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Himalayan Hamlets

The Himalayas cover about 2,400 kilometers across 5 countries, naturally, the culture in its regions would vary from place to place. Even within a country like India, the culture of the Kashmiris would contrast from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand as well as the North-eastern states. The mighty ranges of the Himalayas are home to several tiny settlements. Many of them are located at high altitudes and are so minute that they are not accessible via motorable roads and receive strained or zero mobile connectivity. As these villages do not have easy access to nearby towns, they are mostly self-sustained in every aspect and maintain contact with nearby villages. The estimated population of such villages would be around 400-800 people. Such villages in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are not typical tourist destinations but are encountered on popular trekking trails. Therefore, not much is known about the unique Pahadi culture that thrives in these Hamlets.

Year-round life in Himalayan villages

Let us start with the coming of spring, as while most of the world is celebrating new years eve on the 31st of December, for the Himalayan villagers the climate is freezing cold and activities are at a standstill. As spring settles and the snow starts to melt, slowly the villagers begin with their usual activities. For the women, this includes sowing crops and farming. As for men, a number of them are shepherds, so as patches of green grass start to grow, they become busy trekking up to meadows along with flocks of sheep and goats. The villagers also earn money by selling seasonal fruits grown in their orchards. The Himalayan regions are renowned for growing some of the best fruits in the country including apples, peaches, plums, pears, walnuts, and almonds to name a few, varying from season to season. Selling any of the locally grown harvests is a bit challenging as they need to travel to nearby towns to make the sales and as most of the roads are not motorable, mules are used to lug heavy loads.

Beginning in late April, summer provides the best weather for the inhabitants to carry about their business but by mid-June, the monsoon halts their routine. Commuting becomes difficult as the regions are subjected to landslides. According to data from Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Department, 972 landslides occurred in 2020. Several festivals are celebrated throughout the year, chief among them being in early August. Some festivals last for days and witness hours of rituals and traditional folk dance and music. The people enjoy playing sports like volleyball and cricket. Around this time, sports tournaments are held where teams from neighbouring villages gather and compete in games. Autumn is the last season for any harvest as the snowy winter months make farming impossible. The locals grow their own food throughout the year and stock all the required amount of food in storage sheds to sustain their families throughout winter. The first snowfall is typically seen around the end of October.


The Kathguni or Kath Kuni style of architecture is prevalent in Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttarakhand. It is a traditional technique that eliminates the use of nails or cement and instead uses alternating layers of long thick wooden logs and stone masonry. This technique is devised in such a way that the structures built are resilient considering the seismic activity, topography, and the environment of the region. This architectural style is well known for being earthquake-proof. The combination of stone and wood also makes for a visually beautiful structure, and the wooden pieces are detailed with intricate carvings.

In the villages, the houses are typically built in three unique levels. The bottom level is meant for the cattle, the second level is for the sheep and goats and the topmost level is for the residents. In the older floor plans, the house consisted of only one room with a kitchen in the corner that also serves as a dining area and a place for everyone to gather beside the wood-fired stove and chat. But the modernised houses have bedrooms and a separate kitchen. The floors are carpeted with a traditional rug called Dari, which is made out of old pieces of clothing.

The houses are made from locally sourced material like metamorphic rocks and granites, and the wood of Deodar trees. The type of stone that they require to make their houses are found at a higher altitude in the mountains. Therefore bringing them down is a challenging task, but the efforts pay off as the material provides ample resilience. Slate stones called Patali are used to cover the roof which prevents the moisture of the rain and snow from seeping in. Additionally, the houses are insulated well against the sub-zero winter climate.

Due to modernisation, the connectivity of these remote villages to the outside world has improved. Ease of access to materials like aluminium and cement and due to this has resulted in its utilisation in making buildings as building stone and wood houses is a tedious process and requires time and a lot of hard work. But along with its obvious benefits, this interaction has major downsides as well. These materials do not provide ample protection from the snow or rain and are also prone to natural calamities. The art of traditional architecture is thus becoming scarce. Certain items such as packaged grains, spices, soap, etc. reach the villages but there is no system in place to remove the waste material out and so, chances are that if any plastic is taken there, it will remain there for centuries. Apart from the disadvantages, the general advantages of modernisation, include access to better health and education facilities, and one of the major plus points would be that these villages are entirely solar-powered. It was mainly set up as the access to electricity was poor but additionally provides for a clean source of energy.

The seclusion of these hamlets has compelled the people to be self-reliant in every aspect of life. The community is close-knitted as whenever an individual is in need their neighbours are every ready to provide help. They generally exchange the produce grown in their personal farms and even offer it for free to someone in dire need. When a villager is building a new house, there is a tradition that other villagers join in by helping the new homeowner in laying the final stones of the roof. They have learned to live in harmony with nature. Mountain life isn’t always easy, but despite the hardships, the people seem to have tranquility with their lives in the Himalayas. If you happen to visit any such hamlet, you are sure to be greeted with the smiling faces of the villagers.

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