Saturday, May 26, 2012

Notes for Dharma valley - a summer trek to the Panchachuli base camp

Note # 1: Not all those who wander are lost… 

Many of us relate to this symbolically, it’s even part of my tattoo, but Tolkein’s famous quote from Lord of the rings really hold true for the people of Dharma Valley. They are the migratory Rang tribes also known as Bhotias (The six categories of Bhotia tribe are: Rang, Johari, Tolcha, Marcha and Jad)…they are Indo Tibeteans, of mixed ancestry, and are hardy cheerful people. They speak excellent Hindi, are educated; and even the remotest village boast of a doctor or engineer in each family thanks to the government reservations and facilities. I was happily surprised to see that albeit living in such remote and inaccessible terrain, they understand the value of an education, have taken advantage of it, and are prosperous. 

They are migratory because of the patterns of the weather. As a cold bitter winter sets in, it makes the Dharma valley inhospitable, so they leave their high altitude dwellings to come down to the town of Dharchula or other villages; and as the summer sun warms the valley and melts the snow, they trek back up to the village, cattle, luggage, provisions and babies in tow. These treks can take from 4 to 5 days one way. 

 It inspires me. To live this life of transition. I for one, try and live out of a suitcase as much as possible. All my things can be packed into a suitcase and a bag of books. In the last five years I have bought a guitar, a bookshelf, and a cupboard as a possession (the latter three in the last few months by my mom). It’s nice to live simple and sparse. Keeps the thoughts clear, helps see the many possible futures, and of course no baggage. Something also to do with our cavemen days I’m told, when physical objects could potentially block our view of predators. Or it’s something to do with my nomadic life living in different army cantonments, making new friends, adapting, shedding, adding, and an early understanding that everything is temporary. 

 Summer is also the time to plough fields, sow buckwheat and potatoes and tend to livestock… and to trade. Dharma valley is situated in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand and is inhabited by a population of 1000 spread over 12 small and remote villages inaccessible by road. Before the Indo China wars they were thriving on trans-Himalayan trade of legal goods like salts, raw material, wool, etc. and illegal trade of animal parts and other such. Post the war in 1962 the legal trade came to a stop rendering the otherwise prosperous villagers without much. But the illegal trade survives. The borders of Dharchula are very porous and a hop skip jump over the river will land you in Nepal. And further ahead there are passes into Tibet. The ITBP (Indo Tibet Border Police) is vigilant but more can be done for stopping trade in animal part and poaching. 

 Summer season is time to collect the ‘KEEDA’ or the caterpillar fungus. This creature thrives in the alpine slopes once the snow melts. It is a fungi spore that enters a caterpillar and devours it and turns the caterpillar into a fungus. There is high demand for it the Chinese medicine market and a kilo of this is prices at Rs. 4 Lakhs to Rs 5 Lakhs. this is how it looks...iv copied it from the internet to give you a more graphic morbid picture:)
So Keeda collection is big for all families. I am told that this fungus produces strong steroids and many hinted that the success of Chinese athletes in the past decade has something to do with this as this is one steroid that is not detected in human test samples. Well it’s alleged so; I haven’t done any investigations to prove it 

 This is a thin line….where my values and beliefs conflict with my empathy for human survival. I do empathize that 4 lakhs could mean a fortune to this people and ensures them smiles throughout the year…but yes I do feel this is wrong not only for its illegal, but when going Keeda collecting, they also hunt Himalayan bear for its Bile and other smaller animals to trade in the Chinese medicine market. So not all but maybe some of us who wander are kinda lost…

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