I’ve never been the Dolpo valley but I am going! Trekking for 23 days, reaching 5,000,m passes and experiencing what looks like the most amazing landscape. We were drawn to the Dolpo by an article in the Geographical Magazine of the Royal Geographic Society, describing the salt trade routes taken by Tiebetan traders through the Dolpo.
In addition to all this however, the Dolpo is home to more than 1,500 flowering plants. And of these about 400 are used in traditional medicine.
The remote people of the Dolpo depend on traditional medicine provided by amchis, traditional healers, trained using Tibetan texts and knowledge handed down through the generations. They collect and prepare the plants they need, they diagnose and treat illnesses. They and the people they treat are all dependent on the local medicinal plants.
Sustainability is a crucial issue. The major threat to the sustainability of medicinal plant collection in the Dolpo is not the small amounts collected and used by the amchis. The amchis are steeped in environmental awareness of the landscape and the habitats the plants grow in. Amchis identify 6 broad habitats from forest, through grassland to rocky mountains, snowy mountains, wetlands and agricultural land. They also define 3 types of distribution; found everywhere, found somewhere and found in few places. Collection is seasonal, ruled by the Tibetan calendar, and aimed at achieving maximum medical efficacy. They collect sustainably because their lives depend on it. The major threat is the large and growing interest in about 20 plant species which are collected in large volumes from the district.
Besides sustainability, amchis face other serious issues. Access to knowledge and training is declining. Many have not received full training because of a lack of access to medicinal materials, capacity to follow formal studies or money to purchase medicines and materials from the lowlands. Amchi ethics are based on Buddhist and Bonpo concepts of universal compassion, which does not allow them to charge patients for their services. Yet they need to purchase plants and materials from the lowlands. In the past they exchanged them for other highland products.
A WWF and Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal programme in the 1990s set out to develop local capacity to manage resources sustainably by working with amchis and local people.
By visiting the area, I want to understand a bit more about the Doplo, its people and its plants. There has been progress. I want to help with the next steps. How can Nepal’s mountain people continue to access the medicinal plants they need and protect them for future generations? What lessons do they have for us in the west, where our links to medical plants have largely been broken.
Acknowledgement: I don’t know anything about the Dolpo yet. This blog owes its existence to Medicinal plants of Dolpo: Amchis’ knowledge and conservation by Yeshi Choden Lama, Suresh Ghimire and Yildez Aumeeruddy-Thomas in collaboration with the amchis of the Dolpo. WWF Nepal 200