India is a diverse country. There is a huge variation in religion, traditions, people, food, culture, language etc which vary with different regions. Somehow considering to above fact, Himachal Pradesh can also be called as a ‘mini country’. And it is so because of its diverse and rich nature. Each and every district of the state has its own tradition, food, culture and the most important, the dialect. For example, in the capital district Shimla, Shimla pahari dialect is spoken; in district Kullu, Kullvi pahari is spoken; both the dialects have a great difference in their pronunciation as well as subject denotion and tone of speaking. Likewise, in district Kangra, dogri or Kangri; in Mandi mandyali; in Chamba chambyali; in Lahaul and Spiti lahauli are spoken. So, considering so many dialects you can easily say that Himachal is truely varsatile.
Dhaam word is referred to the traditionally prepared dishes served in a single meal. It contains atleast 5-7 traditional food items served one by one with rice. According to the traditional customs, dhaam is eaten in a group in a well synchronised sitting manner and on a leaf plate. No one leave the meal in between, whether he is finished or not, and when everyone is finished they stand up at the same time.
The food dishes may vary from place to place. Generally in the Kullu area sepu badiya, madra, chana dal, kadi, dal maash, khatta, dry fruit rayeta and sweet rice are served. In lower Himachal regions a variation occurs in some of the items such as ‘jhol’ takes the place of kadi and a pure ghee mung dal replaces the chana dal. The best thing about the Himachali dhaam is the traditional way of its preparation, i.e. each item is cooked in big brass containers locally called ‘batluyi’ put over chulha (traditional furnance). No LPG is used in any of the cooking process plus no onion and garlic are used. Generally ‘dhaam’ are an important part of any function from a small get together to marriage or funerals.
Naati- the folk dance
The folk dance of upper Himachal area is famously known as ‘naati’. It is a group dance in which both males and females participate. They make a chain and dance with synchronized steps to tune of the folk music. The orchestra played during ‘naati’ include dhol, nagaada (made of pure leather), karnal, naag singha and shehnai (made of copper and brass ). Generally a dress code is followed for the dance that includes ‘pattu’ (gown of shawl) or sadari (gown), dhattu (head wrap), bumdi (decorated pin to hold pattu), chandrahaar (the giant neckpiece) and rumaal for women and kurta pyjama and traditional topi for men. ‘Naati’ is a beautiful dance that does not require professional learning but only a dancing heart.
Traditional dress and ornaments
Famous as a geographical indication of the Kullu valley, the traditional woollen shawls or commonly known as ‘Kullu Shawls’ are not only a winter wear but a piece of art. The traditional designs of the valley culture are beautifully woven on the shawls. Unlike the modern cloth making industries utilising machines for manufacturing cloth piece, the Kullu Shawls are hand woven by local men and women in their own homes and in small scale industries.
A cap also called ‘topi’ is also worn by men which is again an art piece. It is made from light fabric suited for summers or heavy woollen fabric for colder seasons. The front of the ‘topi’ is colourfully designed usually in traditional geometrical patterns. The males usually wear a ‘kalgi’ over it made of flower seeds or of Monal bird feather.
Deities – ‘Rishis’ to ‘Rakshas’
The Himachal Pradesh is mentioned in most of the ancient texts to be an abode of almost all the sages; they meditated in the silence and deep forests and hence attained divine knowledge and powers. Their powers are still influencing many folks who worship them. The lower part of the state has most of the ‘shaktipeeths’ (divine energy temples) such as Mata Chinttapurni, Mata Jawalamukhi, Mata Naina etc. The Mandi area has maximum concentration of Shiv temples built in the ancient times and so is called as ‘Shiv Bhumi’. With Shiv as their lord, the ‘naag’ (serpent) clan and their deities are also worshipped here. The deities of the Shimla area are the kings who meditated to attain cosmic powers such as Mahasu devta, Shirgul devta, etc. The Kullu area has almost all the ‘rishis’ and ‘munis’ like Parashar rishi, Ved Vyas, Vashisht rishi, Kapil muni, Narad muni, Manu Rishi etc. Also the ‘rakshas’ dieties occupy their space in the upper heights of the same district that include the famous Hidimba Devi and Ghatotkach.
Traditional Himalayan Houses
The Himalayan areas since the past ages have developed their own distinctive architectural style. This type can be distinguishable as stone and wood structure in a square or rectangular base plan and a roof with a concave appearance or superimposed pyramidical roofs, one on the top of other. The wood used in the houses is mostly of Cedrus deodara, locally known as ‘Dyaar’, is a very valuable timber because it does not show easy signs of decay and is not prone to the insect-pest attacks. Generally the houses are two-storied stone built, with a veranda and a courtyard. The houses provide calm and relaxing atmosphere. The main purpose of the traditional houses is to maintain the temperature as even in extreme weathers (below 0 degrees) the inside temperature is perfectly normal. An outsider always want to stay in one such kind of traditional house and for that most of the tourist places provide traditional Stay facilities too.
Wildlife- flora to fauna
The wildlife of the state is absolutely rare. Usually the beauty of the flora and fauna of the state remains unnoticed to most of the tourists and visitors except the nature lovers. The climatic variations of the state make it a biodiversity rich area. The lower Himachal or the Shiwalik area has a subtropical climate so the plants are deciduous to evergreen. Also a variety of species can be found here of both plants and animals. Coming to the Upper Himachal and the Dhauladhar, the plant diversity is limited but definite. Mostly pines can be found with oaks and shrubs which all are evergreen. The state bird –Western Tragopon, state animal- Snow leopard and state flower- Rhododendron, all are found in the wilderness of the upper Himachal.
The state has five national parks viz., The Great Himalayan National Park, The Pin Valley National Park, Kheerganga NP, Inderkilla NP and Simbalbara NP which are biodiversity rich in every sense; moreover GHNP has attained the status of world heritage site by United Nations. The apples of Himachal have gained very much importance in the Indian fruit market. The quality of Kinnaur and Shimla apples are no doubt superior in all sense. Apart from apples the state also grows other fruits like kiwi, pomegranate, orange, mandarin, grapes, plum, peach, pear etc.
Landscape- Deserts to Wettest places
The geography of Himachal Pradesh is truly versatile and incredible at the same time. From the barren glacial mountain ranges in the north-eastern parts of the districts of Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur to extremely dense evergreen forests of central districts of Kullu, Shimla, Mandi, Kangra, Chamba, Solan and Sirmaur to the lowland Shiwalik ranges with sub tropical climate in the districts of Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur and Sirmaur.
The cold desert is peculiar to the Spiti valley where no vegetation is to be found; only sand eroded from the glacial mother mountains welcomes the humans there. There is not much rainfall in this region but direct snow falls on the ground almost every day. Coming to the wettest place of the state, Palampur located in the Kangra district receives the maximum amount of rainfall not only in the state but also in the entire north India which is because of the perpendicular alignment of the ‘Dhauladhars’ to the wind direction hence fostering a lush of vegetation. The tea gardens are hence peculiar to this part of the state.
Customs and festivals
Apart from the general customs and traditions shared by the entire country, different ethnic communities in Himachal have their own rituals and practices followed according to the local myths and tales. The most important and distinguishing reference is the polyandry or marriage of one girl to all the brothers of the same family; this system is followed in Kinnaur district just to ensure the intact property from generation to generation. Another certain example is that of funeral ceremonies being followed in the district of Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti; where the deads’ are cremated in either of following three ways depending on persons’ past- as burning in a pier or burying or throwing dead body into river/to wild animals.
Apart from the customs followed in the state there are certain festivals and fairs which are celebrated with enthusiasm and happiness. The most common of them are the local deity fairs celebrated in almost every village or hamlet of the districts of upper Himachal and locally called as ‘Kahika’. In recent years the Kullu Dussehera festival, Mandi Shivratri Fair and Minjar Fair of Chamba have gained an international fame.
Also the very first days of each of the four seasons i.e. spring, summer, monsoon and winter are celebrated by cooking traditional food and sharing it with family and neighbours.
The native people of every place of the state are always welcoming. They are always ready to help the outsiders in every manner possible. There are many life incidents of tourists who struck into difficult situations, were helped by the localites. I myself had many of those experiences, the best of which I would love to mention. On our way to Kinnaur through the Spiti valley something went wrong with our tour bus and it stopped in the middle of nowhere. There was no person or a house to be seen anywhere. It was growing dark so we decided to go back to a village that we passed by a few kms before. We were a group of 50 students. When we reached the village, it was already dark so we asked for help from the local people. They instantly came forward and invited us to their homes, there they made food and provided beddings to each one of us. There used to be no light for weeks in that village. Our bus remained broken for three days and all those days we stayed with them; they wholeheartedly gave us their food (which they had stored for the winters) and apples from their orchards. Although we helped them in their daily chores but that surely will never be sufficient for their kindness. We danced and sang with them. No doubt that every one of us was overwhelmed by their hospitality.
Literally I feel so proud to be a part of this state.
These facts definitely convince one that Himachal is unique in all the sense. Though the people of the state are innocent and calm but those who try to take this as an advantage are definitely taught a lesson too.