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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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