Living with Jatamansi
“Monsoon has stopped… I am moving to jungle to collect Bhultya” Sarjan Budha informs his wife. He had a gathering last night with his neighboring friends and decided to move day after tomorrow. For this he is all set to move with some food, extra cloth and necessary equipments.
Sarjan Budha, at the age of 50, is still active in his community and strong enough to carry heavy loads as equal of his age. He has a family of five members, wife of age 42, three children, one daughter of 17 and two sons of 15 and 12. His wife looks after household activities only. As property, he has a small land nearby his house where he grows rice, millet, buckwheat but the crops that he grows are enough to feed family for only 5 months out of the year. “We have to rely on sky… I have faced drought many times in my life… there is no proper irrigation” complains Sarjan. He is also compelled to work as a porter to fulfill his family living.
Last year Sarjan got advance money of Rs. 15,000 from one local wholesaler for Jatamansi. He was not able to collect and fulfill the advance money because he was very sick. He spent all the money for medicine and domestic use. Still the money was not enough for the whole year and did not have enough food to fulfill his hunger. He had to borrow food as loan with neighbors to fight against the hunger. He also lost one buffalo which he bought last year while grazing on the cliff. “Daiba nai nisthuri bhayo…” Sarjan moans. He curses his fate and feels that the god was merciless to him this year again.
This year he has burden to realize the advance money anyhow as the wholesaler was angry with him not fulfilling the promise. Wholesaler was not ready to listen to his problem. He is also in debt with his neighbors to return the food.
By the September, the farmers complete their plantation and waits to harvest crops after two month. The temperature starts to go down from this month and welcomes various festivals like Teej, Dashain, Tihar. Farmers expect good crop so that so that every Dashain can be celebrated with joy and delight.
Jatamansi, also known as Bhultya, is usually found far away from the community at the range of 3000-5000 meter. It takes a few hours to 2-3 days walk to reach Jatamansi growing habitat in Humla district. Collectors take necessary equipment, extra clothes, and food when they go harvesting. They live inside caves, during the harvest. After sufficient harvest, they come down with load of Jatamansi. It takes at least two days, sometimes 5-6 days to make one full man load. Since the Jatamansi grows on cliff and sloppy mountains, sometimes the collectors get injured or face serious accident during the harvest. Thus collection of is really a hardship due to health hazards. Sometimes the money generated from Jatamansi is less than their labor cost. If the Jatamansi collection is done from a virgin area then the money generated by selling of Jatamansi become higher than the labor cost.
Sarjan knows some traders of Nepalgunj but he never had confidence to access them in his entire life. The wholesalers of Humla buy Jatamansi from collectors like Sarjan at relatively low price and sells to Nepalgunj traders. Traders of Nepalgunj normally sell to Indian traders in much higher price. Due to lack of information system, market network, collusion of traders, collectors like Sarjan from Humla always falls behind.
Jatamansi is rarely used in local. It is harvested for trade of its valuable roots/rhizomes. It is used as stimulant, antiseptic and for the treatment of epilepsy, hysteria, convulsive affections, stomachic, laxative and cholera. The rhizome is used as an aromatic adjunct in the preparation of medicinal oil. It is also believed to be used for leprosy. It is also said to promote growth and impart blackness of hair. It is used as anti-venom for scorpion stings and insect repellent.
Sarjan, is an experienced herb collector and had spent many years collecting Jatamansi. He had fascinating as well as terrifying tales of herb collection: how he and his friends in the village would lower each other down the cliff with homemade hemp rope tied around their waists to reach the largest Jatamansi plants, and how each year at least one person in the area would lose their life, leg, hands by slipping off the cliffs while collecting herbs. Even for basic treatment facility, they have to walk for days.
Jatamansi itself is a precious and much valuable herb because of its niche properties, aroma and value in the form of price granted for its importance seems to be good from one aspect. But on the other hand, is still not enough to make the right evaluation of hardship and challenges that the people confront to harvest and sales to vendor which rather seems to be easier than the fact.