Garhwal resembles other parts of the Himalayas where various ethnic groups live side by side. Following chiefly the agrarian-pastoral way of life, native Garhwalis make their living from the hilly land the best they can. Some, like the Bhotia traders, migrate far and wide, although the ancient trade routes with Tibet have been closed since 1950. Most of the indigenous people like Jaunsari, Bhotia, Buksha, Tharu, and Raji are heterodox Hindus and Buddhists, while Sikh migrants from West Punjab have settled in the lowlands since 1947. A few Muslim groups are also native to the area, although most of them have settled recently. The Muslim Gujjar herders also migrate to the hills.
The inhabitants of the Kumaon hills are commonly known as the Kumaonese. They belong to a predominantly patriarchal society, which recognizes the superiority of men over women. The social structure is based on the extended family system, the eldest male member being the head of the family. Women are respected in society but they usually confine themselves to household activities. No religious ceremony is considered complete without the wife joining the husband. Women also work in the fields and forests alongside the men. In Kumaon, bigamy or polygamy has religious sanctions but polyandry is prohibited. Widow marriage and re-marriage by divorced women is permitted except in certain sections of high-caste Brahmins and Rajputs. Child marriage is still practiced in all classes of society despite legal restrictions on it. It has all but disappeared from the educated society.
The peace and tranquility of Uttaranchal laid the foundation for a treasure house of paintings and art. Out of the two major art forms, the art of stone carving and woodcarving are fairly well known. The art of stone carving gradually died down, but woodcarving continued. Woodcarving could be seen on almost every door of a Garhwali house until only half a century ago. Woodcarving can still be seen in hundreds of temple all over Garhwal. The remains of architectural work have been found at the Chandpur Fort, temple of Srinagar, Pandukeshwar (near Badrinath), Devi Madin (near Joshimath), and Devalgarh Temple.
The Himalayas have inspired generations of singers, balladeers, and musicians throughout the ages. The natural beauty of the mountains-which inspires a deep spirituality-and the harshness of life-which darkens the heart with adversity and anguish-have invigorated Uttarakhandi music, heightening its poignancy and enriching its lyrical texture. Although, increasingly influenced by trends in Hindi film music (with Garhwali songs set to film-style music), the more traditional forms of Himalayan music have remained deeply popular. This has been especially true of the Pahari penchant for folksy values, biting humor, raw honesty, loving devotion, and soaring spirits that shines through each song. Indeed, in face of other homogenizing trends in India , Uttarakhandi music has distinguished itself in retaining its cultural uniqueness and vibrant sound, while remaining popular among the masses. Major dance forms of the region are Langvir Nritya, Barada Nati folk dance, Pandava Nritya, Dhurang, and Dhuring. The people of Garhwal wear a wide variety of dresses.
This zone consists of the tracts lying above an elevation of about 2300 mts. and extends to the upper limit of human habitation. The upper reaches of Garhwal are inhabited by tribes such as the Bhotias and Gujars. The cold season is very severe and heavy snowfall is received in this tract. The Bhotias wear clothes made of goat/sheep wool which is locally woven by them. The menfolk wear loose trousers over which they put on a loose gown, girt around the waist with a woollen cloth called patta and a cap of wool on the head. A loose undergarment of wool is worn by the women instead of trousers. The upper garments resemble those of men. The womenfolk also put on woollen skirts with a white woollen waist coat. Woollen clothes are rarely washed and the clothes are worn till the end of their useful lives. Clothes made of cotton are not worn. Nowadays, in large Villages, one may come across people wearing synthetic trousers, shirts and coats.
This zone covers the middle hills of Garhwal between elevations of 1000 and 2300 mts. Wool, hemp and cotton are used for clothing in the middle valleys of the rivers Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Yamuna. The males put on close fitting trousers and a buttoned up long coat or achkan. They may sport a Gandhi cap on their heads. The women- folk put on a long skirt or ghaghrai; a type of blouse, and a scarf like cloth is tied around their heads. The grazer communities of middle Garhwal put on a type of sleeveless unstitched gown that extends to just below the knee. It is made of goat wool. In the recent past, clothes like shirts, trousers and coats have been adopted by men. The sari and blouse, or the pyjama and kurta suits are now being worn by women in the urban and semi-urban centres of Garhwal.
This zone includes all areas below an elevation of about 1000 mts. Lower Garhwal is relatively more developed and the people have adopted dresses worn in the plains and western countries. The men-folk put on shirts, trousers, coats, bush-shirts, and safari suits. The women wear the sari and blouse, as also pyjama-kurta suits. The impact of western dresses is more in this zone. The younger generation has taken to jeans and other western clothes in a big way.