Discovering Kinnaur – A Vibrant Himalayan Culture
The mystic land of Kinnaur had always amazed Lovnish Thakur – a development entrepreneur working in the Himachal. During his first visit to the region in 2004, he found that the cultural diversity of the area went much beyond its serene locations and challenging cliffs.
It was the summer of 2004 as I alighted at Chaura, a small tribal village – also known as the gateway to the magnificient Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh. I headed to the house of Ajay Bhushan, a young energetic guy who was to work alongside me in a sheep breeding project in the area. In the evening Ajay introduced me to his father Om Prakash Negi who ran a dabha in the vicinity. Even though summer was at its peak, Om Prakash was wearing a woollen shirt. It seemed to match his personality quite aptly. I have always been curious about the culture of Kinnaur – Om Prakash seemed like the right kind to initiate the questions bubbling within me. Over rounds of freshly prepared butter tea – another specialty of the region – I inquired of Om Prakash about the distinct dressing of the people in Kinnaur. I witnessed the immense sense of pride Om Prakash took in wearing these traditional dresses as he described some of them.
Thepang and Chamn Kurti
The round woolen cap that we see on almost every head in Kinnaur is known as thepang. The woolen cap which Om Prakash showed me was light grey in colour and had a soft velvet band on its outer fold. Om Prakash was extremely proud of his cap as it had been gifted to him by a key local politician.
I was also told that the woolen shirts too formed a vital part of the culture of Kinnaur. Woolen shirts – primarily a chamn kurti – and a long woolen coat chhuba were worn by the men folk in the area. Churidar pajama too has been traditionally popular in the region. But as Om Prakash sadly admitted, it was only being worn by the elderly lot as the younger generation seemed to be attracted much more to western outfits.
Dohru and Choli
The women of Kinnaur too have a unique attire. On another day, during a round of the village with Ajay Bhushan, I looked around to find most women in the village wrapped in a woolen shawl-like garment known as the dohru. The garment is worn in such a manner that the first wrap of the dohru covers the back. The embroidered border is thus amply displayed up to heels on the front. A choli with a decorative lining too is worn by the women, especially on special occasions.
Traditionally designed Houses
Kinnauras, as the locals are called, take special pride in decorating their homes. Om Prakash’s home, like many others in Chaura, was a two storied structure. The house made of stone and wood, had a slated roof made out of layers of bhojpatra. Once inside, Om Prakash proudly displayed a wooden chest that had been around for years. Once used to store grains and dried fruits, it now served as a study table for his young grandson.
Villages in Kinnaur usually have separate wooden grain stores which are usually built at a distance from the main habitation. Known as kathar, these stores are used as food stores to be used in times of adversity – for instance, in case a fire engulfed the main habitation. It was amazing to observe that Chaura still had a kathar. The age old practice of keeping a buffer was still being followed.
I had found a storehouse of knowledge in Ajay Bhushan’s father. As I tried to get some sleep on the second night in the area, I realized I had come upon a treasure – I had a lot more to discover by the time I had to depart.
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