Kinnaur is a magical land indeed. The affinity and the bonding that people share among themselves and visitors are unimaginable in any other region of India. I experienced this first hand during a short bus ride and though many years have passed down the line, the affinity that I developed with Kinnaur culture still persists.
The First Hand Experience
Deep gorges and sharp bends stared me in the face and i my heartbeat rose as the Himachal Road Transport Corporation bus made its way through the curves. I was heading to Raksham, a small village beyond Recong Peo in the region to meet some locals.
Ramesh Lal, my host in Kinnaur had packed some paranthas for me and I initiated a conversation with a old man Chontru Ram to develop some knowledge on Kinnaur culture and its cuisine. What better way to begin this than to offer a parantha to him, which I gracefully did and he accepted with a witty smile.
Nipping through the freshly prepared paranthas, Chontru Ram told me that it was indeed the time for Tshema or breakfast as it is known in upper Kinnaur. He was also carrying some tea which i found was unique indeed as it had tinge of butter, walnut, spices and some almond. A sip was enough to give me a further idea of Kinnaur culture of togetherness and bonding.
He also shared that Kinnaur did not have much rice and traditionally the people used to feast on cereal crops as Ogla, Fafra and Koda but the trend is now declining.
Upper Kinnaur Cuisine
The cuisine in Upper Kinnaur is very distinct from lower region and the same applies to Kinnaur Culture in the upper belt too. Tibetan culture is largely evident and the food too has a mark of the same. Thukpa, Tsampa or vegetables and Yaksha or yak meat is eaten taken as food in this belt.
Angoori or freshly prepared wine from grapes is also a part of Kinnaur culture in the upper belt. It is thought to have originated in village Ribba which is known for Angoori wine.
Cultural Diversity at its best
A fact that separates Kinnaur from other regions of Himachal is the vast diversity that is amply reflected in every aspect of daily life in the region, be it cuisine or language. A reflection of the same can be seen in language too, even though people look same in appearance.
This aspect of Kinnaur culture was well explained by Chontru Ram. He pointed that a number of dialects are spoken in Kinnaur, commonly known by the name of Kinnauri. His own dialect had similarity with Tibetan as he was from remote corner of the district and bordered China or Tibet as we call it.
An interesting fact that he told about Kinnaur culture was that Lippa, Asangrang and Jangi regions in lower belt of Kinnaur follow the Jangram dialect. Upper regions of Kinnaur district follow Shumceho dialect and the same is widely spoken in Kanam, Spilo and Labrang areas. However, there is nothing to fear for travellers, as everyone knows and understands Hindi and visitors from any corner of India could relax and feel at home here.
As the bus reached Raksham, I bid goodbye to Chontru Ram who was headed to the last outpost in the district. The puff of fresh air I inhaled as I alighted from the bus is still vivid in my memory as is Chontru Ram who gave me a worthy insight on Kinnaur culture and its traditions.