border review | 24 March 2012

Herbs for Tibet stored at the border

Sita Niroula (Himalayan Times):

Loads of chiraito, a medicinal herb found in the Himalayan mountains, taken by locals of different remote areas in the district to export to Tibet for good income have been stored in Olanchungola as China administration has banned Nepalis to enter Tibet for a month fearing anti-China activities. Taplejung folk have been exporting chiraito to Tibet more than to Nepal and India for the past three years.

Olangchunggola, or Walung, is just a small village in eastern Nepal and the storage of some medicinal herbs for a couple of months there would not warrant a post, were it not for a few interesting details not mentioned in the article.

Preparing Swertia chirayita for transport | © Martin Saxer 2008

Preparing Swertia chirayita for transport | © Martin Saxer 2008

Walung was an important hub on a major trans-Himalayan trade route before the salt, grain and wool trade came to a halt in the 1960s. Each and every house has storerooms for salt and grain in the basement, and it is probably the first time in fifty years that these storage facilities are being used again. Also, chiraito — Swertia chirayita or tigta in Tibetan – is not just found in the mountains but actively cultivated in eastern Nepal. In fact, more than 5,000 farmers in the Taplejung area derive substantial cash incomes from the cultivation of this bitter herb, which is used in Ayurveda as well as Tibetan medicine. With the recent industrialisation of Tibetan medicine in China and the soaring demand for herbs, prices have gone up year by year. As a result, trade with Tibet has once again become an important part of the livelihood strategies in this region of Nepal.