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  Himalayas People in India  

The population, settlement, and economic patterns within the Himalayas have been greatly influenced by the variations in topography and climate, which impose harsh living conditions and tend to restrict movement and communication. People living in remote, isolated valleys have generally preserved their cultural identities.

Ladakh Tour

However, improvements in transportation and communication, particularly satellite television programs from Europe and the United States, are bringing access from the outside world to remote valleys. These outside influences are affecting traditional social and cultural structure.

Nearly 40 million people inhabit the Himalayas. Generally, Hindus of Indian heritage are dominant in the Sub-Himalayas and the Middle Himalayan valleys from eastern Kashmir to Nepal. To the north Tibetan Buddhists inhabit the Great Himalayas from Ladakh to northeast India.

In central Nepal, in an area between about 1830 and 2440 m (between about 6000 and 8000 ft), the Indian and Tibetan cultures have intermingled, producing a combination of Indian and Tibetan traits. The eastern Himalayas in India and nearby areas of eastern Bhutan are inhabited by animistic people whose culture is similar to those living in northern Myanmar and Yunnan province in China. People of western Kashmir are Muslims and have a culture similar to the inhabitants of Afghanistan and Iran.

The economy of the Himalayas as a whole is poor with low per capita income. Much of the Himalayas area is characterized by a very low economic growth rate combined with a high rate of population growth, which contributes to stagnation in the already low level of per capita gross national product. Most of the population is dependent on agriculture, primarily subsistence agriculture; modern industries are lacking.

Mineral resources are limited. The Himalayas has major hydroelectric potential, but the development of hydroelectric resources requires outside capital investment. The skilled labor needed to organize and manage development of natural resources is also limited due to low literacy rates. Most of the Himalayan communities face malnutrition, a shortage of safe drinking water, and poor health services and education systems.

Agricultural land is concentrated in the Tarai plain and in the valleys of the Middle Himalayas. Patches of agricultural land have also been carved out in the mountainous forested areas. Rice is the principal crop in eastern Tarai and the well-watered valleys. Corn is also an important rain-fed crop on the hillsides.

Other cereal crops are wheat, millet, barley, and buckwheat. Sugarcane, tea, oilseeds, and potatoes are other major crops. Food production in the Himalayas has not kept up with the population growth.

The major industries include processing food grains, making vegetable oil, refining sugar, and brewing beer. Fruit processing is also important. A wide variety of fruits are grown in each of the major zones of the Himalayas, and making fruit juices is a major industry in Nepal, Bhutan, and in the Indian Himalayas.

Since 1950 tourism has emerged as a major growth industry in the Himalayas. Nearly 1 million visitors come to the Himalayas each year for mountain trekking, wildlife viewing, and pilgrimages to major Hindu and Buddhist sacred places. The number of foreign visitors has increased in recent years, as organized treks to the icy summits of the Great Himalayas have become popular. While tourism is important to the local economy, it has had an adverse impact on regions where tourist numbers exceed the capacity of recreational areas.

Historically, all transport in the Himalayas has been by porters and pack animals. Porters and pack animals are still important, but the construction of major roads and the development of air routes have changed the traditional transportation pattern.

Major urban centers such as Kathmandu, Simla, and Srinagar, as well as important tourist destinations, are served by airlines. Railways link Simla and Darjiling, but in most of the Himalayas there are no railroads. The bulk of goods from the Himalayas, as well as goods destined for places within the Himalayas, generally come to Indian railheads, located in the Tarai, by road. The pack animals and porters transport goods from road heads to the interior and back.

The Inhabitants And The Migrants
The Hindu epics and Puranas refer to the original inhabitants of the Himalayas- the Kulinds, Kiratas and Kilinds, Kiratas and Kinnars and later texts mention the Khasas and the Darads. Today three ethnic types constitute the Himalayan population: Negroids, Mongoloids and Aryans.

From very early times there have been migrations into the Himalayas and within it. Spiritual quest motivated a few to migrate there, and a small minority responded to the call of these mountains to test their own endurance and will power. Pursuit of profit propelled others. Reasons of state dictated the posting of garrisons even in remote, desolate areas. All these factors combined over a period of time to change significantly the complexion of the local populace. There have been waves of migration from Nepal to Sikkim and Kumaon, for instance, and from Tibet. At present it is extremely difficult to separate the different racial strains.

Bhutiyas Of Bhutan
The Bhutanese are Bhutiyas of Mongolian origin who refer to themselves as Drukpa-inhabitants of Druk Yul or the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon'. Apart from a few obscure areas of Nepal and Ladakh, and Spiti in India, the Bhutanese are the only large group to follow traditional Buddhism and, despite the building of roads and controlled introduction of tourism, have maintained many aspects of the culture.

People Of Sikkim
The Sikkimese consist of three different groups - the Lepchas, the Bhutiyas and the Nepalis. The Lepchas are the original inhabitants but are now in a minority. Not much is known of their history before their conversion to Buddhism and the enthronement of Phuntsok Namgyal as the first historic ruler of Sikkim.

Nepali People
The people of Nepal are a complex mix of racial patterns. The dominant Hindu castes of Brahmin, Thakur and Chetri, along with several others speak Nepali. The Gurungs, Magars, Tamaings, Rais and Limbus form the Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies. These are part of the mongoloid, tribally organized groups of hill farmers who dominate the middle hills. The Sherpas of the Solo Khumbu region in the northeast of the country are amoung the many Bhutiya groups who speak dialects of Tibetan.

People Of Uttaranchal
In Kumaon and Garhwal, in the central Himalayas, Khasas and Doms were the original inhabitants. The Khasas, historians surmise, were a west Central Asian nomadic tribe who entered through the northwest and spread from Kashmir to Assam.

People Of Himachal Pradesh
In Himachal Pradesh, the descendants of these Khasas are known as “Kanets” and now claim Rajput status. The majority of the population in the present-day central Himalayas has Khasa ancestry. Immigrant Brahmins and Kshatriyas from the plains brought caste division with them and introduced new forms of social organization rooted in Hindu orthodoxy.

The Ladakhis
The Ladakhis are of ethnic stock different from that of the people of Kumaon and Garhwal. According to folklore, Ladakh was once totally populated by Darads. The latest archaeological finds give credence to this popular belief. The Mons belonging to the Mongoloid stock, and who are now far more numerous there, seem to have migrated at a much later date.

Most people in the Himalayas sustain themselves by a combination of agriculture and animal husbandry. Until very recently, those inhabiting the higher reaches migrated to lower altitudes during the winter months. Trade played an important role in the lives of the frontier villages in Ladakh, Himachal, Kumaon and Garhwal. Before the advent of the British, the contacts of Sikkim and Bhutan with Tibet were closer and more frequent.


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