Simla, or Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh with the breath-taking background of the southwestern Himalayan mountains
The northern state of Himachal Pradesh, which lies in the western Himalayas, acquired its name from the Sanskrit word for snow, Hima. Named by the great Sanskrit scholar, Acharya Diwakar Datt Sharma, its full name can literally be translated as, ‘In the Lap of Himalayas’, and indeed, the state is known for its natural scenery. Himachal Pradesh is rich in biodiversity due to its geographical location. The state boasts tropical forests in the south, the Upper Gangetic Plains in the south east, Himalayan conifer forests in the western Himalayas and various species of orchids and wild flowers all throughout. The state is also home to 1200 bird species and 359 animals, including the snow leopard and musk deer.
Himachal Pradesh has an eclectic mix of historical cultures. The land of present day Himachal Pradesh was home to prehistoric man 2 million years ago, particularly the Sirsa Valley in Nalagarh, Bangana Valley in Kangra and Markanda Valley in Sirmourare. The land then became home of the ancient power Indus Valley Civilisation until 1750 BCE, before entering the Vedic period. The British Raj came into power after the Anglo-Gorkha War before the state was established by the newly formed Indian government in 1948. Today, Himachal Pradesh excels in the hydroelectric power industry and is one of the wealthiest states in South Asia.
The arts and crafts of Himachal Pradesh are just as widely recognised as its history and natural beauty. Pashmina shawls have been a specialty of the lands that contain the Himalayas, including Himachal Pradesh, appearing as early as the 3rd century BCE. A type of cashmere wool, it is obtained from the Pashmina goat that is indigenous to the Himalayas. Pashmina shawls are produced by hand spinning, weaving and embroidering the fine cashmere wool. The Kullu district is a prominent location for the production of Kullu shawls. These are, essentially, Pashmina shawls that boast the elaborate, unique designs of Kullu artisans. Until the 1940s, Kullu shawls were plain. Motifs of flora, fauna, geometric shapes and symbols representing the Gods of the Valley were then introduced to traditional weavers, thus allowing them to express their artistic skills. Kullu shawls are a speciality of Himachal Pradesh that continues to be in global demand, owing to its enlivening colours and intricate craftsmanship.
Image: Himalayan Saga