Over few hundred miles apart – one bang in the center of the capital city Thimphu, another at the extreme fringes of the country’s northern border – two stinks have apparently been fomenting for some time. I wasn’t aware until very recently.
The Stinking Stench: The foul stench of raw sewage is unmistakable as you pass the Secretariat of theMinistry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS). Quite evidently, the building that houses the Ministry and Departments that set out building codes and construction and design standards has a leakage in their sewage system. You can see the raw sewage filling the drainage system below the building. Such irresponsibility is not only pathetic, it’s demoralizing in a nation that prides itself on environmental stewardship.
The Alpine Rumpus: Now, this stink has the potential to turn deadly. It needs immediate attention and I hope that the government will look into the problem with wisdom and foresight. Unfortunately this is an election year, and I suspect that the politicians are likely to flaunt the cause as something of a political opportunity rather than as a problem that needs solving.
The issue surrounds the curiously formed, crinkly, half-worm-half-grass oddity known as Cordyceps sinensis.The most expensive among the traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) is all set to turn a trail blazer – one that history is likely to quote as the event that marked the beginning of provincial conflict in the country. An intense discord has apparently been brewing for the past few years among the highlanders – the inhabitants of the high altitude Gewogs of Lunana, Sephu, Laya etc. Central to the discord is the right of harvest of the highly priced Cordyceps sinensis, or Yartsa Guenboop.
During my recent trip to Lunana, I was witness to a conversation between a government official and a Gewong Tsogpa of Lunana. Apparently, there is a rule that says that only Lunaps can harvest Yartsa Guenboop within the territorial boundaries of Lunana Gewog. Similarly, Lunaps cannot go and trespass into other Gewogs. I am not sure where there is fairness in this strangely divisive rule – but the problem is that people are unwilling to adhere to these conditions. It seems that the Sephups and the Layaps are “poaching” into Lunana territory. Lunaps are not taking it lying down – they are ganging up to chase away the plundering neighbors.
While Layaps are smart and move away when chased (only to come back hours later under the cover of darkness and stealth), the Sephups are in no mood to listen. They stand their ground and insist that they have a right to harvest a common, naturally grown bounty that belongs to the whole nation and the people of Bhutan – not merely to the Lunaps. Upon insisting that they leave, the Sephups are said to have threatened that when this is all over, they will take a similar stand: that Lunaps will not be able to access Sephup territory, or there will be murder and slaughter. The Lunaps of northern regions of Lunana must exit through Nikachhu for their daily essentials, and Nikachhu is under Sephu Gewog.
KUENSEL of 28th May, 2018 reported that the BHSL chopper made 10 sorties to the harvesting areas on 27th May, 2018 alone to defuse the dangerous atmosphere that was brewing among the highlanders. That day, I was still in the harvesting areas in Lunana, but I have no idea if the government officials from Thimphu managed to chase away the Sephups. But of one thing I am sure: This is not a boundary dispute. It is about the right of ownership of a mystical oddity whose potency has the magic to cure hair loss and to correct erectile dysfunction.
Before the harvesting and collection of Yartsa Guenboop was legalized in 2004, I was among the very, very few who advocated in writing the need for the legalization of Cordyceps collection. I did so because during those days, Bhutanese collectors were being penalized and fined and jailed for collecting the worms, while the Tibetans across the border plundered the bounty without let or hindrance, in the process making millions from its sale. Little did I know that years later, legal Cordyceps collection could result in the country’s first case of provincial conflict.
Time is now for the Government to rethink the policy. Clearly, there is a real danger that this could escalate into something that the country does not need – least of all on our northern borders.
The writer is a Charter Member of the Rotary Club of Thimphu and an ardent blogger.