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When Nature cures
Geetanjali Krishna |
August 30, 2005
I was sitting with Mohan Singh late one evening in Sitlakhet. The sun had set; it was quiet as only mountains can be. A lone light shimmered on a faraway hill, and I wondered aloud how hill folk managed to live so far from civilisation, as people like us know it.
"They're probably happy being there," said Mohan Singh, "drinking fresh spring water and breathing pure air straight from Nanda Devi."
Pure air and water were great, said I, but what if they took sick and urgently needed medical attention?
He laughed. "Don't underestimate the power of unpolluted surroundings -- really sick people have been known to get cured of ailments that modern doctors had given up on, just by staying for a few months here!"
He went on to tell me that most of the Ayurvedic medicines were made from herbs gathered from the forests of Kumaon. "People living here have herbal remedies for most ailments," he said, "instead of relying on modern medicines!"
Many traditional hill practices were excellent prophylactics, our driver Raghu said. "Every night, we steep neem leaves in water, and in the morning, crush the leaves in the liquor and drink the resulting decoction with a dash of lime. That's why people in our area rarely get any skin problems or infections!"
Another healthy practice, he said, was drinking sheep's milk. "Not only is it good for the bones, it is also supposed to be the best way to keep asthma at bay," he said.
I commented that new medical research has tentatively linked cow's milk to asthma and he said, "We've little faith in Western science and medicine here. But our own experiences show that drinking sheep's milk is better for asthma patients!"
Living in the cold, often damp hills, people must get lots of colds and coughs, I commented. "The moment I get the beginnings of a cold or sore throat, I roast a piece of ginger on coal, and eat it. Within hours, I feel better!" said Raghu.
The placid lake of Bhimtal came into view, and we passed several touristy places with fried fish on their menus. "You know, the best remedy for arthritis comes from here," Raghu commented.
He said that the local fisherfolk of Bhimtal extracted oil from the catch of the day, which made an excellent poultice for arthritic joints. "Normally, as mountain people need to walk such long distances all the time, they don't suffer aches and pains. But if they do, this remedy works like a charm!" said Raghu.
What did they use to treat cuts and abrasions, I asked. "You won't find anyone here using Dettol and Band-Aid here!" he laughed. "Normally, we'd just cover the cut with sugar and bandage it tightly. This helps to heal the wound really quickly."
Hill folk believe that if they aren't good to their parents and grandparents, they return from hereafter to cause measles and chicken pox (called mata here) in their children.
"So we try preventing these diseases by serving our elders as well as we can!" said Raghu.
Mohan Singh, who was more of a philosopher, said that their unshakeable belief in God protected most hill people from most ailments. "Our devi (goddess) gives us whatever we ask for," he said, "and our simple life keeps us healthy."
Raghu had the last word. "The further you go from nature, the closer you are to ill health and a weak constitution."
As we sped down the verdant hills on the winding mountain road towards Delhi, I reflected ruefully that that was exactly where I was headed.
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