Gold mining in Nepal: An account from Karnali River

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A Sonaha woman washing sediments to collect raw gold

On the banks of major rivers such as Karnali River in Nepal, gold is mined in a primitive way. This involves panning gold or gold mining from river sediments. The sediments are continuously washed until tiny deposits of gold is obtained. I stumbled upon this practice on my recent field visit in Karnali and wanted to briefly summarize it.

It was around 11 am, we were walking along the banks of Karnali River on the way to Satti ghat when we stumbled upon a group of people collecting sediments. These people were from Sonaha community who have been traditionally associated with gold mining in the banks of Karnali River. The Nepali name for gold is ‘soon‘ and the association of the community on gold mining may have rightly earned them the name of Sonahas. Normally, women are involved with gold mining practice in this community.

The basic steps include:

  1. Collecting sediments, normally in a gravel to small rocks setting. Before this they check for gold deposits by collecting a bit of sediment in a wooden apparatus called Sinauta. They wash the sediment and if tiny deposits of gold are seen then further works of manual excavation is conducted.
  2. Just beside the river, the collected sediments are transported which is first washed through a apparatus made of bamboo called Chabna. This enables separation from pebbles and stones from the sediments.
  3. The sediments devoid of pebbles and rocks than fall on the wooden surface called Dudi. This is made up of tree locally known as Jhegra.
  4. After continuous washing what remains are small shiny yellow deposits of raw gold which is collected and later refined.
Chabna and Sinauta

While mining has been linked to adverse effect on the environment, this form of primitive mining to my knowledge seems harmless as no dredging or large-scale excavation occurs. The deposits other than gold are all left by the riverbanks. If I am mistaken in my assessment, please do let me know. This activity was facing restriction in some areas claiming debris flow problem.

Raw gold collected in Sinauta

This occupation was claimed to be seasonal and I was lucky enough to witness it during my field visit. The work is intense. In the video you can see the accumulation of small amount of raw gold. That was collected as a result of five people working for one hour continuously.  

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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