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Himalaya

Day 106: Thimpu to Takstang

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe slopes of the Himalaya are rich in plants that have medicinal properties. Used for thousands of years by rural, mountain people, they are now increasingly attractive to an international market seeking an alternative to chemical drugs. The canny Bhutanese government, together with the World Health Organization, recognized this demand and in 1979 set up an Institute of Traditional Medicine, which researches, catalogues and produces herbal remedies. Recent newspaper reports suggest that they might have hit pay dirt, with a product already being tipped as the first 'herbal Viagra'.

The word 'Institute' fills me with ominous images of two-headed dogs and white-coated men with small spectacles, so, as we approach the heart of Bhutan's traditional medicine establishment on a hill above Thimpu, I'm much relieved to find that it's a colourfully decorated, half-timbered building that looks like a well-preserved Elizabethan manor house.

We're welcomed by three serious men, two of whom are called Dorje. They show us around an immaculately laid out display of traditional medicines in a long, library-like room with beamed ceiling and glass cabinets. The debt to Tibetan medicine is acknowledged in the old anatomical charts showing the five wheels or chakras, the centres of spiritual power that control all our bodily systems. Traditional Bhutanese medicine also borrowed from the Indian idea that the balance of the Three Humours, bile, wind and phlegm, dictates the state of our physical and spiritual health.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 106: Thimpu to Takstang
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Thimpu
  • Book page no: 247

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