Made in 1972, this film is concerned with the traditional trans-Himalayan trade which links the relatively low-altitude, grain-growing regions of Nepal with high-altitude Tibet, the traditional source of most of the salt and wool imported by Nepal. It also provides information about and illustration of the ways of life and the history of the diverse peoples in the areas through which the trade passes. In the past the economy of the mountain areas depended on the trade and even now, in spite of recent economic and political changes in the area, the trade is still significant although much diminished in quantity.
In medieval times western Nepal and the adjoining areas of Tibet were included within a kingdom ruled by the Malla dynasty, and the film begins at Dullu, once the southern capital of the Malla kings. Inscriptions on stone monuments standing among ordinary village houses contain the genealogies of the Malla kings and have made possible the reconstruction of the history of that part of western Nepal.
The film follows the trade-route ascending from Dullu to Jumla, the headquarters of a district of the same name. This district is the home of high-caste Hindus, who penetrated into the hills at the time of the Muslim invasions of Northern India. The film shows the villages and agricultural methods of these mountain peasants, and the section devoted to the Nepali-speaking Hindu farmers living at altitudes between 5,000 and 10,000 feet contains also a long sequence of a shamanistic performance with several shamans dancing in a state of trance.
We are shown life on the banks of Lake Rara, the largest mountain lake in Nepal, where descendants of the former Jumla rajas have found refuge. A crossing by a rope-bridge of the Mugu Karnali river leads into the Humla region where Hindu castes have intermingled with Mongoloid populations influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.
The area of Buddhist people of Tibetan speech and culture is reached at altitudes of 12,000 feet and above, and the film illustrates the daily life, farming and yak-herding activities and some ritual performances of these populations. The inauguration of a newly-reconstructed Buddhist temple (gompa), presided over by a Tibetan reincarnate lama, gives a brief view of typical lamaistic ritual of Mahayana Buddhism.
The next section deals with a Bhotia village close to the Tibetan border. From the Nara Pass (16,000 feet) the camera looks into Tibet towards Taklakot, once an important trade mart and the winter capital of the Malla kingdom.
The film shows the arrival of a Tibetan trading caravan consisting of hundreds of sheep and goats carrying bags of salt which are to be bartered for Nepalese rice and barley. There are also sequences of yak-caravans moving along perilous mountain paths.
The rest of the film is devoted to the illustration of the streams I of trading groups moving before the onset of winter to the lower regions of Nepal and of their arrival in the broad valleys of the foothills. A short final sequence of a festival in the Kathmandu valley illustrates by way of contrast the diversity of the cultural pattern of Nepal.
D.B. Bista, 1967. People of Nepal. Ratna pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu.
C. von Fürer-Haimendorf, 1975. Himalayan Traders: Life in Highland Nepal. John Murray, London.
D. Snellgrove, 1961. Himalayan Pilgrimage-. a Study of Tibetan Religion by a Traveller through Western Nepal. Bruno Cassirer, Oxford.
G. Tucci, 1962. Nepal: The Discovery of the Malla. Allen and Unwin, London.