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Title:The other Himalayas
Contributor:Tshering Eden from Gangtok, Sikkim
The snow-laden peaks of the Indian Himalayas over the Ladakh region viewed from a tiny window thousands of feet above appear more like thick icing on a delectable chocolate cake. If Ladakh is mouth watering, Uttarakhand is refreshing, with Himachal offering a little bit of both. From the small Himalayan state of Sikkim myself I was invariably expecting similarities or some sort of likeness in these parts of the Himalayas. What I discovered was a melting pot of culture and history with no distinct similarities or dissimilarities.


To follow the chronological order, Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh was the first place of visit. Talking about similarities, Manali, with its neo-hippie culture felt completely alien but interesting nevertheless. German and English bakeries at every corner and Israeli food on the menu of every eatery did not remind me of home much. Further on, the sight of Yaks at Rohtang Pass however almost brought tears to my eyes. A visit to North Sikkim as a kid and later on at the Tsongu Lake near Nathula pass had given me the opportunity to ride one. Well, we definitely had the Yak connection or so I thought!


After the rather sharp descent from Rohtang pass, and moving towards Lahaul the landscape changed into something I had never seen before - barren mountains. Somehow the negative connotation that the word 'barren' always carries did not apply here. Barren was beautiful here. Coming to the people and culture, the Lahaulis (Tingrat) followed Buddhism and spoke Bhoti, which is similar to what the Bhutias in Sikkim speak. My attempts at communication with them very often led to the discovery of a whole new language altogether! It was very confusing however to find Buddhists with names like Govind, Rishi and so on without getting any satisfactory explanation as such. That perhaps, was my initiation into the very interesting anthropological history of the Himalayan region.


I came across a similar case in Uttarakhand where at a Buddhist village Dussehra was being celebrated. A goat sacrifice had just taken place when we reached and it was there that I got somewhat of an answer to my queries regarding the Buddhist-Hindu mix up. According to the villagers, they were well to do traders when the Indo-Tibet passes were open and when trade stopped they lost everything. They then fought for a Scheduled Tribe status for the betterment of the community, which they were accorded later on. That, however is one of the many overriding theories that exist regarding the quaint mix of cultures in the region. Ladakh, to me was like going back in time. In the sense that the people and the lifestyle they followed was very much like what I had heard from my mother and elders about how Sikkim was about 40-50 years ago. The pastoral life, the smell of yak meat, the very-expensive-in-Sikkim yak tail, the elusive butter tea (drunk only on special occasions in Sikkim) - they were all there.


With almost each of these places I found a point of connection as well as divergence. They were not dissimilarities as such but just different directions that the history, culture and people had taken. There was however a strain of homogeneity in the problems or difficulties that the people living in these parts faced. The need to keep up with the developing world outside and the false notion fed to us about the backwardness of the mountain life is driving us, mountain people, to the edge. It is this more than anything else that calls for attention. An entire way of life, which encompasses vast expanses of knowledge, is in danger. The uneasiness caused by this realization notwithstanding it was a fulfilling and enriching experience to find a little of oneself scattered in the diverse locales of the Himalayas, something that I would have to go back to in order to complete the circle.