Histories of Central Himalayan Herbs: Vanaspati Karyalaya in Tehri Princely State c. 1879–1950


  • Nivedita Nath University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), USA


This short essay describes how the advent of scientific forestry in the princely state of Tehri-Garhwal in the Indian Himalayas, together with the growth of an urban elite Hindu market for Ayurvedic potions, initiated the transformation of the trade in Himalayan herbs in the early twentieth century. The Tehri Durbar’s attempt to alienate high-altitude meadows (bugyals) for the cultivation of Ayurvedic herbs suggests how associations between the Himalayas and healing herbs were becoming increasingly fetishized. This fetishization not only risked destroying delicate meadow ecosystems but further elided local knowledges about medicinal plants, instead privileging an elite Hindu approach to Ayurveda.

Author Biography

Nivedita Nath, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), USA

Nivedita Nath is a PhD candidate in history at UCLA, with a broad interest in the political possibilities that the study of history has for reimagining the places of our collective futures. Her proposed dissertation is entitled “Race, Caste and Modern Imaginaries of the Himalayas: Ecology and Phenomenology in Colonial Kumaun and Garhwal.” Tracing the trajectory of imaginaries of the Himalayas as an ideal site for pilgrimage and asceticism, she argues that the encounter between high Hindu “traditions” and colonial epistemologies transformed conceptual and phenomenological constructions of the “Himalayas,” thereby reinforcing hierarchies of race and caste.

Photo of Auli Medicinal Herb Plantation.