Himachal At A Glance
Land of Eternal Snow Peaks and Valleys
Area: 55,673 sq. km
Population: 6.13 million
Main Languages: Hindi and Pahari
Best time to visit: Mid May to Mid October (if trekking) and Late December to March (for winter sports)
Himachal Pradesh – the land of the eternal snow peaks – takes in the transition zone from the plains to the high Himalayas and in the trans-Himalayan region of Lahaul and Spiti actually crosses the mighty barrier to the Tibetan plateau. The State is bordered by Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Punjab in the west, Haryana in the south, Uttar Pradesh in the southeast and Tibet in the east.
Geographically speaking, Himachal is dominated by mountains and their associated rivers and valley. The mountains include Leo Pargial (6791m) in Kinnaur; Deo Tibba (6001m) near Manali, Kinnaur Kailash (6050m) to name a few. The mountain passes, such as the Rohtang La (3978m), Baralacha La (4950m) and Kunzum La (4551m), are pivotal points between culturally distinct regions. ‘La’ is a Tibetan word meaning pass. In winter, Lahaul and Spiti are completely isolated when these passes are blocked by snow. The Valleys are the easiest way to segregate the State, the major ones are namely – Lahaul and Spiti valleys in the northeast and east; Parbati and Kullu valleys in the centre and south, Kangra valley in the west; and Chamba and Pattan valleys in the north west
The regions that today comprise Himachal Pradesh were, in ancient times, crossed by trade routes to Tibet and Central Asia and also commanded the Sach Pass that led to Kashmir. The earliest known inhabitants of the region were tribals called Dasas. Later, Aryans came and they assimilated in the tribes. These hill chieftains accepted the suzerainty of subsequent Empires – the Mauryas, the Kushans, the Guptas and the Kannauj rulers. The Rajas, Ranas and Thakurs, however, ran their rival rahuns and thakurais, making Himachal a patchwork quilt of tiny states. Only Kangra and Kullu and later Chamba, had the power to break out of the petty feuding system. Several Himachal states had kings from Bengal, the best known of these is Mandi, which was founded in 1527. With the exception of the bigger states, most of the later states were founded by Rajput adventurers from the plains in the early medieval period.
The first westerners to visit the region were Jesuit missionaries, in search of the legendary kingdom of Prester John. The British discovered Himachal after their wars with the Sikhs and the Gurkhas. Little bits of England were created in Shimla, Dalhousie and Dharamsala during the late 19th century. In the interior however, feudal conditions remained. The State of Himachal Pradesh was formed in 1948. By 1966 the Pahari-speaking parts under Punjab administration including the Kangra, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti were added. Full statehood was achieved only in 1971.