Round-up regional news

Barefoot Amchis of Ladakh

As Ladakh develops and opens up, young Ladakhis see their future as tourist guides, soldiers and businessmen. Traditional professions are falling out of favour, and one field that has seen a decline is that of Amchi medicine, the traditional healing system prevalent in much of the Tibetan world.
The amchis of Ladakh, like local vaidyas and hakims elsewhere, have been facing increasing difficulties in practising indigenous medicine. The herbs, roots, fruits and animal products necessary for medicinal preparations have become scarce. Their role in society is being viewed with scepticism by modern allopathic doctors. Because the treatment has been traditionally free, there is little financial benefit in learning to become an Amchi, a process which takes up to six years.
It is against such a discouraging backdrop that amchi medicine has suddenly seen the beginnings of a revival in Ladakh. In the winter of 1992, Amchi Tsewang Smanla from the Leh Nutrition Project, a local NGO, started a program to
train young Ladakhis from remote villages as Amchi Health Workers (AHWs). The Project has governmental support and receives assistance from the Health Department in providing a small monthly wage and raw medicinal ingredients.
The course designed by Amchi Tsewang consists of two month training sessions spread out over three consecutive years. Every year, he takes three new students. The curriculum tackles the common health problems found in Ladakh. such as respiratory tract injections and stomach ailments. Besides traditional knowledge, the course also promotes the appreciation of western medicine, including the role of immunisation, hospital referrals, hygiene, preventive medicine and wound dressing. Allopathic information on the role of bacteria and viruses in causing diseases is also shared.
Villages that lack easy access to medical facilities are given preference by the Project when selecting candidates. The trained amchis are expected to return to their villages to provide basic traditional health care. However, they will also act as
health educators and motivators, liaising with health centres and visiting doctors. They will charge a small fee for consultation and treatment.
Skarma Targyas, from this year´s new batch of trainees, is from Rupsu, a community of over 300 nomads living in Changthang, eastern Ladakh. The nearest dispensary is a day´s horse-ride away from Rupshu, and is often inaccessible in winter.
Prior to 1959. Ladakhi monks used to travel to Lhasa to learn the traditional system of Tibetan medicine. This system based on four Buddhist medical tantras, Gyud-bzshi, according to which disease results from the imbalance in the three bodily humours rLung (wind), mKhrispa (bile) and Badkan (phlegm). The amchi´s role is to try and restore this natural balance through dietary and behaviourial changes.
With the revival of traditional medicine in Ladakh, it is expected the number of amchis will go up from today´s 300. Together with it, so will the territory´s health status. – Stephen Homewood/ Andy Law.

The Anti-Mosquito Gurkha

What do Gurkhas and mosquitoes have in common? Well, till now we never had reason to consider the question. But Nepal´s highland soldiers get targeted by the anopheles like everyone else.
All that has now changed, with the introduction of the "Gurkha Insect Repellent" in the British market. Certified by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the new brand is all set to dominate the anti-mosquito shelves in the UK´s pharmacies.
The manufacturer claims that "Gurkha" is an alternative to the standard Diethyl Toluamide-based repellents available in the market, which are known to cause reactions on users. Not so the new product, "which offers not just the usual protection against mosquitoes, midges, leeches and the like, (but) also has skin conditioning properties." Aha, an all purpose insect repellent, useful for beach bums in need of protection against the ozone, salt water leeches and mosquitoes!
We insist that all present and past British Gurkhas be made eligible for a 25 percent discount on their namesake. Meanwhile, if a competitor ever gets a hold of the formula for "Gurkha", they would be better advised to name their product "The Tharu", for their renowned immunity to malaria. When will British companies learn to consult ethnographers? The last time they messed up was when they named a delivery van "Sherpa".

Cry Wolf in Kathmandu

Two American experts arrived in Kathmandu in late August to take sample measurements of vehicle emissions, using infra¬red scanners and impressive computer gadgetry. Donald H. Stedman and Gene Ellis, the two Denver University researchers, found that Kathmandu has the worst emission levels among the five Asian cities they studied.
That was all there was to it. But before you could say chloroflurocarbon, the local and international media were out spreading the word that Kathmandu had the worst air quality in Asia — this at the very moment that western tourists were deciding where to go for the autumn season, which is peak time in Nepal.
"Kathmandu Air Pollution Worst in Asia," screamed the Commoner daily in its headline quite unmindful of what the researchers actually stated. The Kathmandu Post backed in with "Asia´s highest vehicle pollution in Kathmandu", which was not what they said either. The BBC followed through, and news age¬ncy copy found play all over the world. A local vernacular daily decided to add a further twist: it reported that Kathmandu was Asia´s first and the world´s second most polluted city.
The four other Asian cities the two Americans had visited were Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Bangkok — hardly the control sample to tar Kathmandu with. They had not taken readings in Calcutta, Delhi. Dhaka or Lahore. Besides, the study was not of "air pollution", but "vehicle emissions", and it takes a scientific leap to be able to equate one with the other.
(An Indian survey report released in 13 September indicated that the daily vehicular pollution is about 550 tons in Bombay, 245 tons in Calcutta and 253 tons in Bangalore. Kathmandu´s would be much less, although the bowl-shape of Stedman and Ellis conducted drive through tests of nearly 6,000 vehicles out of the 70,000 registered in Kathmandu. Carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbon emissions were found to be the highest among the five Asian cities. Average CO emissions in exhaust was 0.84% in Seoul, 1.49% in Tai¬pei, 2.2% in Bangkok, and 3.9% in Kathmandu (it is 4.3% in Mexico City). The ´opacity´ of Nepali vehicles was at least five times higher than in Hong Kong.
Kathmandu´s vehicle emissions, thus, are high enough to be of concern without the media needing cry wolf by a) equating vehicle emissions with overall air pollution, and b) condemning Kathmandu before all Asia when only four other unrepresentative cities have been studied. A lesson for the next time Western researchers come by with impressive credentials.
– Bijaya L. Shrestha

Barkhor Down

According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the entire old town section surrounding the Potala Palace, is to be pulled down by the year 2000. Why? To make way for aamong the residents of Barkhor, and even Chinese architects are against the said to go against existing laws protecting ancient buildings. "Soon, Lhasa will look like some Chinese small town," a Professor Gao Zhieyang told the weekly.
While it has always been focus of Tibetan pilgrims to Lhasa, the Barkhor had also become the centre of resistance to Chinese rule. Despite surveillance cameras and steel barricades around the whole area, the Chinese authorities have not been able to control its narrow alleys, and above all the tight-knit community which lives there.
There is good reason to believe that this is why Barkhor is coming down.


Adam collapse in Qinghai should give pause to all Himalayan high dam and reservoir-wallahs. On 27 August, the dam holding back the waters of the Gouhou reservoir suddenly gave way, sweeping away more than 400 people to their deaths. The area is inhabited by a mixed popu¬lation of Chinese and Tibetans.
The damburst led to immediate concerns about the Three Gorges project on the Yangtse, which was given the go-ahead by Beijing a year ago. If the Gouhou reservoir´s capacity was 3.3 million cubic metres of water, the Three Gorges reservoir will hold back 10 billion cubic meters. The consequences of a structural failure at Three Gorges would be "history´s worst manmade disaster", claims hydrologist Phil Williams of the International Rivers Network. Some experts suspect that the Gouhou dam might have been weakened by an earthquake which hit the area in 1990.
Over across on the South Side of the Himalaya, it was the time of floods, which is when plains politicians wake up to propose high dams in the hills. This year, as Punjab, U.P., Bihar and Assam went underwater, it was P.V. Narashimha Rao´s turn to repeat the call. But the Prime Minister of India is not a geologist. K.S.Valdiya of Kumaun University, who is a geologist, holds that that, "The majority of high dams constructed, being built and planned in the Himalyan region are located in the proximity of
—    or not far from — active faults or thrusts."
If nothing else, Gouhou serves to alert everyone — both north and south of the Himalaya
—    of the destructive power of stored water unleashed.

Formalised Peace on the Frontier

Historic´ might be too JOLeuphoric a term, but the fact that China and India have agreed to respect the status quo along the disputed frontiers in Arunachal and Ladakh, was landmark enough as far as the Himalayan region is concerned.
Back in 1962, India was defeated in a brief conflict during which the People´s Liberation Army swarmed south and captured all the territory China had claimed. Subsequently, the PLA withdrew completely from Arunachal in the East, but stayed on in Ladakh´s Aksai Chin. The Line of Control (LAC), which separates the positions of the two sides, has remained in place since 20 November 1962.
The agreement reached on 7 September during the Indian Prime Minister´s visit to Beijing
basically formalises the status quo which has held for 31 years. Both sides have agreed to respect the LAC, but because it remains an imaginary line for the present, work is to begin to map it.
While the Sino-Indian accord explicitly states that it has been signed "without prejudice to the respective positions of the two countries on the boundary question", this is considered no more than a sop to domestic politics. Barring unfortunate happenings such as another conflict, the formalised LAC is bound to evolve as the
international boundary between the two Asian countries.
For the moment, the LAC understanding, plus agreements on military reductions and troop pullbacks along the frontier, leave the Himalaya a more potentially peaceful place.

Delay on the Chumbi Front

Besides the LAC agreement, the Rao visit to Beijing also scotched the deal on Shipki La in Himachal, opening it up for trade as well as Indian pilgrims´ passage to Kailash and Manasarovar. No agreement was forthcoming, however, on the two passes over in Sikkim. According to a report in The Times of India, the Chinese are insisting on the old route to Chumbi Valley via Kalimpong and the Jelep La, whereas the Indian side is insisting on Nathu La, above Gangtok.
¦840 km-
The Statesman quotes
Himalaya-watcher John Lall as saying that a re-opening of the Chumbi valley route would be "the key to the prosperity for Calcutta and its vast hinterland which includes landlocked Nepal and Bhutan."
The Chinese are apparently keen to use Calcutta port for easy transport of goods into Lhasa. The rise of commercial traffic between Tibet and Calcutta would probably be a boon to Nepal as well, for its Kuti and Kyerung passes are the only ones which are snow-free in the winter.

Good News on Wood

Bemoaning the loss of Nepal´s forests has been a national pastime for about three decades. Rarely does anyone have anything positive to report on trends in the green cover. So please let´s have a round of applause for the Finns and their report on Tarai forests which restores faith in god and consultants.
"In contrast with the general belief, the natural forests of the Tarai are not degraded but are abundant," states the study, entitled Forests Resources of 20 Terai Districts, which has been funded by FINN IDA and prepared by Finn experts. "On the whole, the basic resource is substantial, and, given the favourable growing conditions of the Terai, could produce a large volume of timber, fuelwood and biomass under sustainable management."
The study´s claims are backed up by a satellite image forestry inventory, based on 1991/1992 data. "The previous statistics for the whole region date back to 1964," say the researchers, who also found that the forest areas of the far- and mid-western districts had been considerably under-estimated by previous studies.
Besides the news on abundant woodlands, the study also comes out heavily in favour of commercial forestry. The total "stem volume" of commercially viable plains forests is 70 million cubic meters.
"The present growing stock in the plains represents a remarkable renewable natural resource." Properly managed, this resource could satisfy the wood demands of the country (including Kathrnandu Valley which never seems to have enough), and provide raw-material for the "re¬establishment" of the wood processing industry. The government revenue would increase dramatically, up to US 33 million by the end of the first year through royalties and stumpage The revenues would in fact add up to U$ 285 million a year at the end of two decades.
The report, which seems incapable of imparting any bad news, also maintains that the Sal (Shorea robusta) is doing well in the Tarai jungles. "Sal is generating vigorously in the plains and no major difficulty can be seen in the management of Sal forests on a sustainable basis." While the forests are practically gone in the eastern districts of Dhanusha, Siraha and Saptari, the good forests are in the far-west: Kanchanpur, Kailali and Bardiya.After such an overdose of unexpectedly positive diagnosis on the health of Nepali woodlands, one would be forgiven for asking for a second opinion.Tibet and Palestine

Yasser Arafat has decided to throw in the towel. The Palestine Liberation Organisation has agreed to make a start with limited autonomy in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. After years of celebrated enmity, the PLO and the Israelis have decided to begin to patch up.
This breakthrough in the Middle East doubtless holds some lessons for the Tibetan plateau and the other ´occupied territory´.
One lesson is that if you keep in the United States and much of the West, but look what they went and gave him! Which makes one wonder whether the goodwill the Dalai Lama is accumulating all over the world will serve its purpose. His Holiness offers only the olive branch, whereas Mr. Arafat gave you a choice of the submachine gun or the olive branch, and still came out on top.
In the karmic wheel of geopolitics, no problem is allowed to last more than a few decades, and half a century at most. Without a proper turnover of world hot spots, the attention will start to wander. That is how Namibia got East problem got quickly resolved because it had become tiresome, especially after Bosnia emerged to provide the required grist for media preoccupation.
Going by this predeterministic hypothesis, whether or not the Tibetan government-in-exile lifts a finger, they will come to the table, some day. The Tibetans just have to be there when the Chinese come looking. Doggedness is more useful than international Kalachakras.
When the newly legitimised Arafat meets Tenzin Gyatso, as they surely must to exchange notes, what advice will the elderly Arab guerilla have for the younger Tibetan monk?

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian