Ut'Bharma: The Mountain Province
The most northerly part of the Imperial Heartland, and one of the older provinces, Ut'Bharma is set in the high range that separates the civilised lands from the great glacier. High passes become blocked by snow in the winter, and villages cluster in the valleys between mountains. The roads are well maintained, but are still narrow and treacherous in places where they wind around sheer cliffs and gullies.
The folk of Ut'Bharma are of typical Nekuuese stock, with a tendency towards relative shortness, and more facial hair than is usual. They have a reputation for being insular and backward - the first is deserved, the second not so. The average Ut'Bharman is dour, hardworking and practical. They are level-headed, frugal and take life carefully and steadily. That is not to say that they do not know how to enjoy life. Those travellers whose visit coincides with a festival or celebration of some sort will be surprised by the intensity with which the Provincials let their hair down.
Religion plays a major role in Ut'Bharman life, not least because of the importance of the temples in the region. These massive constructions dominate their villages - in fact in many places the villages have arisen merely to serve the temples at whose feet they cluster. Great stairs lead up the white flanks of the temples, built in imitation of the mountains. Arched gold roofs top the multi-level buildings that are perched atop the man-made mesas.
Within the temple complex live priests and ascetics devoted to understanding the ways of the universe. The remoteness of these institutions is supposed to help the priests focus themselves on the tasks of mind and body, but it also means that the temples serve as useful depositories for exiles - lesser nobles and bureaucrats with dangerous ideas and too much support.
This, however, has meant that over the years the temples have had a steady influx of politically astute members and as such have become powerful in their own, quiet, way. Although supposed to be self-sufficient, the temples control most of the life in the villages, either subtly or overtly depending on the particular temple. As the central power of the Empire weakens, so the temples grow stronger.
Once, the temples were protected by their own private armies of religious warriors but these were disbanded long ago by the Empire (probably at the same time that it first started using Ut'Bharma as a dumping ground for dissidents). In recent years, however, these warriors have been making a comeback.
Way of Life
For the common man of the Mountain Province, the way of life is farming. Goats, yak and occasionally sheep are the main beasts raised, along with chickens (used more for eggs than for meat). On the lower slopes, slash and burn agriculture is practised on the fast growing plant life to make way for millet. Elsewhere, the slopes are terraced for tea plantations from which comes the bulk of the tea for the Empire. This trade is under the covetous gaze of the Merchant's League.
The most common item of clothing is the pentesh, a heavily quilted jacket. These are made from yak hide stuffed with yak hair. The priests of the temples wear a more opulent version made of silk filled with down, and the fashion has found its way into the lowland regions of the Empire, both as protection against winter cold or, amongst bureaucrats, as protection against an assassin's knife.
The farmers have little to do with the priests - they pay their tithes where necessary but otherwise the two leave each other alone.
The priests spend most of their time in prayer or meditation. The temples have great libraries, some with highly obscure works, but access is restricted. Only certain individuals are allowed into the outer world. There are rumours that the priests train a secret sect of assassins but anyone who has met one of these mild mannered men finds it hard to believe that they would be capable of violence. Indeed, the priests of some temples have sworn not to harm any living thing.