Lahaul and Spiti district

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Lahaul and Spiti district
Suraj Tal, Lahaul
Suraj Tal, Lahaul
Location of Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh
Location of Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh
Country India
State Himachal Pradesh
 • Vidhan Sabha constituencies01
 • Total13,833 km2 (5,341 sq mi)
 • Total31,564
 • Density2.3/km2 (5.9/sq mi)
 • Urban
 • Literacy86.97% (male), 66.5% (female)
 • Sex ratio916
Time zoneUTC+05:30 (IST)
Major highwaysone (Manali-Leh National Highway)
Average annual precipitationScanty Rainfall mm

The Lahaul and Spiti district in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh consists of the two formerly separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The present administrative centre is Kyelang in Lahaul. Before the two districts were merged, Kardang was the capital of Lahaul, and Dhankar the capital of Spiti. The district was formed in 1960, and is the fourth least populous district in India (out of 640).[1] It is the least densely populated district of India, according to the Census of India 2011.


In ancient Buddhist text "Padma Thang yiang" and "Mamkambum" there is mention of a country known as Khasa or Hasha to south of Ladakh. It is possible that "Garsha" may be a corruption of Khasa or Hasha.

Incidentally, the name lahaul has been in use only in kullu and by Indians whereas the local people, kinnaurs, Tibetans and Ladakhi Uses the word "Garsha".

Between 6th cent. B.C and 5th cent. A.D the saka and khasa tribes being driven out of central asia by Huns crossed over to India. Many of those settled in valleys of mid range of Himalayas between Garhwal and Ladakh. This is borne out by the numerous remains of theirs graves in the valleys.

Shaks which seems to have taken its name after saka tribe settled in the Bhaga valley.

Before Hieun-Tsang, Lahaul was controlled by kullu, kunindas and Brahmpura (chamba). Thus, the cultural impact of kullu, chamba and to some extant Ladakh is visible in lahaul whereas spiti is completely influenced by Ladakh and Tibet.

Hieun-Tsang noticed Lahaul as a country by the name "La-Hu-La" and the area of Spiti is rulled by Sen King. One of the earliest known rulers was Samundra Sen. During the reign of Rajendra Sen Kullu became a tributary to Spiti for a short period. The copper plate at Parshu Ram temple is said to have been granted by then Raja of Spiti.

During the reign of Chet Sen in 7th Century Spiti was annexed by king of Ladakh "skyid-Lde-Ni-Ma-Gon". It is said that during the strong rule of Ladakh Spiti was an integral part of the Kingdom of Ladakh and during its weak rule spiti was autonomous state.

LHA-CHEN-UDPALA (1080-1110 A.D) King of Ladakh, invaded kullu and Raja of kullu promised to pay tribute in form of iron and Mdsos or "zo" ( crossbred between yak and cow). Since Mdso was not found in kullu the Raja of kullu used to bring them from Lahaul.

King Udpala founded the shrine of Marachi vajra vara.

kullu and Chamba both aspired to gain control over Lahaul and Spiti possibly because both had their capitals near Lahaul i.e "Nast" and "Brahmapura" respectively.

During Ladakhi king Udpala's time Lahaul was not under the control of kullu and chamba till 1532-1559 A.D when Bahadur sing became Raja of kullu who acquired Lahaul. Since the reign of Bahadur singh kullu ruled over Lahaul till both kullu and Lahaul was invaded and ruled by sikhs. During the rule of kullu over Lahaul there were petty chiefs called Gyalpo or Jo (village headmen).

In 1683 Ladakh faced invasion from Mongols. The cause of war was a conflict in Tibet between two religious sects namely "drug-pa" (red hat) and "Gelugpa" ( yellow hat). Ladakh took the side of Drug-pa and Gelugpa invited Mongols for their help who invaded Ladakh. Simultaneously mongols invaded Lahaul as it was a followers of Drug-pa sect.

The Mongol army stayed in Lahaul, acquired the fort of Kelong and were then annihilated by the glacier near "Tinan".

Bidhi sing (1672-1688) of kullu helped Mughals when they were invited by Ladakh against Mongols. For this Bhidi singh was awarded the annexation of upper portion of upper Lahaul.

In Lahaul "Thirot" remains the dividing boundary between kullu and chamba which was decided during the reign of Bhidi singh.

Raja Man Singh (1688-1719) of Kullu in about 1700 had his boundaries with Ladakh fixed at "Lingti".

After Tibet-Ladakh and Mughal war of 1681-83, Spiti was nominally under Ladakh. Raja Man singh took advantage of this and took control over Spiti and forced her to pay tribute.

During the reign of Raja Pritam Singh (1767-1806), the Lahaul army under the leadership of "Gepang Lha" defeated Mandi in a battle.

When Moorcraft passed through Lahaul in 1860 he found that four villages i.e Barkalanak, Mooling, Shipting and Gus were still paying revenue to the state of Ladakh which was stopped by Britishers in 1862.

Moorcraft and Treveck travelled Spiti in 1821. during those days "Tandi" was the capital of Lahaul.

When Cunningham visited lahaul in 1839 he found that Lahaul was under Sikh rule and Governor of Ladakh Zorawar controlled the trade between Lahaul and Ladakh. His tax system was found very oppressive by the people.

In 1841 zorawar attacked Tibet but was defeated and was killed.

In 1842 Tibetan army marched towards Ladakh but was defeated and their General "Sukhang" was taken as prisoner.

In 1846 under treaty of Amritsar hill area of punjab was given to Gulab Singh but Lahaul and Spiti remained under British control.

Cunningham and Vans Angew fixed the boundary between Spiti and Ladakh and eastern Tibet. The mountainous and uninhabited territory to east of Baralacha and north of the parang pass being attached to Spiti in Autumn of 1846.

After the annexation of Lahaul and kullu by Britishers Lahaul was made part of kullu subdivision under the incharge of assistance commissioner who worked under Deputy commissioner of Kangra district with headquarter at Dharamsala.

The highest officer of Lahaul was "Negi" who was responsible for collection of revenue. He had his headquarter at kelong. Negi was responsible for arranging 'Begar' and forced labour.

Bhali Ram was the first Negi appointed by British government and thakur Tara chand of khangsar was the second.

After this the post remined hereditary till 1941 when a Naib Tehsildar was appointed.

In 1941, sub-Tehsil of Lahaul and spiti was created with headquarter at kelong.

In 1960, the government of Punjab converted Lahaul-Spiti area into a district with headquarter at Kelong.

In 1966 : Lahaul-Spiti was transferred to state of Himachal Pradesh.


Kunzum la or the Kunzum Pass (altitude 4,551 m (14,931 ft)) is the entrance pass to the Spiti Valley from Lahaul. It is 21 km (13 mi) from Chandra Tal.[2] This district is connected to Manali through the Rohtang Pass. To the south, Spiti ends 24 km (15 mi) from Tabo, at the Sumdo where the road enters Kinnaur and joins with National Highway No. 5.[3]

Spiti is barren and difficult to cross, with an average elevation of the valley floor of 4,270 m (14,010 ft). It is enclosed between lofty ranges, with the Spiti river rushing out of a gorge in the southeast to meet the Sutlej River. It is a typical mountain desert area with an average annual rainfall of only 170 mm (6.7 in).[4] The district has close cultural links with Ngari Prefecture of Tibet Autonomous Region.[5]

Flora and fauna[edit]

This is a "quality" image Causinia thomsonii (Thomson thistle), Sissu, Lahaul

The harsh conditions of Lahaul permit only scattered tufts of hardy grasses and shrubs to grow, even below 4 km (13,000 ft). Glacier lines are usually found at 5 km (16,000 ft). Due to changes in climate, nowadays people are able to grow some vegetables in the Lahaul valley e.g. cabbage, potato, green peas, radish, tomato, carrot and all types of leafy vegetables. The main cash crops are potatoes, cabbage, and green peas.

Some of the most common species of flora found in The Valley of Spiti include Causinia thomsonii, Seseli trilobum, Crepis flexuosa, Caragana brevifolia and Krascheninikovia ceratoides. Then there are over 62 species of medicinal plants found here.

The valley is inhabited by snow leopards,[6] foxes ibex, Himalayan brown bear, musk deer, and Himalayan blue sheep. Snow leopards are protected within the Pin Valley National Park and Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. The Lingti plains are home to animals such as yaks and dzos.

Over-hunting and a decrease in food supplies has led to a large decrease in the population of the Tibetan antelope, argali, kiangs, musk deer, and snow leopards in these regions, reducing them to the status of endangered species. The locals of Spiti do not hunt these wild animals due to their religious beliefs.


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
Mother and child near Gandhola Monastery, 2004

According to the 2011 census, the Lahaul and Spiti district has a population of 31,564. This gives it a ranking of 638th in India (out of a total of 640).[1] The district has a population density of 2 inhabitants per square kilometre (5.2/sq mi).[1] Its population growth rate over the decade 2001-2011 was -5%.[1] Lahul and Spiti has a sex ratio of 903 females for every 1000 males, and a literacy rate of 76.81%.[1]

At the 2011 census, 41% of the population in the district spoke Kinnauri, 27% Pattani, 3.0% Bhotia, 2.9% Hindi, 2.8% Nepali and 2.6% Tibetan as their first language.[8]

The language, culture, and populations of Lahaul and Spiti are closely related. Generally, the Lahaulis are of Tibetan and Indo-Aryan, while the Spiti Bhot are more similar to the Tibetans, owing to their proximity to Tibet. The district has a Himachal Pradesh state legislative law in place to curb antique looting by travellers given past incidences. In the pre-independence era, the ethnic tribal belt was into the British Lahaul and the Chamba Lahaul, which was merged with Punjab post-1947. This is the second-largest district in the Indian union.

The language spoken by both the Lahauli and Spiti Bhots is Bhoti, a Tibetic language of the Western Innovative subgroup. They are very similar to the Ladakhi and Tibetans culturally, as they had been placed under the rule of the Guge and Ladakh kingdoms at occasional intervals.

Among the Lahaulis, the family acts as the basic unit of kinship. The extended family system is common, evolved from the polyandric system of the past. The family is headed by a senior male member, known as the Yunda, while his wife, known as the Yundamo, attains authority by being the oldest member in the generation. The clan system, also known as Rhus, plays another major role in the Lahauli society.

The Spiti Bhot community has an inheritance system that is otherwise unique to the Tibetans. Upon the death of both parents, only the eldest son will inherit the family property, while the eldest daughter inherits the mother's jewellery, and the younger siblings inherit nothing. Men usually fall back on the social security system of the Trans-Himalayan Gompas.


The lifestyles of the Lahauli and Spiti Bhot are similar, owing to their proximity. Polyandry was widely practised by the Lahaulis in the past, although this practice has been dying out. The Spiti Bhot do not generally practice polyandry anymore, although it is accepted in a few isolated regions.

Divorces are accomplished by a simple ceremony performed in the presence of village elders. Divorce can be sought by either partner. The husband has to pay compensation to his ex-wife if she does not remarry. However, this is uncommon among the Lahaulis.

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood. Potato farming is common. Occupations include animal husbandry, working in government programs, government services, and other businesses and crafts that include weaving. Houses are constructed in the Tibetan architectural style, as the land in Lahul and Spiti is mountainous and quite prone to earthquakes.[9]


Most of the Lahaulis follow a combination of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism of the Drukpa Kagyu order, while the Spiti Bhotia follow Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelugpa order. Within Lahoul, the Todh-Gahr (upper region of Lahaul towards Ladakh) region had the strongest Buddhist influence, owing to its close proximity to Spiti.

Religion in Lahaul–Spiti district (2011)[10][11]

  Buddhism (62.01%)
  Hinduism (36.91%)
  Christianity (0.67%)
  Islam (0.23%)
  Sikhism (0.11%)
  Jainism (0.01%)
  Not Stated (0.06%)

Before the spread of Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, the people were adherents of the religion 'Lung Pe Chhoi', an animistic religion that had some affinities with the Bön the religion of Tibet. While the religion flourished, animal and human sacrifices were regularly offered up to the 'Iha', a term that refers to evil spirits residing in the natural world, notably in the old pencil-cedar trees, rocks, and caves. Vestiges of the Lung Pe Chhoi religion can be seen in the behaviour of the Lamas, who are believed to possess certain supernatural powers.

The Losar festival (also known as Halda in Lahauli) is celebrated between the months of January and February. The date of celebration is decided by the Lamas. It has the same significance as the Diwali festival of Hinduism, but is celebrated in a Tibetan fashion.

At the start of the festival, two or three persons from every household will come holding burning incense. The burning sticks are then piled into a bonfire. The people will then pray to Shiskar Apa, the goddess of wealth (another name Vasudhara) in the Buddhist religion.


Kye Monastery, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres (13,668 ft) above sea level.[12]

The natural scenery and numerous Buddhist monasteries are the main tourist attractions of the region.

The dangerous weather in Lahaul and Spiti permits visitors to tour only between the months of June to October, when the roads and villages are free of snow and the high passes (Rothang La and Kunzum La) are open. It is possible to access Spiti from Kinnaur (along the Sutlej) all through the year, although the road is sometimes temporarily closed by landslides or avalanches.

Buddhist monasteries[edit]

Spiti is one of the important centers of Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh. It is popularly known as the 'land of lamas'. The valley is dotted by numerous Buddhist Monasteries or Gompas.

Kye Monastery: Kye Monastery is one of the main learning centres of Buddhist studies in Spiti. The monastery is house to some 100 odd monks who receive education here. It is the oldest and biggest monastery in Spiti. It houses rare paintings and scriptures of Buddha and other gods and goddess. There are also rare 'Thangka' paintings and ancient musical instruments 'trumpets, cymbals, and drums in the monastery.[citation needed]

Tabo Monastery: Perched at an altitude of 3050 meters, Tabo Monastery is often referred to as the 'Ajanta of the Himalayas'. It is located 45 km from Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, the capital of the Spiti region. This monastery garnered interest when it celebrated its thousandth year of existence in 1996. The Tabo Monastery was founded by scholar Richen Zangpo. The monastery houses more than 60 lamas and contains the rare collection of scriptures, pieces of art, wall paintings -Thankas and Stucco. There is a modern guest house with a dining hall and amenities.

Kardang Monastery: Kardang Monastery, is located at an elevation of 3,500 metres across the river, about 8 km from Keylong. Kardang is well connected by the road via the Tandi bridge which is about 14 km from Keylong. Built in the 12th century, this monastery houses a large library of Buddhist literature including the main Kangyur and Tangyur scriptures.

Adventure activities[edit]

To-do-Trails: The Spiti Valley is popular with trekkers due to the challenging nature of its treks. These treks take people to remote areas including rural villages and old Gompas, as well as wildlife trails. High altitude treks allow travellers to cross passes such as Parangla Pass (connecting Ladakh with Spiti Valley), Pin Parvati Pass, Baba Pass, Hamta Pass trek, Spiti Left Bank Trek. Popular trekking routes in the area include Kaza-Langza-Hikim-Komic-Kaza, Kaza-Ki-Kibber-Gete-Kaza, Kaza-Losar-Kunzum La and Kaza-Tabo-Sumdo-Nako.

Skiing: Skiing is a popular activity with tourists in Spiti.

Yak Safari: Yaks are used to see the flora and fauna of trans-Himalayan desert.

Banking facilities in Lahaul and Spiti[edit]

List of functioning banks in Lahaul and Spiti district


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "District Census 2011". 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  2. ^ "Kunzum Pass".
  3. ^ Kapadia (1999). pp. 215-216.
  4. ^ Kapadia (1999). pp. 26-27.
  5. ^ "Kinnaur-Ngari Corridor: An Argument for The Revival of The Western Himalayan Silk Route - Himachal Watcher". Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  6. ^ "Snow Leopard Sightings Rising in Spiti valley". Raacho Trekkers.
  7. ^ Decadal Variation In Population Since 1901
  8. ^ "C-16 Population By Mother Tongue - Himachal Pradesh". Retrieved 6 October 2019.
  9. ^ "References - Lahaul Spiti Travel - Lahaul Spiti Tourist Guide". Lahaul Spiti Travel - Lahaul Spiti Tourist Guide. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  10. ^ "Lahaul-Spiti district Population". Census India. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Census of India: District Profile". Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  12. ^ Bindloss, Joe; Singh, Sarina (2007). India. Lonely Planet. pp. 343. ISBN 978-1-74104-308-2.
  28. ^ "UCO BANK, JALAMAN".
  29. ^ "UCO BANK, KEYLONG".


  • Ciliberto, Jonathan. (2013). "Six Weeks in the Spiti Valley". Circle B Press. 2013. Atlanta. ISBN 978-0-9659336-6-7
  • Handa, O. C. (1987). Buddhist Monasteries in Himachal Pradesh. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. ISBN 81-85182-03-5.
  • Hutchinson, J. & J. PH Vogel (1933). History of the Panjab Hill States, Vol. II. (1st ed) Lahore: Govt. Printing, Punjab, 1933. Reprint 2000. Department of Language and Culture, Himachal Pradesh. Chapter X Lahaul, pp. 474–483; Spiti, pp. 484–488.
  • Kapadia, Harish. (1999). Spiti: Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya. 2nd ed. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company. ISBN 81-7387-093-4.
  • Janet Rizvi. (1996). Ladakh: Crossroads of High Asia. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Delhi. ISBN 0-19-564546-4.
  • Cunningham, Alexander. (1854). LADĀK: Physical, Statistical, and Historical with Notices of the Surrounding Countries. London. Reprint: Sagar Publications (1977).
  • Francke, A. H. (1977). A History of Ladakh. (Originally published as, A History of Western Tibet, (1907). 1977 Edition with critical introduction and annotations by S. S. Gergan & F. M. Hassnain. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.
  • Francke, A. H. (1914). Antiquities of Indian Tibet. Two Volumes. Calcutta. 1972 reprint: S. Chand, New Delhi.
  • Banach, Benti (2010). 'A Village Called Self-Awareness, life and times in Spiti Valley'. Vajra Publications, Kathmandu ISBN 9937506441.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°30′N 77°50′E / 32.500°N 77.833°E / 32.500; 77.833