Lahaul- The Valley of Lamas
The Lahaul Valley
The Lahaul valley has remained neglected, despite its exotic beauty, high mountain ranges, glacial lakes and rugged terrain. This neglect can be attributed to the inaccessibility of the terrain and the hostile climatic conditions. In this context it is worthwhile to mention that Kulanthapitha, the traditional name of kullu means the end of the habitable world. That is why the Lahaul & Spiti valley situated beyond Kullu remained cut off from the outer world and this reputation of the region still persists.
It is bounded on the North by Ladakh, on the east by Spiti, on the south by Kullu and Bara Bhangal of Kangra, and on the West by Chamba.
Some of the famous glaciers in the valley are Bara Shingri, Samundri, Gangstang, Sonapani and Perad. That is why; it has rightly been called as "an abode of snow” and “a valley of glaciers".
Con-figuratively, Lahaul valley comprises of the catchment of Chandra and Bhaga rivers. These rivers meet at Tandi and become Chandrabhaga or Chenab. A small part of the area also lies in the catchment of Lingti River, which is the local name of Indus. Both Chandra and Bhage originate from Baralacha la or pass, which is 8 Km. long and is at an altitude of 16,047 feet. Baralacha means a pass with cross roads on summit, which is very apt, as the roads from Zanskar, Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti meet at its top.
In the district of Lahaul & Spiti a complete sequence of geological formations dating back from the Pre- Cambrian to the Cretaceous period, with short breaks in Upper Carboniferous and Jurassic times are found. The rocks more ancient than these periods are also found in the region.
Keylong is the district headquarter of Lahaul & Spiti, and is about 115 Km. from Manali. It is the sunniest part of the valley and is extremely picturesque. This village looks like an uncut emerald set in bronze and silver. Considering its green fields, brown mountains and snow-capped peaks, there can't be a better companion.
The climate of the Lahaul valley on the whole is dry but healthy. The high mountains cut of the progress of rain causing monsoons. Hence there is no rainfall as such. The winters are severe and the mercury dips down to more than minus 20o Celsius. The summers are pleasant but the shady areas tend to be cold. During summers the cold winds blow down the valley, whipping up lots of dirt. The main cash crops of the area are seed- potatoes, kuth, manu kuth, hops and peas.
Flora and Fauna
On account of scanty rainfall, limited humidity, extremely cold climate and high elevation, the flora of Lahaul is from dry temperate to dry alpine at lower levels and of central Asiatic and Siberian character at higher levels.
The valley is strikingly verdant at lower levels during summers, but above that prevail general aridity and barrenness. Junipers, blue pine, birch, willow, spruce, Hippophae rhamnoides, poplars, pyrus and walnuts are found in the valley. The wild Himalayan and Alpine flowers are found in abundance during summers.
Ibex is the most commonly found animal. The snow leopard, wolf, red fox, brown beer, musk deer, etc. are also seen in the valley. Among birds snow pigeons, chokers, house sparrows, snow cock, vultures, various species of finches, dippers, swifts, wild ducks etc. are found in plenty the region. The snakes and reptiles are virtually unknown in the valley.
Lahaul Valley in Himachal Pradesh
Buddhism and Hinduism are the two main religions. Buddhism is said to have been introduced in Lahaul in the 8th century by Padamasambhava, the famous missionary from Udayan. The tenets of Hinduism were preached in recent memory by an ascetic Brahm Prakash in 1940 and 1942. The impact of Hinduism can be felt in Pattan valley.
The Chant of lamas
"Om mani padme hum", is the sacred chant which means, “O thou jewel in the lotus". Symbolically the deeper meaning is, " I invoke the path of truth and experience of universality, so that the jewel- like humanity of my immortal mind be unfolded within the depths of lotus- a central consciousness, and I be wafted with ecstasy of breaking through all bonds and horizons".
The people of Lahaul & Spiti are a mixed race. They are the descendants of Tibetan settlers, Aryans and semi-Aryans, who came from the West and the South. Other who came to the valley were the Saka and Khasa tribes of central Asia. In the remote past there lived an aboriginal tribe whose features and language resembled those of the Munda tribes of Bengal and central India. The people have by and large the mongoloid features.
The principal communities are Boths, Swangla, Shipi, Lohars, Hesis, Balras etc.
The joint family system is very strong, because of small land holdings and polyandry system. However the fissures in the system can be discerned, where land holdings are large.. The polyandry is on the wane, because of education, job opportunities outside Lahaul and the cultural impact of the plains.
The principal languages and dialects are Lahauli, Pangwal and several other dialects that bear strong affinity with the language of Munda tribes
The Land of Lamas
Lahaul is also refereed to as the land of Lamas. These lamas live in Gompas or monasteries, which number more than a score in the valley. Some of the important ones are Guru Ghantal, Kardang, Shashur and Tayal. These monasteries have a rich collection of Thanka paintings, antiques including bronzes, weapons, idols dresses, and other religious articles and artifacts.
Architecturally, these monasteries are not very significant. They have been built in the indigenous timber bonded stones in which there are alternate layers of dressed stones and timber beans. This style has largely been adopted in Lahaul, perhaps by the fact that the region lies in an alpine seismic belt of Himalayas, and these structures are said to be earthquake proof.
In the monasteries of Shashur, Gemur, and Gondhla, a sort of miracle play like that of the pre Shakespearean era , known as the Devil Dance is performed. locally this dance is called Chham. This dance form originated in the 10th century, when the lamas performed it to kill a Tibetan king Lang Darma, who was a sworn enemy of Buddhism. Since then this dance is enacted on certain auspicious days in the months of June and July, to commemorate the memory of the victory of Buddhism over the ruthless king.
Temples at Udaipur
The Hindu temples of Mrikula Devi and Triloknath at Udaipur are located at beautiful sites and are not to be missed.
The former is known for its exquisite wood carvings and the latter for its classical style of Gupta period of a curvilinear tower or Shikhara and Kalasha.
The marble head of Avalokiteshvara is also an excellent piece of Sculpture.
Trekking in Keylong
Keylong has sufficient accommodation for the tourists and the trekkers, like tourist bungalows, hotels, circuit house and rest houses together with a small market with provision stores. it is an ideal base camp for all the treks.
It is connected with Udaipur and Darcha by regular bus services. These two places are other starting points for various treks. Since the trekking routes connect Lahaul with other districts, they can be classified in the following categories
1. Treks between Kullu and Lahaul
Some major routes are
Manali- Keylong trek over Rohtang pass.
Manikaran- Kaylong trek over Hamta Jot or peak.
Manikaran- Keylong trek over Sara- Umga pass.
2. Treks between Chamba and Lahaul
The treks on this route are,
Keylong Bharmour trek over Kugti pass.
Keylong- Killar trek via Udaipur.
Keylong- Bharmour- Chamba trek over Asha Gulli pass.
Keylong Chamba trek over Kalichho pass.
Keylong- Manimahesh trek etc.
3. Treks between Lahaul and J&K
The main trekking routes on this trek are,
Keylong- Padum trek.
Darcha- Padum trek over Bara Lacha La.
Myar- Zanskar trek.
Keylong- Leh trek via Upshi.
The best trekking period is between July and October. Proper acclimatization and physical fitness are mist because of high altitude and rarefied atmosphere. Alcoholic drinks should be avoided as much as possible. Some analgesics, antihistamine and water purifying pills should be carried along as headache and high altitude sickness are common. Besides the purity of water is not certain.
Trekkers must take care to acclimatize and go on short hikes before starting the actual one.Click thumbnail to view full-size
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma
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