After the snow melts on the high peaks around the villages of Spiti, the hard working people start their annual summer routine. The livestock is taken to the grasslands for grazing and people get busy with their agricultural activities. Barley, potatoes and green peas are cultivated in the month of May and the crop is harvested at the end of August. It is then the valley gets a shade of green on its barren brown mountains.
Spiti receives very less average rainfall. In 2013, the area received only 170 mm of rainfall. The locals can not depend on rain for irrigation. The solution for this was found centuries ago and is still in practice. The melted snow water from the glaciers flows down in the valley and is directed through kulhs (water channels) to the fields. This process takes hours of hard work. The villagers, mostly women, start curing the fields in the month of June when the small stems of green pea plants can be seen in the fields.
In old days, people cultivated only barley and black peas for their own consumption, but after the district of Lahaul and Spiti was formed in the year 1960, the Agricultural Department of the Himachal Pradesh government started promoting the cultivation of green peas, potatoes and many other crops. In recent years, the department has been promoting the farming of seabuckthorn. The orange-coloured berries are grown around Spiti and are a rich source of vitamin C.
Also, the concept of organic farming, which has become well known in the last decade, is not new to Spiti. Though the usage of pesticides in agriculture has gained popularity in the region, crops like black pea and barley still remain free from any chemicals. So the next time you have tsampa (local Spitian porridge made from barley flour), you can be certain of its purity.
The green peas of Spiti are sold at a premium when they reach the market but people face the problem of connectivity. There is a major delay for the crop to reach the markets. A few days ago, the pradhan (elected head of village assembly) of Kungripanchayat and the former pradhan of Sagnam panchayat where protesting against the lack of development in the area. The bridge on the Kiri rivulet, which connected 13 villages of Pin valley was washed away in the floods of 2012 and it has still not been rebuilt. The pradhans had threatened to seek help from China. The security forces and the central and state government were quick to react to this and both men were arrested under sedition charges.
Despite many problems, the people of Spiti live with happiness and pride. They will be more than happy to have you as their guest. When my friend and I were trekking through distant villages, we tried to give them money as a token of our gratitude for the amazing hospitality. No one accepted our money and yet they asked us to come back again. We soon found a way to thank them. After saying bye to them, we would put the money in their pockets and run away! Though many famous villages of Spiti are being commercialised by some NGOs in the name of development and tourism, still people have a sense of compassion and the spirit of Buddhism is deeply rooted in them. I hope it stays the same.