The Indian government uses the word Bhotiya to refer to those who have traditionally resided in the upper Himalayan valleys of the Kumaon and Garhwal of Uttarakhand Himalayas. These include the Shaukas of Kumaon and Tolchhas and Marchhas of Garhwal.
The Bhotiya speak languages belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family, although their dialects are mutually unintelligible to the Tibetans and Garwhalis. Owing to social process of Sanskritization, many of them have intermarried with the Hindus over the years. Most of the Bhotiya practice a combination of Tibetan Buddhism, Bön and Hinduism, although Hinduism is prevalent among the earlier semi-Indian groups, while Buddhism is prevalent among the recent immigrant groups of purer Tibetan origin, such as the Jadh.
Hindu gods such as the weather God Gabla, Runiya and Suniya, are worshiped to protect their animals from disease. Sidhuwa and Bidhuwa are worshiped as well to find lost animals.
Originally traders, the Jadh lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle and maintained social ties with the neighbouring Kinnauries, Jaunsaries and Tibetans. Until the closure of the Tibetan border in 1962, the Jadh barter-traded with the Tibetans across the high Himalayan paths, notably along traditional routes such as the Thang-La and Tang-Choke-La, which is situated at an elevation of 5,050 m and 5,400 m respectively. Basic items such as cotton, grains, metal, oil seeds and sugar are traded in various Tibetan markets across the border. In exchange, they received salt, wool and borax, which is sold by Tibetan traders in the towns of Uttarkashi and Bushahr. With the re-opening of the border in the 1990s, trading activities have resumed to a lesser extent. Today, the Jadh graze their sheep and goats in the Upper Jahnvi Valley during the warm summer months, when the alpine vegetation is in full bloom. Upon the coming of autumn, they move down to the lower hills, reaching the temperate forests bordering Rishikesh by October. As of today, each Jadh family could own as many as 200 to 400 animals, principally yak herds. The number of livestock owned by them is a measure of their wealth and economic condition.
The Jadh used to migrate from these high altitude villages in winter in the past with their entire families. In modern days, some families and a few shopkeepers have decided to stay back in Dunda, which is not far removed from their native homeland, while the rest of them move to the forests around Rishikesh. Upon the coming of spring, the Jadh will return to their homeland.
Most Jadh women wear their hair in a turban or a plait, owing to its cold weather. They wear a costume which resembles a cross between the Tibetan and Garwhali styles. The men, on the other hand, will wear the nomadic Tibetan clothing.
The Jadh are followers of Tibetan Buddhism and to a lesser extent, Bön, although minimal Hindu influence can be seen. Adhering to the caste system loosely, the Jadh classify themselves as Rajput. Buddhist Lamas are employed to conduct religious ceremonies and medical treatment.
The Marcha live in the Mana and Niti valleys on the cold and dry tracts of Upper Chamoli, which is also known as the Painkhanda tract. Though they speak a Garhwali language, their facial features suggest some intermarriage with the Indians. Because they originally migrated from Tibet, the Marcha follow Hinduism. Unlike the other Bhotiya groups, they worship in Hindu temples, and rely on the Hindu Brahmins to conduct religious ceremonies. Doctors, known as Vaidyas, are employed to treat patients.
Traditionally, most Marcha were nomadic shepherds and herders. Typically the men work as shepherds rearing sheep and goats, while the women stay in the villages tending the fields. Crops grown in these high mountain areas include rajma (beans), aloo (potatoes), mutter (peas) as well as several different varieties of grains. These animals graze on the rich alpine pastures in the summer, and move to lower altitudes in the winter. The herders sell wool, meat, and milk to earn a living.
The Marcha long maintained links with the Tibetans by barter trading through the Mana and Niti passes, which are at an elevation of 5,800m. The Indo-Tibetan border was closed in 1962. Before it closed, large numbers of caravans of mules, yaks, and the hardiest men would travel into Tibet laden with Indian goods when the snow melted. In trading centers, they bartered their goods for local Tibetan merchandise (e.g., wool and salt), to be resold in local markets in India. The merchants would return to Indian just before the start of the winter season in October. Since the Indo-Tibetan border was closed in 1962, the Marcha have taken to a semi-agrarian and semi-nomadic lifestyle. Limited trading links were reopened in 1992.
Shaukas, further consist of several sub-groups, residing in two different river valleys. Joharis live along the Goriganga river valley in Munsiyari Tehsil of Pithoragarh district, while the Rungs live along the Mahakali river valley in Dharchula teshil and Darchula district of Nepal.
The Byansis (called 'Byangkhupa' in 'Rung') are a subgroup of an ethnic group called Rung/Shaukas living along the upper valleys of Mahakali and its tributary Dhauliganga, high up in the Himalayas where Uttarakhand of India, Ali district of western Tibet and Darchula of Nepal meet. Byans (or 'Byangkho'in 'Rung') consists of seven villages (Kuti, Rongkang, Nabi, Gunji, Napalchyo, Garbyang, Budi) on the Indian side and two villages (Chhangru and Tinkar) on the Nepal side.
Their religion is a mixture of Bön, Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. Each clan, of which there are many in each village, has its own clan god(s). Ancestral worship ('simi thuma') is a very important part of Byansi religion.
Their language falls under Tibeto-Burman group. Three distinct dialects are spoken in Byans region -- Byangkhu lo, Kutpa lo and Tinkar lo.
Chaundasis live in fourteen (chaudha) villages along the upper hilly area of Mahakali river between India and Nepal. Locally the area is known as Bangba and the residents Bangbani. Main villages include Pongo (Paangu), Rongto, Monggong, Soso, Sirdang, Shirkha, Rung and Tijya, which are between the altitude of 7000 and 9000 ft. Chaundasis speak a separate dialect of Shauka called 'Bangba lo'.
The Darmanis live in the Darma valley of Dhauliganga, a tributary of Mahakali river. Along with the Byangkhupas and Bangbanis, they form the three subgroups of Rung. They speak 'Darma lo', which is markedly different from 'Byankho lo' or 'Banga lo', and is considered by many to be the original Rung language. Main villages include Sela, Chal, Soan, Seepu, Bon, Dugtu, Daatu, Nangling, Marchha, Bongling, Gow, Dakar, Filam, Tidang, Baling, Durr.
The Shauka living in the Johar valley of Goriganga river in Munsyari Tehsil of the Pithoragarh district are also known as Johari or Johari Shauka. They are one of the few Bhotiya tribes that shows a rich cultural heritage and adhere to the caste system. Shaukas are the followers of Hinduism, and rely on the Hindu Brahmins to conduct religious ceremonies. Their main deity is Goddess Nanda Devi in Martoli and Milam.
The legend of Rajuli - Malusahi relates to Rajuli, daughter of Sunpati Shauka (A local lord/king of Johar) and Malusahi, son of the Katyuri Kings of Bageshwar. The famous explorers Pundit Nain Singh Rawat (C.I.E.) and Rai Bahadur Kisan Singh Rawat belongs to the Johar valley.
The Shauka live in Chaudas, Vyas and Darma valleys and in Munsiyari in the Pithoragarh district in Kumaon, and as well as parts of extreme north-west Nepal. They are also known as Rang and speak a distinct Tibeto-Burman dialect, which is barely intelligible with Magar. According to legend, they are of Tibetan and Kiranti origin, although it seems that they are of solely of Tibetan origin.
The Shauka have their own scripts, which is now extinct. According to anthropologists, portions of it dating back to the 12th century can be found in the caves of the mountains.
Influenced by and practicing Tibetan Buddhist, Bön and Hindu religions together, the Shauka are one of the few Bhotiya tribes that shows a rich cultural heritage and adhere to the caste system. Like the Jadh, the Shauka rely on Lamas to conduct ceremonies and rituals in the Buddhist Gompas and celebrate Tibetan festivals such as Losar, and Hindu and Animist gods such as Gabladev in Darma, Chaudans and Byans. Another Bön deity, especially in Rolpa, Ramjung is also worshiped. Buddhist prayer flags, locally known as Dharchyo, is hung outside houses.
The dress of the Shauka is known as Chyungbala, which reflects little Tibetan or local influences, but their skills in weaving, spinning and natural dyeing. Major festivals such as Dhhyoula and Kangdali are celebrated, although minor festivals such as Kangdali, Syangthangapujan, Syeemithhumo (atma pujan), Maati (Soil) pooja, and Nabu Samo and the annual Kanda-Utsav are also celebrated. Another fair which celebrates the success of their trade, the Jauljibi and Thal is celebrated, because the Shauka are also reported to have conducted trade between Taklakot in Tibet and Darchula, and to a lesser extent, the Tharu people in the Terai.
The legend of the Kandali Festival comes a folklore, which tells of a boy who died upon applying the paste of the root from a shrub known as Kang-Dali on his boil. Enraged, his widowed mother cursed the shrub and ordered the Shauka women to pull up the root of the Kang-Dali plant off its ground upon reaching its full bloom, which happens once in twelve years. According to another story, the Kangdali festival is to commemorate the brave women who repelled the enemy while their husbands were away. Hiding in the Kandali bushes, they attacked the bushes, which subsequently destroyed the enemy.
Since then, a victory dance is performed every twelve years upon the decimation this shrub in its blooming period. The women with lead the procession, each armed with a ril, a tool which was used in compacting carpet on the loom. The children and men armed with swords and shields would follow closely behind. As they sing and dance, their music echoes in the valley, and upon approaching the blooms, warlike tunes are played and war cries are uttered. The women, fierce as they were, attacked the bushes with their rils. The menfolk will follow up and the bushes are hacked with swords, who will uproot the bushes and take them back, as the spoils of the war. In turn, victory cries are raised and rice grains are again cast towards the sky to honour the deities with the prayer that the people of Chaundas Valley may be ever victorious over enemies. After the victory dance and the extermination of the shrub, the festival is concluded with a feast.