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Spiti’s Handwoven Traditional Clothes  

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Clothes and identity are closely related: traditional clothes of a region reveal a lot about its geography, physical environment, climatic conditions, and cultural practices. The high altitude and cold weather conditions in Spiti have led to distinct clothing attributes of its people. Since most of the families are agro-pastoralists, the livestock people breed gives different kinds of wool like yak wool, sheep wool, and goat and that forms the natural source for most of the attire worn by the people. In the olden times, people wove handcrafted attires and ornaments from scratch but with increasing access to market and trade, wide varieties of fabrics and garments are available and the clothes designs are adapted with time. Let us share about some of the traditional clothes of the region: 

Spitian Ghoey | Photo by Rabhi Kunga


Sulma is a long voluminous traditional gown worn by Spitian women. It has a round neck and long sleeves. The dress flares downwards with multiple pleats which is why it is called Sulma which means; to gather, to fold, to fold into pleats. A thin undershirt is worn underneath and the Sulma is tied with a waist belt called Keera. The dress is fairly wide around the leg, making it comfortable for walking or working in the fields. 


1.Reygoi or Ghoey

Ghoey is a thick full-length robe worn by Spitian men. In the olden days, men would wear Ghoey made up of woolen material but with time, robes of thin fabric like cotton also became popular which is called Rey (thin cloth) ghoey (to be worn). The style of the robe resembles the Mongolian robe which overlaps on the right side and is buttoned from the left shoulder. Men usually wear a thin shirt or plain trousers to pair with it and the robe is finally secured by a wide belt around the waist made up of woven threads called Keera. These robes come in neutral shades of brown, maroon, dark blue, and black. With changing times, access to fabrics like silk and velvet has increased so a Ghoey can also be made up of silk, velvet, and other multicolored synthetic fabrics. 


Spitian traditional dress: Sulma, Tsadar and Reygoi.| Photo by Radbhi Kunga

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3.Bhal Sutan

Sutan is woolen or cotton trousers worn both by men and women in Spiti. It is made up of thick woolen fabric called “Nimpu” procured from the local sheep hair. The fabric is woven on a backstrap loom or foot loom, which can then be stitched into trousers of the desired style. Nimpu Sutan or bhal Sutan (woolen pants) is primarily worn under Sulma by women and under Reygoi by men. With changing times, Spitian women popularly wear it with a matching Salwaar or Suit. 


Lokpa is a thick cloak-like garment worn by women. It is hand-strewn with sheep skin turned upside down with elaborate woven designs on the front. The local name Lokpa (meaning: to turn over) is reflective of the intricate process with which a seamstress makes it. It is extremely warm and is perfect for harsh weather conditions. The thickness of the garment also cushions the wearer’s back while carrying a heavy load on the back like firewood or fodder for livestock. Sometimes, newborn babies or even lamb kids are wrapped in the garment to provide warmth and comfort. 

Spitian men wearing Reygoi. Photo by Rabhi Kunga


Lingzey is a traditional handwoven shawl worn by women on the back. It is one of the most vibrant and elegantly designed shawls woven by women on the loom and comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. The base color can be red, white, or black where elaborate symbolic geometrical designs are handwoven. Motifs inspired by nature are common like local flora or fauna or religious motifs like stupa and swastika (to protect the wearer from evil spirits) or motifs of precious stones. Lingzey is worn during special occasions like marriage, ceremonies, festivals, rituals, or while visiting Rinpoches. 



Tsadar is a plain woolen shawl worn by women on a daily basis. It is thin, light weighted compared to Lokpa, and is woven on a handloom called Khaddi. It is made up of goat or sheep wool and is usually found in toned neutral colors like beige, grey, off -white and black. It is the most functional piece of clothing and can be worn over Sulma or even drape babies in it. In the olden days, it was said that women were not allowed to go out bareback, wearing a Tsadar symbolizes one’s respect for the person you are visiting. 

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Lingzey - the multicolored shawl with traditional designs

"Since most of the families are agro-pastoralists, the livestock people breed gives different kinds of wool like yak wool, sheep wool, and goat and that forms the natural source for most of the attire worn by the people."

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Tiwi is worn both by men and women. Traditionally, Nambu (yak wool) is the base fabric with which it is made and has goat or sheep skin lined underneath. Cotton or wool fabric is sewn inside for warmth with matching silk brocade. Golden or silver zari designs or threadwork can be supplemented depending on the need. 



Lham refers to footwear worn by people in the high Himalayan region or more suitably to the boots worn in the nomadic region. Originally it was made up of yak hides but with time, it is adapted to canvas, jute, or cloth material. Lhams are decorated with rich embroidery and exquisite designs of dragons or snakeheads. The material, color, and fabrics used to make Lham showcase the craftsmanship of the creator. Men’s Lham is knee length and comes in handy while treading snowy mountains. It is worn with Ghoey-shan (Silk robe) by men and women wear a slightly smaller frame with Sulma. The usage of Lham has gone out of daily use and is now worn only during festivals or special occasions.

Spitian bride wearing Lingzey (multi colored shawl) Lokpa (thick hand strewn green cloak) Sulma (brown gown ) and Tiwi (hat)

The garment and material used to make the traditional attire of Spiti symbolize the optimum use of local resources and fibers available regionally. During festivals and special occasions, this is adorned with elaborate pieces of jewelry like the vibrant turquoise Perak, the pearl-made Uldik, the Silver Docha, Dhikra (brooch), Khinyur, and Pitsup. Our traditional dress represents close cultural affinity with the Western part of Tibet and forms a big part of our cultural heritage. 

About the Storytellers 

Chhering Zangmo.jpeg
Tanzin Ankit.jpeg
Dolma Zangmo.jpeg

This article is a result of generous discussion and insights from Mrs. Dolma Zangmo, Chhering Zangmo & Tanzin Ankit. They are from Kibber village in Spiti (H.P) - a place popularly known for its thriving habitat for Snow Leopards. They are farmers and work in agricultural fields known for their harsh conditions where they cultivate barley, green peas, and other crops. All of them are active participants in the conservation initiative Shen (Snow Leopard Enterprise) where they contribute to greater environmental protection in their village and also promote the production and sale of handicraft products 

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