Kinnaur is one of twelve administrative districts in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The district is divided into three administrative areas – Pooh, Kalpa, and Nichar – and has five tehsils (counties). The administrative headquarters of Kinnaur district is at Reckong Peo. From here Kinnaur Kailash, considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva, can be viewed. As of 2011 it is the second least populous district of Himachal Pradesh (out of 12 district), after Lahaul and Spiti,but there are nine vital languages are spoken in the district.
Kinnaur, is about 235 km (146 mi) from the state capital, Shimla, located in the northeast corner of Himachal Pradesh bordering Tibet to the east. It has three high mountains ranges, namely, Zanskar, Himalayas and Dhauldhar that enclose valleys of Sutlej, Spiti, Baspa and their tributaries. The slopes are covered with thick wood, orchards, fields and picturesque hamlets. At the peak of Kinnaur Kailash mountain is a famous natural rock Shivling (Shiva lingam). The district was opened to outsiders in 1889. The old Hindustan-Tibet Road passes through the Kinnaur valley along the bank of river Sutlej and finally enters Tibet at Shipki La pass.
It is not only the scenic beauty which appeals to the young and old alike but also the life styles of the people, their culture, heritage, customs and traditions. The people have strong culture and beliefs, generally follow Buddhism and Hinduism, believing the Pandavas came and resided in the land while in the exile
A mountainous area, ranging in altitude from 2,320 to 6,816 metres (7,612 to 22,362 ft), Kinnaur is one of the smallest districts in India by population. It is famous for the Kinnaur Kailash, a mountain sacred to Hindus, close to the Tibetan border.
The present day Kinnauras do not constitute a homogeneous group and display significant territorial and ethnic diversity. For a better understanding of ethnic and cultural distribution, Kinnaur district may be classified into three territorial units.
Lower Kinnaur comprise area between Chora at the boundary of the Kinnaur district with Rampur Bushahr and Kalpa including Nichar and Sangla valleys. The people of Lower Kinnaur are primarily of the Mediterranean physical type. It is difficult to distinguish them from the people residing in the adjoining Shimla district with whom they have some affinity. The people of lower Kinnaur are mostly Hindus though the ethno-historical factors have resulted in growing Buddhist influence.
The middle Kinnaur is the area between Kalpa and Kanam including Moorang tehsil. The people of middle Kinnaur are of mixed racial strain. Some have marked Mongoloid and others marked Mediterranean features. In some cases there is an admixture of the above two in varying degrees. The inhabitants are Buddhist as well as Hindus. Many people have faith in both the religions. It is very common to see Buddhist flag in most houses.
The upper Kinnaur comprises remaining north-eastern part of the district i.e. the area between Poo (town) and Hangrang valley extending up to international border with Tibet. The predominant physical type of upper Kinnaur is the Mongoloid though a few persons with Mediterranean features are also seen in the area around Poo. Some persons show the blending of Mediterrean and Mongoloid elements in varying degrees. However the people of Hangrang valley are almost universally Mongoloids. They mostly follow Mahayana Buddhist religion.
The Kannaurs are very fond of music, dance and singing.
The Kinnaur society is divided into two broad occupational groups- peasants and the artisans possibly of diverse ethnic origin. These groups are represented by Gujjars and Kanet Rajputs and Scheduled Castes. The Kanets comprise the main cultivating community of the area and use honorific surname Negi. Among the Kanets there are three grades. In the first grade Kanets there are as many as fifty sub-castes, in the second grades there are seventeen sub-castes and in the third grade who work as potter have three sub-castes. Waza Kanets belong to the third grade and are considered inferior among Kanets. There are two Scheduled caste groups based on the occupation. One group traditionally make and wove clothes whereas the others are primarily blacksmiths. There is a third caste called who are carpenters. The main profession of Ores is carpentry. In social status the Ores are equal to blacksmiths. Among the scheduled castes blacksmiths and carpenters considered themselves superior to Weavers.
Kinnauri is often used as a generic term for all languages in the region. In the native language, Kinnauri is called,’kannauring-skad’ which loosely translated to ‘language of Kannauras.’ Hindi is extensively used in the region as lingua franca among people from different regions of Kinnaur. The area used to be an extremely inaccessible and inhospitable in the past which didn’t allow language contact and the languages developed in a rich environment without any external threats to their language or culture. Among earlierst to write about the language of Kinnaur Grahame Bailey, Alexander Gerald are Grierson- all British travellers who described the language in their notes and labeled them ‘kannauri.’