The Magnificent Children of the Himalaya –
Bhotias of the Bhotia Mahal
The Panchyat Ghar (village level administrative building) of Duktu village has been built strategically. Perched on a high ground, it looked down upon the whole village, as far as Dantu– the next village, two kilometers away, across the Dhauli Ganga gorge. The river issues forth from the junction of Sona and Meola glaciers, about five kilometers away, at the foot of the Panchachuli group of peaks. Duktu is a small village in the Darma valley, deep into the Kumaon Himalayas, surrounded by lofty peaks, on which fresh snowy has been deposited, a sign of coming winter when the whole valley will be buried deep under the snow.
I was lying flat on my mat in the grassy courtyard of the Panchyat Ghar, looking idly up the deep azure blue cloudless sky. High above my head, a yellow-billed cough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) was gliding incessantly in a circle using the upward lift of the hot mountain air, calling its mate. The sun was directly above my head and its fierce rays were cutting into my skin; but the cool gentle breeze that wafted towards me from the surrounding snow peaks, was cooling me off to doze. It was one of those perfect days.
As I was drifting to view a technicolour-dream, Gyan Sing, a prominent villager, came rushing in and woke me up from my reverie with an urgent plea, “Saab, aapko aabhi ekbar mere ghar jana hoga” (Sir, you must come to my house at once).
Naturally, I was most reluctant to leave my heaven. I have planned to languish there in Shabasan (dead mans’ posture) till the sun goes behind the mountains. We were trekking for the last three days and certainly, had earned a rest. But by the expression of Gyan Sing, the matter appears to be serious.
So reluctantly I asked, “Lekin, kyun?” (But why?).
Gyan Sing replied, “Mera ghar me do saheb aaye hyay. O mujhe biswas nehi kar raha. Ghar se nikal ne ka time ghar tala bandh kar ke nikal raha hyay.” (Two foreigners have come to my house. They do not trust me. When going out, they are locking up their room).
He continued to pour out his anguish, “Mnyay unpad aadmi. Aap angreji me unko samjha dijiye ki o mujhe biswas kar sakte.” (I am illiterate. You please tell them in English that they can trust me).
It would seem very insignificant to us – the city bred modern man. Who cares a hoot about some foreigners not trusting me?
But Gyan Sing was in great pain, literally. They are illiterate, very poor; their life is tough beyond the imagination of most of us but they simply cannot bear the thought that somebody, that too a foreigner does not trust him. They cannot stomach that because they are Bhotias, whom Mr. Traill certifies as, ‘an honest, industrious, orderly race, patience and good humoured’. (Statistical Report on the Bhotia Mahala of Kumaon: Traill, G.W.
Bhotias: Bhotias are a unique mongoloid race, inhabiting in the high Himalayan valleys of Nepal, Garhwal and Kumaon – amidst lofty snow peaks, cascading waterfalls, fiercely flowing streams and if I might add, squalor. The high valleys they populated have become known as the ‘Bhotia Mahal’, a name given by the British, meaning land of the Bhotias.
The nomenclature “Bhotia”, to describe their race in general, was thrust upon them by the ruling British. Bhotia land, particularly in the Johar valley is called “Souka” by their neighbours — the Nepalese, the Garhwalis and by the Kumaonese and the individual Bhotia as “Soukpa”.
Legend has it that the valleys were populated by a Chela (disciple) of Shakiya Lama, a holy man of Tibet and as such, the land populated by them became known as “Souka” and the inhabitant as “Soukpa” (Kumaon Ki Itihas: Badridutt Pandey)
Extent of the Bhotia Mahal: The ‘Bhotia Mahal’ within India, comprises the inter-Himalayan valleys of the snow range bordering on Tibet – Byans, Chaudans and Darma in the east, Johar in the middle and Painkhanda on the west. Bhotias are also found in the Byan Panchayat in Nepal.
I intent to restrict this article within the Indian border which I have the opportunity to visit several times and study. Also, due to space constraints, I shall discuss only a few traits of the Bhotia Mahal
Origin: The origin of the Bhotias is lost in antiquity. The word ‘Bhot’ or more correctly ‘Bod’ and their Mongoloid features point to a Tibetan origin. Some expert thinks that ‘Bhot’ or ‘Bod’ is really the same word as Tibet. Sir J. Strachey defines the term ‘Bhot’ as ethnographical rather that a geographical expression. (The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson quoted from ‘On the Himalaya in Kumaon and Garhwal’: Sir J. Strachey, Calcutta Review 1853.)
The Bhotias themselves, usually, do not admit their Tibetan origin. They claim their descendant from the Rajput clan of north India; who, they claimed, had migrated to Tibet in the distant past and after residing there for several generations, re-migrated to India and settled in the Himalayan high valleys, where they reside now. Most of them use ‘Singh’ as the suffix (surname) to there name to prove their Rajput origin. They also append the name of their village to their name ( viz: Durga Singh Martolia: Durga Singh of Martoli village).
E T Atkinson supports this theory of migration and re-migration, “…it is possible that it may be true, for the existence of Rajput colonies in Tibet at a very early date is recorded in histories both Tibetan and Chinese.” (The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III: Part 1: Edwin T Atkinson). He also points out, “The traditions of the different valleys, though different in detail, agree in the main out line of the story”.
Studies need to be undertaken into this unique example of early migration from India to Tibet and consequentially very early and probably one of the first, crossing of the high passes.
The Bhotias call themselves ‘ran.’.. The literal meaning of ran. is ‘sell’ – arm and horse. The experts conjecture that, “one possible etymology may be that ‘ran. man’are the people who sell.” (The Impact of Ecology and Culture on the speech of the Bhotiyas: G.M. Tribedi: People of the Himalaya: Anthropological survey of India).
To explain this early migration and many such mystery and legends of the Himalayas (viz: the well known legend of a priest worshipping both Kedarnath and Badrinath in a single day), some experts suggest a unique theory, like that of the “Grand Unified Theory of Natural Forces” that can explains all the rules that forces of nature follow.
The claim that it’s a geological fact that the Himalaya underwent substantial uplift and some shortening of crust at least on three major juncture, approximately around 2000 B. C, 200 B.C. and 850 A. D. As a result of this upheaval, road communication (though there were hardly any road worthy of the name) between India and Tibet and Central Asia, that existed in the past, were completely cut-off. Thus, there is certainly a possibility that in the distant past Tibet and Central Asia were much more accessible from India than now giving support to the theory that Rajputs might indeed had migrated to Tibet in the distant past. Otherwise, the strange uniformity or rather similarity, of religion, culture, way of living, economic pursuit and language among the residents living along the southern border of Tibet, almost parallel to the whole length of Himalaya, is hard to explain.
Also every substantial rise in the Himalayas created some unfavourable climatic condition in Central Asia and Tibet, resulting in shortage of food and fodder, which might compelled the people there, who were mostly pastoral nomads, to move in search of good climate and fertile land. This might had forced the Bhotias living so far in Tibet, for a second migration to India. (Radiant Himalayas: R C Naithani. Publication Division, Ministry of information and broadcasting, Government of India).
I must admit, this is an interesting theory worth pursuing.
On the other hand, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Varita-Sanhita ( all ancient Hindu religious literature) mention a number of tribes – the Sakas, the Nags, the Kiratas, the Khasas ( all Indian) and the Hunas (Tibetan), dwelling on the border of Bharat, which in all probability refers to the portion of the Himalaya, bordering Tibet, which we now call Bhotia Mahal..
Thus it will be safe to assume that the modern Bhotias are a mixed tribe of all these ancient tribes, where a mix of Tibetans can not be denied.
The Habitat and road communication: The only parts of Bhotia Mahal, which are inhabitable and capable of cultivation, are narrow valleys lying between great peaks in which flow tributaries of the rivers — Ganges on the west and the Kali on the east. Greater part of the Mahal consists of barren rocks or beds of snow with forest of fir, spruce, cedar, cypress and similar alpine trees at lower elevation. Bhotia Mahal occupies one third of Kumaon and Garhwal but only one-sixteenth of its area is cultivable. In recent years, the cultivable area shrank further as the fields were not ploughed for lack of manpower owing to permanent migration of its young residents to greener pastures.
Vegetation: Apart from various species of trees, particularly alpine, a luxuriant growth of precious medicinal herbs are abundantly found in this area. Some of these are: Salampanja (Orchis latifolia), Salam Misri (Orchis mascular), Gugal (Doronicum rogla), Kutki (Picrojakurroa) Jatamase (Nardostachys jatamase) Attis (Aconitum neterophy eleum), Dandasa (Jaglans regia) etc.
It is really unfortunate that no planned farming of theses invaluable herbs is taken up either publicly or privately. Unplanned harvesting by locals is the order of the day, which might result in complete disappearance of theses herbs in the near future.
In my recent foray in to this area, I was briefed by the young district magistrate of Pithoragarh, Mr. Amit Singh Negi, that government is seriously thinking of taking up the farming of medicinal plants to economically help the tribes. I only hope this effort is translation into action.
Road communication: Even during the 19th century the road communication was almost non-existent. Sir J. Strachey reports, “…there is nothing to deserve the name of road or even a path.”
But, things have not changed much since. Due to the annual pilgrimage to Kailash Manas Sarovar, the mule path that passes through Chaudans and Byans valley towards Lipulekh pass gets some attention by the administration but that’s the end of the story. The young DM acknowledged that. Though, recently there is an effort to improve the road communication in Johar valley; but the other trails particularly the path to Darma valley and Kuthi valley need some serious improvement.
The five principal valleys along which the roads run are, the valley of Saraswati leading to Mana pass, western Dhauli to Niti pass, Gouri ganga in Johar valley to Untadhura and Kungribingri pass, the Dhauli in Darma to Neo-dhura and Kachh pass and the Kuthi-Yanti in Byans leading to lipulekh and lunpiyalekh pass.
Climate: The Bhotia Mahal may be divided into two climatic divisions: 1) the lower valley having heavy rainfall during monsoons and high temperature in summer and 2) the high valleys having heavy snowfall with periodic rain.
Four local seasons may be observed: a) Yena (middle March to middle June) marking high temperature and cyclonic weather in the lower valleys and moderate climate in the higher valleys. b) Shyal (middle June to middle September) which is marked by heavy rains which decreases towards higher valleys. Land slides and road washouts are commons in this reason. Seasonal springs and streamlets are formed. c) Namin (middle September to middle December) marked by occasional rain, clear sky in the lower valleys but snowfall in the higher valleys. d) Gunchh (middle December to middle March) marked by snow line falling down to 5000 ft. Temperature below freezing point in the higher valleys and occurrences of avalanches in the higher valleys.
People, Culture and Religion: The male Bhotias posses a well built muscular body. The women are usually fair and also posses a strong body. Traill presents the Bhotias as honest, industrious, orderly race, patient and good humoured but very filthy in their habits, using the skirts of their dress to scrub both their persons and their cooking utensils.
I would agree with Atkinson to a large extent. It is indeed a mystery to me that despite adequate supply of water, even piped water, in the villages why the Bhotias still keep their persons, their houses and hearth filthy!
The Bhotias appears to be a homogeneous tribe. Some expert even goes to the extent of describing Bhotia society as casteless (Ecological Adaptation of the Bhotias of Kali Basin of U P Hills: R S Raypa: The Himalayas and the Himalayans. Ed: Manish Kr. Raha: Anthropological Survey of India). But I observed, lots of heterogeneous elements and casteism among the tribes residing in different valleys. The Bhotias of Mana and Niti are called Marchas and those of Johar are known as Sokpas or Rawats. The Marchas and Sokpas eat and drink together; they also intermarry; but both the tribes looked down on the Bhotias of Darma and Byans and neither eat or drink nor intermarry with them.
I believe this custom is more status centric than intrinsic. The flourishing trade with Tibet in the pre 60s in which they had a monopoly, made the Marcha and the Sokpas economically much better off than their brethrens of Darma. So they used to look down on the Bhotias of Darma valley.
But this argument fails in case of the Bhotias of Byans valley. They also had a flourishing trade with Tibet and prosper quite well. So this aspect of casteism needs to be studied further by the experts.
This division, mainly based on economic power, does also seems inconsistent with their social structure, which appears to be casteless. Experts observe that, “The Bhotias have a casteless society.” But Atkinson remarks that “ The Bhotiyas of Juhar acknowledge only two castes, Brahmans and Rajput…The principal clan of Bhotia Brahmans in Juhar are Dobedhiyas, Pathaks etc, while in the Rjputs they are Toliyas, Martolias etc…. There are no Brahmins in the Darma patties”. (The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson).
This writer, while traveling extensively in the Bhotia Mahal observed that in the modern Bhotia society, like all other modern societies, there appears to be only two castes — the Haves and the Have-nots.
House and dress: In Bhotia language ‘khU’ is house. The word ‘khU’ also means cave which points to the possibility that in the remote past the Bhotias used to live in caves and instead of coining a new word for house they gave a new meaning to the word ‘khU’.
The houses are generally of two or three stories and if land is available, built around a courtyard. The houses are substantially built of stone, with sloping roofs of slate or deodar planks, or earth and gravel beat smooth. Windows and doors, made of wood, are small to prevent cold breeze to enter but they are intricately carved, particularly, in the houses of affluent people. The ground floor is usually used for the cattle while they sleep in the upper floors and the kitchen is usually in the upper floor.
Almost all the hoses have no WC. Open fields away from the village are used instead. Top open common general walled places in the village, which has a source of water, are used as bathrooms by the women folk.
Since they bath not more than twice or thrice in a month; bathing has taken the form of almost a ritual. Women-folk of the village gather with their washing and take long time to complete their washing and bathing, especially if the sun is out and shinning. I have not seen many men bathing.
Bhotias use different words for the ground floor and the first floor, which are Tin..kan. and Thim respectively.
The male Bhotias wear anga (coat), pajama (loose trouser) and topi (cap) made locally from wool.
The female wear an upper garment, a skirt from waist to ankle, a conical shaped cap drooping backwards and a cotton girdle on the waist, made locally from wool. The women also wear jewellery, mainly, earring and nose ring made of gold and silver.
This writer observed drastic changes in the dress pattern. The cloths they use at present are not traditional and mostly mill made with polyester blend that are used in the lower valleys. The women were sari and blouses .The girls and boys like to wear zean pants rather than the traditional dress. Among young women, traditional practice of wearing jewellery, particularly heavy jewellery, is dying.
Astha, the young daughter of the postmaster of Balling village in the Darma valley, had her schooling in Dharchula (a border town). She accompanied me on my trek to Duktu from Balling as she had some work there. On the trek, she was wearing a Salwar-Kamiz (a universal north Indian dress for the women) and a leather jacket.
Food: The Bhotias consume large quantity of meat with rice. Ghee (Indian clarified butter) and milk are also taken. Green vegetables are conspicuous by its absence. In my treks, I had hardly come across any vegetable dish in any those numerous Chati (roadside eatery) that I had taken meals. Dal-Bhat (pulses & rice) is the most common food. Some locally available green leaves are consumed. Tea churned with butter and salt is common.
The old food habits have also gone a sea change in the present days. Now, they consume wheat flower breads, pulses and take tea with milk and sugar.
But the old habit of consuming large quantity of liquor had not only survived but has gathered momentum. Both men and women consume large quantities of Daru (fermented and distilled) and Barchhyang (locally fermented).
Status of Women: For any healthy society this is considered to be a powerful indicator. Some expert remarks, “The women folk are never looked down but get equal status. They equally contribute in maintaining the economy. Strict practice of monogamy is mainly because of equal status enjoyed by women. In arranging the marriage, the will of the bride is given higher importance than that of the groom. Absence of dowry also denotes equal status of women. The housewife is called ‘Mulin Rani’ (goddess of the hearth). (Ecological Adaptation of the Bhotias of Kali Basin of U P Hills: R S Raypa: The Himalayas and the Himalayans. Ed: Manish Kr. Raha: Anthropological Survey of India).
It may be admitted that the status of Bhotia women in their society is much better than their sisters across the Indian subcontinent but still, men rules. Though polygamy is nor prevalent but widows are still forced to marry her dead husbands’ younger brother; even when she dislikes her would be groom. This is done ostensibly to prevent division of precious fertile land.
The recent 73rd amendment of Indian constitution in 1992 made it mandatory to elect women in the Panchayat bodies (lowest level local administrative units) but I found that though women are even elected as Pradhan (chief) in many Panchayats of the Bhotia Mahal, they are only the de-jure chiefs while her husband or any other male party functionary is the de-facto chief
Though in the plains of India, this amendment really empowered women and had put them in the decision making lobby.
Also beating of women by their drunken husband is very common and such incidents are usually, not given much importance by the society.
Religion: It is interesting to note that despite occasional Tibetan occupation and influence of Tibetan religion and customs and despite long period of isolation from the Indian plains, Bhotias are, largely, Hindu by religion. They follow the Hindu rituals and customs with a strong incorporation of their own culture and custom mainly due to the isolation. Their natural surroundings made them pantheist and animist.
In most of their temples that I have visited, there are no idols but stones on which rudimentary sketches are made to bring in a resemblance of the Hindu divinities. On my way to the higher valleys, I have also seen prayer flags tied to trees, which are treated as sacred groves. Natural objects like mountain peaks (Nanda Devi), rocks, rivulets, trees also represent deities.
Some of their local deities are – Byasirkhi (Byans Rishi, the famous author of the Mahabharata), Shyang Se (Mahadeo or Shiva), Durga and Nanda Devi. There are also many local village gods. They are a firm believer of super natural and unnatural powers.
Their religion seems to be influenced much by Shaivism. Shiva is the main deity and wine, which is offered to the Shiva, is one of the main offerings in any Puja (worship).
The temples are rudimentary buildings built mostly with loose stones. Sometimes, the idols are kept in the open under a tree or under an overhang.
Though it would be a digression, but at this point I could not resist the provocation of recounting an incident during my trip to Johar valley in 1996.
I was staying with Durga Singh, the Mukhiya (village head-man) of Martoli village and left very early to visit the Nanda Devi temple of the village up in the valley. As I entered the sanctum sanctorum of temple where the idol is kept, I had a strong smell of such a sweet fragrance that is really beyond this mundane earth. Hairs on my body stood out; as if, Devi Nanda was resting there and seeing me enter, has just left, leaving behind her body fragrance. I am an agnostic. But the soft light of the early morning, the snow peak of Nanda Devi in the background, the silence that reigns around, the utter calm that prevails, transported me momentarily to a divine world that can not be described but had to be experienced.
Off-course the origin of the fragrance is not the body odder of Devi Nanda but a local flower, called Baklo, strewn all over the floor of the sanctum. But that’s another story.
Economic need and adaptation: Owing to their unique strategic and positional advantage and their natural ability to adapt to high altitude, the Bhotias built a monopoly in the trade with Tibet. They acted as the medium through which all Indians, as well as the British explorers of later years, had to go to Tibet for whatever reason. This suited the Bhotias well as they reaped the benefit.
Moreover, agricultural production of Tibet being utterly insufficient for the support of its inhabitants, the country almost entirely depended for its supplies on India. That too suited the Bhotias well. Thus trade with Tibet and with Indian plains became the main occupation of the Bhotias and the over dependence on the trade also brought their downfall.
Trade: The Bhotias imported rock-salt, borax, raw wool, woolen cloth, sheep, horses etc from Tibet and exported cereals, sugar, implements, utensils, mill made woolen and cotton cloths and such other articles of daily use.
The Bhotia traders used to stay in Tibet for business from July to October, returning in November to do further business in the lower valleys and plains of northern India.
They also acted as the guides and porters to the pilgrims going to Kailash Manas Sarovar. Bhotias used to provided all the carriages and supplies to the British army, at a handsome profit, I might add, in their marches to Tibet.
The Bhotias became famous as crafty traders and trade thus made them quite prosperous. They were better provided with food, clothing, shelter and other amenities of life than their Himalayan brethrens – the Kumaonese and Garhwalis.
Contacts with the outside Society: Till the 19th century, the Bhotia Mahal with its inhabitants, remained, mostly, cocooned in their own society — cut off from the outside modern Indian society; though owing to its’ compulsion on trade with Tibet, Bhotias had to keep contact with the Indian plains because most of the goods that they exported to Tibet used to come from the Indian plains. But that is largely restricted to trade alone.
One of the earliest contacts with the Indian plains was with Bengal (where I live and naturally would like to put forward this instant!). The copper plate of King Deba Pal found in Munger (in modern Bihar) mentions King Dharma Pals’ (770 AD -810 AD) armies visit to Kedarnath. He was the then king of Bengal. The army must have come in contact with the Bhotias.
At that time the Katyuri dynasty (from the beginning of the Christian era to 700 AD) was ruling over Kumaon and then came the Chands dynasty. But owing to their inaccessibility, the Bhotia Mahal, could not be conquered completely and largely remained outside of these kingdoms. They had their petty principalities, which owed allegiance to the Doti kingdom of the western Nepal. The Gurkha invasion in late 18th century (1790) from the Doti kingdom, for the first time, affected the Bhotias badly. Then in the early 19th century, the British expeditions came and the Bhotia Mahal lost their seclusion forever.
Owing to their political design, the British government started to make forays into Tibet and for that they started to employ the Bhotias – Nain Singh, Mani Singh, Kishen Singh etc as informer-explorer and the British army also started to employ the Bhotias along with their beast of burden as porters.
Impact of Indo-China war: This single event had a devastating impact on the Bhotias — their economy, their life and their future. The closing of the Indo-Tibetan border, as a consequence of that war, not only stopped their trade with Tibet, the main source of the earning, but also had a cascading negative effect on their daily life.
The war not only stopped the trade but the weaving of woolen cloths and the rearing of livestock, Bhotias’ two other major vocations, have also been severely affected.
Till 1962, (the year of the war) hordes of goats and sheep, jibu (cross-breed of yak and cow), mules and horses were reared. They provided the means for transportation between Tibet and India as well as in the annual migration from the upper to the lower valleys. The break up of trade with Tibet and consequential increasing tendencies of permanent migration has lessened the importance of these beasts of burden.
The stoppage of Indo-Tibetan trade had resulted in large-scale permanent migration. A case in study is Milam Village in Johar valley.
Milam, which used to be one of the most prosperous villages of the Johar valley boasted a population of 1733 in 1900 – 954 males and 779 females, which came down to 300 in 1960 and to only 18 in 1981(District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; Almora: H G Walton and Himavanta July 1998). The trend of permanent migration to the towns and lower valleys is very strong in every village of the Bhotia Mahal.
Garbiyang, once a prosperous village in the Byans valley, like that of Milam, is in ruins today. So is Duktu, Sela, Marchha in the Darma valley.
The case of Durga Sing, the Pradhan (elected village chief) of Martoli village in Johar valley is a burning example. His two sons are well educated and settled in the cities. Though every summer Durga Sing, accompanied by his elder sister, comes to Martoli to till his land; his sons, since settling out, have never visited the ancestors’ village.
In all the Bhotia villages that I have visited in the valleys of Drama, Byans and particularly in Johar; I felt very sad seeing rows of dilapidated dwelling units, most of which are abandoned and on the verge of disintegration, still standing somehow amidst ruins
Till sixties, the Bhotias mainly engaged themselves in trade after elementary education. The changed socio-economic and political scene forced them to seek jobs and the Government also helped the Bhotias in their pursuit for job by declaring them Scheduled Tribe in 1967 and thereby helping the Bhotias to get jobs in the reserved category. Now a days, one can find many Bhotias in the army, in the paramilitary and in the police forces as well as in the administration.
These people, better off economically, have permanently settled in the lower valleys or northern plains amidst pleasant climate. They are well educated and are engaged either in business or in service and are reluctant to go to their native villages in the higher valleys.
But quite a substantial portion of the Bhotia community could not take the benefit of the modern society and they still cling to their ancestral villages in the higher valleys and practice seasonal migration. They are poorer in comparison and have hard life as before; may be harder since their main livelihood, the trade, has disappeared and agriculture, as always, was a strenuous and inadequate alternative.
This has given rise to sharp divisions and gave birth to two new castes in the more or less casteless society of the Bhotias. The new castes are “Haves and Have-nots”.
As most of them live in the lower valleys or in the northern plains and due to their close cultural contact with other inhabitants of the lower valleys and the northern plains the Haves follow ‘Brahmanical Hinduism’ and have left behind many of their traditional customs and rituals. They are well off and enjoy all the modern facilities of the society.
On the other hand, the Have-nots are still in dire strait. Literacy is low among them. Superstitious beliefs and age old customs still determines their way of life. Few have found jobs in the lower posts of police and paramilitary forces. They cannot afford to purchase costly land in the lower valleys and hence cannot settle permanently in the benign climate of the lower valleys. They still practice seasonal migration and had to maintain two settlements. This practice of seasonal migration is quite expensive and further strains their meager savings.
Thus the division between these two groups – the Haves and the Have-nots is increasing day by day.
To conclude I must say that, The Have not group, which share major portion of the Bhotia population, requires the support of a stable and profitable economy. They may exploit forest produces like herbs, medicinal plants and timber under proper administrative guidance. They may be taught to produce cash crops like potatoes, fruits (apple), Soya-beans that require less land and yield with less labour. These cash crops have a good ready market in the north Indian plains.
Weaving of woolen carpets, shawl and winter wears by the Bhotia women can be an alternative source of earning; so is the farming of medicinal herbs which has a great possibility.
Since the enactment of Bio-Diversity Act of 2002 in India, restriction on the unrestricted commercial exploitation of bio-diversity has been imposed. Under this act all states are bound to form a Bio-diversity Board at the State level and Bio-diversity Management Committees at the grass root level to help the locals to commercially exploit the rich bio-diversity and government funding is to follow. Bhotias can take the advantage of this act.
Good transportation facility would be a prime requirement. Ropeways across rivers and mule paths can be constructed with comparatively small investment.
Rainwater harvesting would be a viable alternative to water crisis. Eco-tourism also has a great possibility. I have seen groups of foreigners trekking in the valley with tour operators from Delhi and Derhadun. Local tour operators could be developed and employing them will be cheaper to the tourist also.
It is seen by this writer that Government agencies are not doing their job properly in the sense that various schemes on offer are not being utilized to its full extent by the Bhotias as well as by the administration.
The Bhotias of Bhotia Mahal direly needs ideological as well as material assistance.
The effect of the breakdown of the Bhotia economy and their tendency of permanent migration were summed up succinctly and beautifully by the Gaon Buro (Village elder) of Milam village on a mystic evening of 1996 when I was visiting Milam.
Looking towards his ruined village, in the fading evening light, which stood amidst breathtaking landscape, he said slowly and painfully, “Saab, iha kire-mokore nehi hyai, bada jantu bhi nehi hyai, jamin sona ugalti; lekinn dekhiye, saab biran pada hyai” (Sir, there are no insects here, no big games, land yields gold [very fertile] but see, all are lying abandoned in ruins).
If the trend of permanent migration of the Bhotias to the lower valleys, to the towns and cities of north India is not arrested soon, there will be no Bhotia left in the Bhotia Mahal.
1. The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson quoted from “On the Himalaya in Kumaon and Garhwal: Sir J. Strachey, Calcutta Review 1853.
2. The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson.
3. Ecological Adaptation of the Bhotias of Kali Basin of U P Hills: R S Raypa: The Himalayas and the Himalayans. Ed: Manish Kr. Raha: Anthropological Survey of India.
4. Radiant Himalayas: R C Naithani. Publication Division, Ministry of information and broadcasting, Government of India.
5. District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; Almora: H G Walton
6. Himavanta July 1998
7. Kumaon Ki Itihas: Badridutt Pandey.
8. The Impact of Ecology and Culture on the speech of the Bhotiyas: G.M. Tribedi: People of the Himalaya: Anthropological survey of India.