It was the summer of 2004 as I alighted at Chaura, a small village also known as the gateway to Kinnaur, a remote tribal 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.
As evening dwelled, Ajay introduced me to his father, Om Prakash Negi who ran a dabha otherwise. Even though it was the peak of summers, Om Prakash wore a woolen shirt which matched his personality aptly.
I had always wanted to get an insight into culture of Kinnaur and I found Om Prakash a suitable person to initiate the discussion. On rounds of freshly prepared butter tea which is another specialty of the region, I asked Om Prakash Negi about the distinct kinds of dresses which people in the region wore.
Local dress has been a vital part of culture of Kinnaur and Negi’s take pride in wearing these on all occasions.
Thepang and Chamn Kurti
The round woolen cap that I saw 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 this possession as it had been gifted to him by a key local politician.
Over rounds of butter tea, Om Prakash told me that the woolen shirts too formed a vital part of the culture of Kinnaur. Woolen shirts primarily chamn Kurti and a long woolen coat Chhuba were worn by the menfolk in the area.
Churidhar pajama too is a specialty of this region but as Om Prakash sadly admitted, it was only being worn by the elderly lot as the youngsters were attracted by the western outfits.
Dohru and Choli
Women too play a key role in promoting culture of Kinnaur as I observed later. During a round of the village, the other day with Ajay Bhushan I found that most women in the village had wrapped a woolen shawl like garment known as Dohru. The garment is worn in such a manner that the first wrap of Dohru comes on the backside. The embroidered border therefore is amply dipplayed upto heels on the front end.
A choli with a decorative lining too is worn by the women, especially on special occasions.
Traditionally designed Houses
Kinnauras, as the locals are known as take special pride in decorating their homes. Om Prakash’s home like many others in Chaura village was a two storied structure. The house was designed out of stone and wood and had a slated roof made out of layers of bhojpatra. Om Prakash also showed a wooden chest that had been around for years. Grains and dried fruits were stored in it in earlier days and it now served as a study table for his young grandson.
Villages in Kinnaur commonly have a separate wooden grain stores which are usually build a distance from the main habitation. Known as Kathar, these are used for storing gains for emergency use if any fire engulfs the main habitation. It amazed me a lot that Chaura still had a Kathar and the age old practice of storing grains was still being followed.
I had a storehouse of knowledge in Ajay Bhushan’s father and as I tried to get some sleep on the 2nd night, I knew that would learn a lot by the time I leave the area a month later.