Residents from Gorkha's northernmost villages are involved in an illegal timber trade via Samdo, exchanging timber from the area's pine trees for rock salt from Tibet. Large amounts of timber are being felled in the Shyala jungle of Lho VDC. Lal Prasad Gurung, program director of the Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP), under the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, says that the people are compelled to do so.
Gorkha's northernmost VDCs-Sirdibas, Bihi, Prok, Lho, Samagaon, Chumchet and Chhekampaar-are a seven-day walk from the district headquarters. The residents of these villages do not use the subsidised iodised salt, because the government has been unable to provide them with it. An estimated 9000 people in the region consume rock salt from Tibet.
The villagers travel for two or three days to get Tibetan salt. "You can't buy salt with money. You need timber," says Noru Lama of Chhekampaar VDC. The Tibetans believe that the wood from northern Gorkha is strong and lasts longer. The inhabitants of this area have to make preparations for salt that will last them for seven months at a stretch, so they fell timber throughout the winter, starting about now. "We collect timber now and once it is dry we transport it to Tibet," says Tshering Lama of Lho VDC.
The district forest office in Gorkha acknowledges the illegal trade, but says that the conservation of the forests in the area is not its responsibility. MCAP has formed forest management committees to protect the forests in the area, but all its field offices in northern Gorkha have been displaced due to the security situation, severely affecting conservation efforts. CDO Madhav Prasad Ojha acknowledges his inability to send security forces to the affected areas. "As we have tightened security in and around the district headquarters, we haven't been able to pay attention to outlying areas," he says.
MCAP had started to see the effects of its campaign to convince the people in upper Gorkha to use iodised salt instead of rock salt, but this program is also on hold for the moment. "The people here are not very enthusiastic about iodised salt," says MCAP's Gurung. "They prefer rock salt in their tea. As a result, the tradition of trading timber for rock salt from Tibet, continues."