Lahaul, the moonscape of India, is an enchanting place not only for a quick sightseeing trip but also for a long sojourn. Here you’ll find yourself surrounded by the barren beauty of the Himalayas, in direct contrast to their lush green avatar in other parts of Himachal. The valley has long been a favourite with adventure enthusiast, who have a taste for the forbidden and the unknown. You can actually listen to the voice of the wind here and it’s sure to give you goosebumps.
A Home to Bara Shigri Glacier
Lahaul is a part of Lahaul–Spiti, the largest district in Himachal Pradesh. It is bordered by the Zaskar range and Tibet (the plateau of the world) on the east. To its southeast lies Kinnaur and to the south Kullu Valley. The Bara Shigri glacier – 10 km long and a kilometre wide – is one of the longest in the Himalayas and is right next to this valley. Other high–altitude glaciers are also a regular feature here.
There’s a slight confusion about how the name Lahaul came about. It could have been derived from either of the two Tibetan words Lho–yul, ‘southern country’ or Lhahi–yul ‘country of gods’, so take your pick.
However, the most interesting part is that neither the people of Lahaul nor the Tibetans nor the Ladakhis call this valley Lahaul. The Ladakhis and Tibetans call it Garza or Garsha while the Lahaulis call it Swangla.
A Trekking paradise
The valley is immensely popular for its adventure trekking routes and gompas (monasteries). One of the most traversed trekking route kicks off from Manali, passes through Lahaul and ends at Zanskar (in Kashmir). The Leh–Manali highway is the main passage for tourists into Lahaul and further on to Leh.
This route usually open from July to September, is entirely at the mercy of the Rain God who may decide to wreak havoc just when you plan to make a adventure journey.
The journey itself takes a lot of guts and is definitely not for the lily–livered – there are some really scary roads with sheer drops!
Attractions of Valley
Lahaul is home to three valleys: Chandra, Bhaga and Chandra–Bhaga Valley.
The valleys are locally called Rangoli, Gara and Pattan respectively. In summer, the valley is smothered with lush green grass and breathtakingly beautiful wild flowers. Charming little villages on patches of green provide a sharp and interesting contrast to the brown and russet splendour of the cold desert.
The main crops grown in the valley are barley, wheat, peas, potatoes and hops (a climbing plant with flowers that grow in bunches). Hop plant (Humulus lupulus) is a creeper and produces green flowers like a filled rose bud, but more rounded in shape.
The flowers turn yellowish when over ripe. Lahaul and Spiti are the only areas in India where hops are grown and the varieties that are cultivated here are the Hybrid and Late Clustor.
Hops are fast gaining popularity with farmers as they make a good source of income.
The dried flowers of this plant are used to impart a bitter flavour to beer and chicory (an ingredient for chocolates and coffee). Originally it was used as a preservative, but now are used only to flavour beer. The hop flowers are dried and then compressed into pellets before they are sold to the breweries.
The Cash Crop
Another cash crop that is putting money into the traditionally dry coffers of Lahaul and Spiti is kuth (Sausserea lappa), a medicinal herb exported to Europe.
A unique plant, the extract from its roots can be used as a fixing agent for perfumes meaning that the French and the Italians simply can’t do without it. Apart from cosmetic purposes, kuth is rather a handy thing to put into medicines.
Locally it is used in the treatment of ulcers, ear aches, boils, rheumatic pain, frostbite, and cough.
People smoke it when they have a bad cold or fever. Its root extract is again rubbed in to cure arthritis, rheumatism or warts. The roots of this plant can also be used as an insecticide. It can be even used to protect clothes from moths. So, you see it’s a kind of Jack of all trades. Kuth cultivation was first introduced in the region in 1925 by a man named Dhanwantri Prasad and now has been taken up on purely commercial lines.
A Trading Zone
In the earlier days there existed an important trade relation between Lahaul and Tibet. Even when the British took over the area they kept Kullu and Lahaul to themselves because of this lucrative trade, while they sold off the rest to the maharaja of Jammu. The trade was conducted mainly through barter and trading was on a one–to–one basis. Each businessman from Lahaul had a counterpart in Tibet and personal trust was the key to his business. Lahaulis carried steel goods, tea, cotton clothes and sugar and exchanged them with wool, pashmina, butter and cheese.