Himachal Pradesh Trade and Commerce

Himachal Pradesh Trade and Commerce


The Himalayan states of Himachal adjoining the plains of Punjab have for long been considered economicallybackward and based primarily upon a subsistence economy.The belief has been that it was with the coming of theBritish that they were first exposed to the outside worldeconomy. The limited amount of source material has; so far,discouraged scholars from investigating the trade andcommerce of Himachal of the pre-colonial period in any greatdetail.

There wasthus a significant exchange of articles produced at therespective ends of the trade connections. The country sidetrade fairs and festivals, where local inhabitants andoutside traders brought their products for sale, becamebuzzing centres of commercial transaction. Food grains,cereals, cash crops and wealth generated by herbs, forests,minerals, animals, weaving, village craftsmanship etc. wereimportant elements of local production that could, did,become part of the trade and commerce of the area.

The difficult nature of the hills and thescattered hamlets in Himachal made the region unsuitable forlarge scale trading activities. Economically due to thedifficult geographical conditions the region was not verydeveloped during 19th and 20th century.Even the PunjabHill areas of Kulu, Kangra, Lahaul and Spiti and Shimla,which were under direct administration of the BritishGovernment were much behind the other progressive region ofPunjab and did not witness any substantial economicdevelopment.

Development of various Trade and Commerce Activities:

The political repercussions of British colonialismnevertheless affected the economy of 19th century Himachal.Despite the inhospitable geographical conditions whichhindered the trade and commerce of the region due to thelimited means of communication and scanty population. Theeconomydid produce some amount of surplus for trade. Thevillage cottage industries were developed enough toencourage the export of woollen clothes, shawls, blankets,pashmina, wheat, barley, tea, rice, ginger, spices,medicinal herbs, timber, ghee etc. Imports included sugar,silk, clothes, indigo, salt, musk, saffron, borax, conchsheels, metallic instruments, metals, arms and ammunition,precious stones, sandal wood, nuts, cloves, cardamons,cennamon, animals, oil, kerosene, leather, saddles, prayingwheels and a host of other items.Markets, towns such asMandi which lay enroute between Central Asia and the NorthIndian plains, Kulu and Lahaul, Palampur in Kangra, Shimla,Bashahr were important markets. These market centres hadgeographically and demographically strategic locations tocater to the trading communities by way of Central Asiantrade routes, Hindustan Tibet Road and access to the marketsin the plains.Besides these markets, trading activitieswere an important part of the fairs of Lavi of Rampur, Sul,Loi, Minjar of Chamba, Renuka in Sirmuar” and Dussehra inKulu. The internal market towns of Kangra, Sujanpur Tira,Una, Jwalamukhi, Nurpur, Haripur, Gangath also seen to havebeen active centres of commercial exchange. The arrival ofBritish in India led to shimla emerging as the summer capitalof India. This provided an impetus to the export & importactivities.Because the difficulty of the terrain goats,horses, donkeys, camels and yaks were employed for carryingthe goods across Tibet, Yarkand and Ladakh. In some of theless mountainous hill states, carts and bullocks could alsobe used. The export of tea was to Amritsar, Calcutta,Jullundhar, Multan, Lahore and Ravalpindi apart from teabeing send to these towns it was also exported to Australia,America, England and to other European Countries.crop was produced in adsaquate quantity in Kangra, Kulu,Sirmour and Chamba. Fine quality of rice basmati wasexported. The Lahaulies on the other hand for reasons ofbeing snowbound for half of the year used to purchase muchof their requirements at Kulu. Even poppy seeds and oilfrom poppy crop at Kulu attracted not only purchasers fromSultanpur and Mandi but traders from the plains.Bhaghalstate now Arki, Bilaspur, Sirmour, Nalagarh, Jubbal werefound cultivating poppy and Muhammadan merchants from Ropar ,Rahon in Jullunder and traders from Pehova used to purchaseopium. It is worth mentioning that States like Keonthal hada negligible impact on the trade and commerce. In foodgrains Bilaspur, Nalagarh, Sirmour produced surplus quantityand were able to meet not only their own requirements butalso helped the other areas that were short of foodgrainslike Ambala and certain areas of Uttar Pradesh.Himachal Pradesh Trade and Commerce

Surprisingly, traders had been taking away sizablequantities of wheat, maize, grams and rice. Ginger fromSirmour, raw as well as dried, was exported from Sirmour,Bilaspur, Bhagal and Keonthal to Anandpur and Ropar. TheState of Baghal whenever it had a surplus of ginger cashcrop exported it to Kalka and Ropar. Another cash croppotatowas produced in Chamba, Mandi and Keonthal. Bhaghaltoo supplied potatoes to other states in need.

Ghee wasproduced in large quantities. An abundant was produced inBhaghal State and several other areas. The common villagehousehold in Himachal also kept beehives in their cottagesin Mandi, Kulu, Kangra, Chamba, Bashahr and Sirmour.

Chowries of fine silky wool from the Yak tailswere exported largely from Spiti and to some extent fromBashahr as the chowries were of ceremonions use for theroyality. Some industrial products were also exported.Nahan exported sugarcane pressing machines and appliances tothe adjoining areas of U.P. and Punjab. Herbal produce wasobtained from the wilderness and exported. This includedmohra, karru, kuth, bajjar, bhang, kawa, violets, musk,zira, tilla, harar, patish, banfasha, pomegranete seeds,turmeric and a variety of wild mushrooms. The croppingpattern and snowfall make the hill people idle duringwinters in most of places. They remain confined to theirhouses. This is the occasion which provided the opportunityfor knitting, weaving and stiching and producing woollenpattus, gudmas, numdas, pashmina and several other woollengarments.

The rearing of a fine breed of sheep was carriedout in Kulu, Seraj, Wazeeri-Rupi. Woollen blankets were inmuch demand with the European residents in Kulu besides muchwas exported. Walnuts, apples, pear, hazelnuts, chilgoza,dried apricots, suil, phuelan, khashkhas, dhanya, bees wax,seapnuts, dhup, salt and tobacco etc. from Chamba, Sirmour,Mandi , Kangra, Shimla hill States, Kulu, Spiti etc. wereexported and imported.

Trading Communities:

People who were invloved on a fulltime bases in the buying and selling of merchandise wouldnormally be the only ones to qualify to be termed astraders. The main trading communities of the hill states inthis respect were the Banyas, Suds Pahari Mahajans.Khatries, some category of Muhammadans and Brahmans etc.But it is important to point that the indigenous tribes inLadakh, and those of Yarkand and Tibet were also engaged intrading pursuit. These business classes were found all overthe country. As far as Banyas are concerned they had been aregular feature of economic society for rather long and werealso frequently Involved in the money lending business. Onthe other hand Pahari Mahajans who were of mixed origin werethe general traders. In certain parts of Himachal theKhatries and even Brahmans were engaged in tradingactivities. These Brahmin business community was called theKayath. The others were the Suds whose descent is tracedfrom Sarhind. Suds had a deep business insight and wereenterprising in nature. They were purely mercantile intheir pursuits and were scattered in Chamba, Bilaspur,Nalagarh, Bashahr, Suket, Kangra and Amritsar. The Kangraarea was for the Suds a business haven but they facedcompetition also from the Khatris from the plains. In themid-Himalayan and higher mountain ranges beyond Indiaboundaries Lahulas, Khampas, Baltis, Chambials, Kanawaritraders, Gujjars and Muhammandons were also involved in thewholesale and retail trade of the produce of the land. Onceagain it needs to be indicated that many of the lastcategory were also peasants and cultivators who. engaged intrading activity during some months of the year.

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