A community living in the trans-Himalayan regions of India – Tibet border (in Garhwal) is called Rongpa. The community name “Rongpa”, derives from the word "Rung", which means valley and "Pa" means inhabitants. Those living in Chamoli, Uttarakhand are generally referred to as Rongpa. Rongpas of Niti and Mana valleys (Chamoli, Garhwal, Uttarakhand) are also known as Bhotia. Bhot is area of Tibet. Marchha and Tolchha are the two sub-groups of Rongpa community.
It has been denied that Rongpas of Garhwal are people from Tibet migrated to India. There is no connection found of the community with the Tibet other than trading in olden days. Rongpas practice pure Hindu Culture. All Hindu gods and goddesses are worshiped by the community to protect their families and village.
The Marchha sub-groups inhabit in the Niti and Mana valleys whereas Tolcha sub-groups inhabit in the Niti valley only. Dialect of Marchha sub group is different than Tolchha sub group. However, the language (written and official) of the community is Hindi. Rongpa can also speak Garhwali.
Traditionally, Rongpas were traders, farmers, weavers, shepherds and herders. Before 1962, when Indo-Tibetan Border got closed , Rongpas used to trade with Tibet through the Mana and Niti passes, which are at an elevation of 5,800m. In trading centres, they bartered their goods for local Tibetan merchandise to be resold in local markets in India. Large numbers of caravans of mules, yaks and sheep were traded. Ghee, Salt, Beans (Rajma), Potatoes, Peas Gains etc. were other main items for trading. The herders sell wool, meat, and milk to earn a living.
The trading period was limited for four to five month when the snow get melted (during summer). The traders would return to India just before the start of the winter season in October. Then all people vacate their villages from the valleys before snow fall and relocate them in lower altitudes where they stay till the summer starts.
Animals graze on the rich alpine pastures in the summer and move to lower altitudes in the winter. Women stay in the villages weaving woollen cloths and tending the fields. Crops grown in these valleys include beans (Rajma), potatoes, different spices, peas as well as several different varieties of grains.
Generally Rongpas have two residing places, one in Niti and Mana valleys during Summer and other in lower ranges of Himalayas during Winter. Rongpas practice a unique custom, rituals and traditions during summer in their native villages of Niti and Mana valleys.
Culture and Tradition
The Rongpa live in an extremely inhospitable environment, particularly in winter when the cold weather forces them to migrate to the lower areas, thereby completely deserting their villages for five to six months.
It is believe that the community is of Mongoloid origin. The ancestors possibly migrated to these valleys from Tibet in search of warmer places to settle down. They continued to trade with the Tibetans till the war with China in 1962.The trans-border trade flourished before 1962. Each year, a number of caravans consisting of mules and yaks laden with Indian goods made their way into Tibet across the high passes as soon as the snow melted. The caravans traveled for several days before reaching the Tibetan trading centers where these goods were sold and Tibetan merchandise such as wool and salt brought back to be sold in the village and town markets of the border areas of India. They crossed back into India over the passes before the first snowfall of the season in October.This trade formed an important source of income for the Rongpa till 1962. Thereafter these trader families took to either shopkeeping or trade in traditional Rongpa goods such as wool which has a lucrative market in the plains of India. The Rongpaz are also shepherds by tradition. The harsh conditions in which they live are not conducive to agriculture and hence these people rear sheep and goats. The shepherd families lead a semi-nomadic life.
Rongpa prefer to marry within their own community though in recent times inter-community marriages are common.The main sources of livelihood for the Rongpa are animal husbandry, agriculture and allied occupations, trade and business, and unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Now Rongpa people are moving out of their native places in hunt of livelihood and most of them are based on govt. services.