sod and Dress along different
branches of the Dress River and Kashmir on Jhelum River. Similarly, Lahul-Spiti, Kistwar and
partly Jammu lie along the Chandrabhaga (Chenab) River, Kinnaur along the Sutlej, Nilang
along the Bhagirathi, Juhar along the Gori, Darma on the eastern Dhauli, Bynas on the Kali, and
Niti-Mana valley along the Dhauli and Alaknanda rivers. The valleys of these rivers are the main
lines of drainage and along them lay the tracts by which caravan routes from India pass through
into Tibet and Central Asia from early times.
Trade and commerce with Tibet had been the backbone of the economy of Himalayan
borderland communities since the remote past. Being the people of high mountains, they came
close to Tibet on account of trade. As Tibet produced very little food grains and was largely
dependent on imports from India, food was the main article carried by nomads from western
Himalaya which was exchanged for Tibetan salt, dairy products and wool. This practice has
encouraged cultivation of crops, promotion of sheep husbandry and development of culture in
the Himalayan region. Indeed it is the watershed between two of the great cultural traditions, i.e.
Tibetan in the east and Indian in the west. The trade with Tibet played a vital role not only in
preserving its centuries-old customs and traditions but it also gave it continuity and consistency
throughout its history. Situated on the approximate geographic location, this region has played
a major role in the cultural-historical processes of various epochs. But in spite of such importance,
attention of scholars and writers have so far not been sufficiently directed towards the socio-
economic study of the region. Besides, the studies on the Himalayas are inadequately represented
in the university courses. The school textbooks are also silent on the importance of the various
people of the Himalayas who played such a major role in making the history of the Himalayas in
the context of Central Asia. The idea of conducting research on the problem stated above came
to my mind primarily because of the aforementioned neglect. Secondly, being born and brought
up in the Himalayan environment, the thrilling stories of men and memories of trans-border
trade with Tibet, the trade agreement letters, seals and indigenous equipments used by them
during their trade journey to Tibet for negotiating snow and the slopes and harsh forces of
nature such as walking stick with ferrule, yak hair ropes, tents, long bamboo poles and arms and armor inspired me to conduct extensive survey of the entire Himalayan region. With this objective,
a preliminary account entitled "Indo-Tibetan trade through Himalayas" was prepared by me in
1982, and later a detailed work on socio-economic and cultural studies of western Himalaya was
completed for the award of Doctorate Degree at Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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