The Wild West of Nepal: Untapped Gem and Land of Unparalleled Heritage
NISCHAL SHRESTHA, Daayitwa-Fusemachines Fellow 2022
Starting from the geography itself, the Western Frontier of Nepal has always been very unique. Whilst the Eastern regions are more ajar to the steady winds of the Monsoon that come from the Bay of Bengal every summer, which hits the North Eastern Himalayan region first and gradually makes its way towards the Central and Western regions of Nepal. The Western Frontier relatively speaking lies further away from the Oceans in comparison to its Eastern Counterpart and thus gets less precipitation, particularly in remote mountainous regions of Western Nepal, where the rugged mountainous landscapes act as a further barrier for winds to reach the region. These remote secluded mountainous regions of Nepal are also labeled as ‘The Wild West of Nepal’. Notwithstanding, the phenomenon in summer, these regions are also-akin to Winter rains due to Westerlies; Prevailing winds in the Southern Hemisphere that gust from West to East which is weakest in the summer when the pressures are high on the poles but stronger in Winter. For Nepal, the winds generally originate from the Mediterranean Regions that bring modest precipitation and cold air along the North-Western regions of Nepal.
Perhaps, when we glue all of this information together, it is easier for us to understand and categorize different frontiers of Nepal. Eastern Nepal relatively gets continual and reliant winds every summer and is not only wetter in comparison but houses more vigorous river basins and mountains with deeper permafrost that also helps to explain more densest pocket populations of Nepal to be concentrated along the Eastern side, more especially in the South Eastern Region. Regardless, Western Nepal seems to be equally if not more mighty, breathtaking, glorious, and awe-inspiring in its own right which seems to be often overlooked. Not only the region seems to be very diverse with more thriving bio-diversity spaces and climate/sub-climate regions but culturally it seems to be the few remaining pocket spaces left where the last Aboriginal people exist, flourishing valiantly no matter the odds. From the last nomadic tribes found in the mid-hills of Western regions of Nepal ‘Rautes’ to the few remaining Bonpo nomadic Families in the northern mountainous region, whose lifestyle is entirely based on the movements of their animals, the region is justly very unique. When we trace Nepalese ancestry, it is also indicated that human settlement entered in what is today Modern Nepal from its Western plank. Although the exact time when this happened may be a point of fierce debate, it is largely accepted that human settlements flowed from West to East in the larger Pan-Himalayan Region. Linguistically, the language that binds Nepal is also believed to have originated from the ancient Khas language from the Indo-Aryan Language Family who are also revered to be the earliest recorded speakers of the Western Pahari Language. Before the turn of the 19th century, the Gorkhali people referred to their kingdom as ‘Khas Kingdom’ until the campaign for unification truly began. Post-Unification, The Shah Dynasty, and its consequent successors Rana Dynasty, both spoke the Khas Language, which simplified version later became the ‘Nepali Language’.
Today, there are places in Nepal that are often termed ‘Remote’ even by the people within Nepal. This terminology is often used to describe the most secluded regions of Western Nepal which include the Northern regions of Lumbini Province, Karnali Province, and Sudur Paschim. The places in the provinces such as East Rukum, West Rukum, Dolpa, Kalikot, Jumla, Mugu, Darchula, Kanchanpur, Kailali, and Dadheldhura, generally fall under such descriptions. These regions are not only home to picturesque landscapes, exotic flora, and faunas but in many regards also offer a last glimpse of the unobstructed traditional heritage of Nepal that has not been influenced by the nuances and inclinations of modern times. In this way, it might just be the region, where the true and abstruse continuous traditional heritage of Nepal is still prevalent and perhaps, the annual sight of people including women, children, and old men alike racing to pick valued herbs at an elevation of over 3500m with the sound of gun that signals the start of ‘Buki’ in various buki-patans, with almost zero to no proper technical or medical assistance offer some justification to that. Not to mention, the cultural lifestyle of the people here is very distinctive from any other part of the country, mostly it is believed that the Chettri people of ‘Aryan’ descent largely inhabit this area whose practices are again noticeably different than other Chettri individuals in the country. The remote regions in the Northern-West have Sherpa, and Gurung settlements likewise the remote regions, relatively to the East, especially in Rukum have a bigger concentration of Magar People. These regions of Nepal offer many exotic floras and faunas that have helped to put Nepal actively on the map since ancient times via the routes of the ‘Ancient Silk Route’ to the North and Western Hemisphere and through traditional linkages in the Indian Subcontinent. Valued herbs with ethnomedicinal use such as Cordyceps Sinesis, Allium Wallichi, Dactylorhiza Hatagiera, Rheum Astrale, Rhododendron, and Aconitum have deep embedded local heritage and are of astounding global importance. Yarsagumba or Jeewan Buti (Cordyceps Sinesis) alone is believed to be sold as high as 10,000 USD per K.G in some international markets. Such herbs are believed to cure a plethora of diseases and health issues like Anemia, Tuberculosis, Lung Diseases, Arthritis, Gastritis, Sinusitis, and skin or well-being-related issues., The most famous herb from these regions is definitely Yarsagumba, which is also labeled as ‘Himalayan Viagra’ and is widely famous and in high demand on the global market. Many research also points toward the fact that because of such available economic measures, people in such remote regions of Nepal at the pinnacle of their time (in ancient times) enjoyed relatively good financial well-being far better than most of the other regions of Nepal. Regardless, in modern times the whole continent has gone through sweeping changes, especially post-age of enlightenment and later Industrial revolution, Asia, being on the receiving side of things also meant that such economic measures were virtually tarnished. As Asia embarks on a process of re-orientation vis-à-vis modern nuances of the time, there is a good chance that Nepal can once again ride such given financial pathways to lift the poorest and most vulnerable people of the country out of poverty in a sustainable and equitable fashion.
The pristine contributions of ‘The Wild West’ and West, in general, have often been overlooked by the people and government of Nepal. Although in recent years, a lot of synergies have been created especially targeting the Western Frontiers but largely government has not been able to tap the true potential of Western Nepal from Tourism to MAPs (Medical Aromatic Plants), to other key natural resources (for the sake of the argument not paid much attention to). This might in part be due to lack of accessibility, and lack of any regional infrastructure but the blame also seems to fall on us, you and I alike, who relinquish such immaculate national treasure of a region, that has had a deep impact on our collective history-and-identity as a state. The region in no way should be seen through a binary lens. The reality seems to be vastly different, cavernous, and not as plain as it may seem. These so-called ‘Remote regions’ are filled with multi-layers of exquisiteness and have huge potential to contribute to the fair, just, and equitable economic development of Nepal, especially given its geo-economic prospects. Ergo, it is very much imperative to understand What remote regions of Nepal are? How do we view them? Why is it important for Nepal and its people? More importantly, what do we owe to them?