Lahaul, sometimes referred to as the Chandra-Bhaga Valley, is the region that divides the Great Himalayas and Pir Panjal ranges. Its principal river, the Chandra, rises deep in the barren wastes below the Baralacha Pass, and flows south, then west towards its confluence with the River Bhaga near Tandi. Here, the two rivers become the Chenab, and crash north out of Himachal to Kishtwar in Kashmir. Being closer to what rains the monsoon brings across the Rohtang pass from the south, Lahaul’s climate is less arid than in Ladakh and Zanskar to the north and as a consequence, the key highway passes of Rhotang La and Baralacha La are more prone to early snow than the higher examples further north. So it is that between late October and late March, heavy snows close the passes and seal off the region. The Rohtang Pass is usually closed on Tuesdays for maintenance and often gets blocked by landslides following heavy rain. Despite such difficulties, Lahaulis, a mixture of Buddhists and Hindus, enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in the Subcontinent. Using glacial water channelled through ancient irrigation ducts, Lahauli farmers manage to coax a bumper crop of seed potatoes from their painstakingly fashioned terraces. The region is also the sole supplier of hops to India’s breweries, and harvests prodigious quantities of wild herbs, used to make perfume and medicine. Much of the profit generated by these cash crops is spent on lavish jewellery, especially seed-pearl necklaces and coral-and turquoise-inlaid silver plaques, worn by the women over ankle-length burgundy or fawn woollen dresses. Lahaul’s traditional costume and Buddhism are a legacy of the Tibetan influence that has permeated the region from the east.
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