It’s not exactly a secret that trekking is good for you. Those sore legs are a sign of a workout well-done, the pure Himalayan air soothes the lungs and there’s no denying that the week away from life’s chaos rejuvenates the soul.
Of course, Deo Tibba Base Camp is no different- great exercise, a mental recharge and pure gulps of air await all that tackle its trails, but the trek has something extra to offer. Hidden in its valleys, Deo Tibba is home to herbs and plants that many locals claim to be curative for a variety of ailments.
As we ascended day after day toward our ultimate 15,000 ft goal, it became increasingly clear to us that this corner of the Himalayas takes care of its locals. Time and time again, we passed woolen-wrapped locals, pick axes in hand, ascending the trails in search of rare healing plants they claimed to be hiding along the riverbank.
We first learned of the trek’s curative powers en-route to our second night’s camp, Seri. Our local guide, Chetram, was about as laid back as it gets, so it’s no surprise that it peaked our interest when he would occasionally drop his pack and start hacking excitedly into the dirt. On the third round of this dirt-attacking behavior, we couldn’t contain our curiosity anymore.
“Chetram, what are you doing?”
With his face so close to the ground that the grass is practically going up his nose, he answers, voice muffled as he speaks directly into the dirt, “healing plant.”
Obviously we are intrigued. We lean in close, just out of harm’s way of the flying pick-axe, and try to make out just what in this tangle of very normal-looking weeds and worms constitutes as this alleged medicinal plant.
Chetram backs away with finality- a false alarm.
We pass one makeshift shelter tucked into the side of the valley after another as we ascend, and that night, as I watch the light of a small fire emanate from one, Chetram tells us that many residents from nearby villages below make the pilgrimage up here in search of these valuable herbs. Along the way, they build these temporary abodes to rest their heads for a few hours.
Naag Chatri, he says, is the reason behind all of this fervor. The plant is turned into an injection that treats victims of paralysis and stroke and is then exported to China, where it is sold for an impressive 18,000 INR ($269) per 1kg bag.
Next, we come across a soft, spinach-looking plant Chetram tells us is called Kardu. Brew the leaves in a hot tea to ease an upset stomach and help regulate digestion.
Perhaps the most intriguing find to me though (and don’t laugh), was this little parsley-looking thing called Losar growing out the side of a rock.
What does it do? No fantastic secret cure to some formidable disease, no miracle remedy to heal the sick- the thing just smells, well, really really good.
“For stinky feet,” says Chetram with a smile, “for making tentmate happy.”
Apparently you stuff them into your sleeping bag when the going gets a little too smelly. Nature’s air freshener.
And that friends, is the good stuff. If you’ve ever been eight days deep into a trek, showerless, fresh sock supply exhausted, perpetually sweaty and sharing a tent with another human being who is equally as disgusting as you- forget picking a piece, you’ll just stick the whole bush in your tent. Crisis averted.
Eyes still on that 18,000 INR pricetag of the Naag Chatri however, our journey became almost a game. We decided we were going to trek and get rich while doing it. The plan was to find a ton of the stuff, sell it and become millionaires.
There’s just one little problem. The stuff is impossible to find, so we resigned ourselves to gaining a wealth of memories on the trek and leave the searching to the pros.