(KEYLONG, ALTITUDE 3,165 METERS)
Languages spoken : BHOTI, MANCHAT, CHANGSA and GAHERI
Lahaul-Spiti became a district of Himachal Pradesh (Punjab hill areas) in 1960 and is one of the frontier districts of India. This district in the Western Himalayas is situated between 31046’29” and 32059’57” North latitude and between 76046’29” and 78041’34” East longitude. It is separeted in the North from Jammu & Kashmir, Tibet in the East and Kullu, Kinnaur in South-East and Chamba in the South-West and West. The sole access to Lahaul-Spiti lies over the 3,978 meters high Rohtang pass. The two valley at Lahaul and Spiti have a tenuous link over the Kunzam pass (4,520 meters). The two twin valleys, Lahaul and Spiti in the North Eastern corner of Himachal, protected by distance is a region of nature at its wildest which has lent it much enchantment. The threshold of the Lahhaul plateau is nourished by the Chandra and Bhaga river, dry and very cold, it is surrounded by high mountains on all side, the Great Himalayas to the North, the Pir Panjal to the South and the Spiti and Chandra watershed to the East.
The small province of Lahaul is known by three different names viz. Lahaul, Garzha and Swangla. In the absence of any definite sourcem it is difficult to explain the origin and significance of these names.
Enclosed within the high ranges of the Greater Himalaya and the Pir Panjal, and accessed either through the Kunzam La or the Rohtang La and consisting of the Chandra-Bagha river-watersheds is the ever fascinating land of Lahaul. Other than the high peaks, fast flowing streams and tranquil mountain lakes, the landscape of Lahaul is dominated by many glaciers.
Before their incorporation into a single administrative unit, Lahaul and Spiti were separate principalities. Within Lahaul, the house of Gushal, Khardang, Darcha, Barbog and Gondhla were governed by separate baronial families. The people are gentle and mainly follow the tenets of Buddhism. The famous monasteries of Lahaul which include Guru Ghantal, Kardang, Dhashur, Tayul and Gemur attract many pilgrims, tourists and researchers. The frescoes, mural paintings, wood carvings and libraries stacked with ancient scriptures in these monasteries have served to keep Buddhism alive and vidrant in the valley . Besides the monasteries, places of interest in Lahaul include Keylong (the district headquarters), Trilokpur, Udaipur, Gondhla and Sissu. This name is used most videly today among all the three names atated above.
The name, however, is not employed at all by the Lahaulis themselves in any of their dialects to designate to the Tibetans and the people of Spiti, Rubsho, Ladakh and Zanskar who speak similar dialects. Even then some scholars hold that ‘Lahaul’ is a word of Tibetan origin and they have suggested meanings of the word according to their own views.
A Cunningham is of the view that this name was given by the Tibetans (i.e. the Ladakhis) to denote their southern district (Lho-yul). Rahulanother meaning of the word could be suggested as the ‘Country of Passes’ (Lha-yul). This would be, in fact, the most appropriate meaning.
Cunnigham’s argument that this name was given by the Ladakhis is not acceptable. The name ‘LAHAUL’ existed as early as seventh century A.D. and was known to the people of Kullu as such from whom Hiuen Tsang learned about it. On the other hand, the second kingdom of Ladakh was established only in the tenth century A.D. and since then Tibetan language and culture began to spread in the area. Before that Ladakh was inhabited by people of non-Tibeta race and language like ‘Mons’ and ‘Dards’. Lahaul was annexed to the Ladakhi kingdom only in the eleventh century A.D. Therefore it is unlikely that the name ‘Lahaul’ was invented by the Ladakhis. Even the Chronicles of ladakh never mentioned it as such in its descriptions of the country of ‘Lahaul’.
It is not found referred in Tibetan literature in any of its variant forms which would imply the country of Lahaul, nor is it used in any of its dialects. It is used only by the people of Kullu, Chamba and others who speak Aryan languages.
Depite all these facts, the theory of Tibetan origin of the name cannot be discarded so easily. It may be possible that the name belongs to one of the spoken dialects of the Indo-Tibetans-with which race Lahaulis have intimate relation-which came down to us unrecorded in writing.
It is not possible to agree with Andrew Wilson who suggests that that ‘Lahaul’ is a Hindustani word signifying a wilderness for the reason that the name ‘Lahaul’ is a considerably old word as compared to Hindustani language. The name ‘Lahaul, as already noticed, existed as early as the seventh century A.D. whereas the origin of the Hindustani language cannot be traced before the coming of Islam in India, in the tenth century A.D. at the tenth century A.D. at the earliest.
Gergan’s suggestion that ‘Lahaul’ is a word of ‘Tha-pa’ in the dialect of Tod ‘Tha-pa’ implies the people other than Mons (of Kullu) language is just equivalent to say that Lahaul is a Hindustani word and adds nothing to our knowledge.