“Where is the Tribal Heritage Museum?” we asked!
“Massab ka museum? Woh dooooor wahan, laaaaaal rang ki chhat, museum ki hai”
“Massab’s museum? Faaaar away daaaaown there, the redddd color roof is of the museum”
By the stress on ‘far’ and ‘red’ given by our home-stay host Chandra didi, we gathered that the museum was far and yet not very far and the roof was red, but a deeper shade of red. That’s how interestingly she spoke. Longer the stress further the distance or deeper the shade!
The museum is around 2 km from the Main Munsiyari market (Munsiyari is in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, India) and is located in Nanasen village. Going down the hill from Sarmoli (the village where we were staying in a homestay), we walked across wheat farms, giggling children returning from school, grazing cows who ignored us, people sipping tea waved at us, the smell of food wafted from the Kumaoni kitchens before we finally reached Massab’s Tribal Heritage Museum.
Tribal Heritage Museum or as is locally (read fondly) called Masterji’s or Massab’s Museum is the labor of love and tireless efforts of a single person, Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey, a Ph.D. on Bhotia Tribes in Johar Valley. Afraid, that the Bhotiya culture and its legacy would soon be forgotten, Dr. Pangtey took upon himself to record, document, and archive the community’s heritage.
Former Trans-Himalayan traders, the Shaukas also known as Johari or Johari Shauka are referred to as Bhotiya by the non-Shaukas.
With changing times the Bhotiyas were adopting the traditions of Kumaoni Hindus and were losing regard for the Bhotiya tradition. Dr. Pangtey went door to door of Bhotiya houses in nearby villages and collected anything and everything traditional that the Bhotiya people were disposing off. These included items like jewelry made of leopard nails, wooden wine bottles, cooking pots, stones inscribed with Buddhist sermons, coins, saddlebag, hookahs which are now prized possessions of the Heritage Museum.
Today, the museum is a treasure trove of artifacts in the form of herbs, cooking utensils, ornaments, weapons, musical instruments, vessels used to distill alcohol, spinning wheel, trade treaties before independence from China and Tibet, maps & local spices and local handicrafts. It gives you a glimpse of the culture and traditions of the Bhotiyas.
Like traditional Bhotiya households, the entrance of the museum has a unique taal (a sickle shaped key) and Gareli (a lock in shape of a wooden block)!
Also on display was an insect found in the Malla Johar region called ‘Yartsa Gunbu’ also known as the medicinal mushroom in the west. Due to it’s aphrodisiac qualities it is also known as ‘Himalayan Viagra’.
One that caught my fancy was this ‘Alcohol Distillation’ unit.
There is the old currency of various countries Bangladesh, Colombia, UK, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Bhutan and many other. Kids were excited to see the Indian decommissioned notes of ₹1000 and ₹500! They felt amused to have seen something which is now part of history!
Folklore about Shaukyas (Bhotiyas) - Long ago, the great serpents called ‘Nagas’ inhabited the Johar Valley. Garuda, a hawk who is the mount and insignia of Lord Vishnu, persecuted all but one of the serpents! Before it could kill the last Naga, Garuda was struck down by Shaukya Lama. Enchanted by the beauty of the place, Shaukya Lama, decided to make the valley his abode. Thus, the Shaukya tribe originated and are still its inhabitants.
The Sino-Indian War of 1962 - The Sino-Indian War of 1962 led to the closure of the Indo-Tibetan border. This resulted in the end of the thriving lifeline of the Bhotiyas whose main occupation was trading with the Tibetans.The loss of trade brought about drastic changes in the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures lifestyle. Since then, the Bhotiya tribes have generally adopted semi-agrarian and semi-nomadic lifestyles.
Though the museum looks run down, it is a potpourri of interesting information about the Bhotiya / Shaukya tribe’s culture and traditions. There is an audio guide being played on the Public Address system to see you through the exhibits.
About our author - In her past life Lt Cdr Richa Ingle Deo was an Ex Indian Navy Officer. She lives and travels with her one husband and two kids and dreams of adopting a dog! She travel blogs at https://www.lighttravelaction.com which is all about how to travel Lighter-Smarter and More! You may subscribe to her popular travel blog for tips and tricks to cycle, trek and travel solo or with family. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram as well.
About our partner - Himalayan Ark is an initiative founded and run by Malika Virdi. Malika has been one of India’s first women mountaineers and has lived in Sarmoli for the last 20+ years. She has served and worked with the local community on issues like conservation of natural resources, livelihood interventions and has successfully built one of India's first entirely community-run homestay programs. They also have a women's handicraft self-help group called Maati and an outdoor learning school called Junglee School for the local kids.
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