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Hunza Land
secret of the Fountain of Youth Kingdom
in the Himalayas!
by Dr. Allen E. Banik & Renee Taylor, 1960

Men who live 120 years and father children at age ninety.......
Women of eighty who look no older than our women of forty......
Hunzukuts, fabulous mountain people of the little kingdom of Hunza, high in Himalaya Mountains of Pakistan, lived in isolation for 2,000 years, and evolved a way to live, eat, think, and exercise that greatly lengthens their lifespan, and dramatically reduces illnesses which "civilized" people suffer.
Dr. Allen E. Banik, optometrist, traveler, writer, brings an understanding of this "uncatalogued" race that is of nationwide interest. His exciting, perilous journey over dizzying mountain trails to reach Hunza and portray the people and their country is a unique adventure. Dr. Banik's visit to this "Fountain of Youth" kingdom culminated a 20-year study of Hunza and correspondence with its ruler, The Mir.
Preface

Hunza is a unique little country in a Himalaya valley, isolated until recently from outside world contact. In 1937, I read a magazine article describing an unknown people whose vigor and long life (100 to 120 years) defied belief. They are Hunzukuts, citizens of Hunza—tiny, autonomous, with a population of 25,000, tucked between mountain peaks rising 10 to 19,000 feet above their fertile valley, only 18 miles from the borders of Russia, China and Pakistan.

For nearly 2000 years, these phenomenal people lived in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. This race has survived centuries, remarkable for its vigor and virility. They are fair-skinned, assumed to be Caucasian. Their methods of agriculture and soil preservation are a legend to the world. Scientists and doctors fortunate to visit the Hunzukuts to study their way of life attribute their extraordinary health and vigor primarily to their diet and methods to grow food. Apparently their bodies thereby became resistant to disease.

Chapter Four
Hunza Farming and Food

UNDOUBTEDLY, the farming methods of the Hunzukuts and the type of food they have eaten for centuries are responsible for the remarkable vigor, long life and freedom from disease enjoyed by this unique race. Their agricultural methods are empirical, not based on scientific study, for they have been followed without deviation for thousands of years.

Terracing makes small flat fields which ascend like steps up the slopes toward the mountains. Sometimes they reach nearly to the timber line. It is staggering to think of the number of man-hours required to break, haul and set in place the countless rocks of all sizes that make possible this remarkable farming system.

Water, of course, is an essential of farming, and the Hunza fields (generally about one-half acre to five acres in area) must be irrigated constantly, especially as two crops are grown each year. The Hunzukuts are fortunate in having a water supply that comes from melting snows high in the mountains. However, the present farmers owe thanks to former generations. Water must be tapped in the mountains and brought down to the fields, and early Hunzukuts laboriously built, with wooden shovels and ibex horn picks, main channels and terrace irrigating canals which are engineering masterpIeces.

The mountain water is rich in minerals and carries to the fields a plant-nourishing silt, which is invaluable in replenishing the growing properties of the soil. Because of the importance of water in the Hunza economy, disputes about this resource comprise the greater part of the court docket the council of elders rules upon. Early in the spring and again before second crops are planted, canal gates (large flat stones) are opened and all the terraces are flooded. When the water has been absorbed by the soil, leaving the silt deposit, terraces are plowed and fertilized.

Of course, in agriculture of this kind, soil must be enriched regularly by means other than silt from the mountain waters; indeed, the Hunza soil is almost a manufactured soil. Every solitary thing that can serve as food for vegetables, field crops and fruit trees is diligently collected, stored and distributed in rationed equality over every square foot of the hundreds of terraces. Sunken compost pits are conveniently located, and into them go ashes from cooking and heating fires, inedible parts of vegetables, pulverized animal bones, dead leaves, rotten wood and the collected manure of animals.

The Hunzukuts' idea of returning to the soil everything that comes from the soil is actually comparable to Nature's law as applied in the impenetrable jungle. There is no intrusion of non-living matter in the jungle. Plants, animals, birds, reptiles and insects come into being, live their life span, die and return as life-giving elements to the incredibly fertile jungle soil. It is simply a cycle of life-death-life. Nothing is ever lost; nothing wasted.

Nations not blessed with sufficient arable land to feed their people are forced to adopt a farming system that is kindred to gardening. It is the principle described in the paragraph above—the returning to the soil everything, vegetable and animal, that the soil has produced.

It is surprising how many different food products are grown in this small agricultural area which is limited by towering mountains to a section about sixty miles long and from one to four miles wide.

  • Grains include wheat, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, alfalfa and rye.
  • Seven fruits offer ample diversity to the diet: apricots, peaches, apples, cherries, mulberries, watermelons and grapes.
  • Vegetable requirements are satisfied by potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, peas, beans aIid pulses.
  • Nuts are restricted almost entirely to walnuts.
  • Milk, mostly from goats, provides butter and cbeese (some of the latter aged to one hundred years!).
  • Meat is scarce (mostly mutton, beef and wild sheep).
  • Eggs must be imported for the royal family and wealthy citizens.

Chickens are viewed with suspicion because they scratch up precious seeds and crops. As the Moslem faith absolutely prohibits pork, pigs are not in evidence in Hunza.

Although they are Moslems, the Hunzukuts drink a quantity of both white and red wine (local).

I have never tasted fruit so sweet and delicious as that I enjoyed in the Hunza valley! Apricots are one of the staples of the native diet, but the trees are not like the ones we see in our orchards. They are allowed to grow for at least fifty years before the tops are cut off about twenty feet from the ground; then growth continues for an equal period.

Thanks to the richness of the Hunza soil and to their age, the trunks of these trees match the circumference of forest trees, and production of fruit is prodigious. The importance of the apricot in the Hunza economy is suggested by the fact that the trees are regarded as valuable property which, on the death of the owner, is willed to a favorite son or other relative. To own an apricot tree is an indication of affiuence, and the local maidens cast covetous eyes on swains fortunate enough to boast ownership of such a prize.

My first experience with Hunza apricots, fresh from the tree, came when my guide picked several, washed them in a mountain stream, and handed them to me. I ate the luscious fruit and casually tossed the seeds to the ground. After an incredulous glance at me, one of the older men stooped and picked up the seeds. He cracked them between two stones, and handed them to me. The guide said, with a smile: "Eat them. It is the best part of the fruit." The seeds tasted much like almonds—very sweet and oily.

My curiosity aroused, I asked, "What do you do with the seeds you do not eat?"

The guide informed me that many are stored, but most of them are ground very fine, and then squeezed under pressure to produce a very rich oil.

"This oil," my guide claimed, "looks much like olive oil. Sometimes we swallow a spoonful of it, when we need it. On special days, we deep-fry our chappatis in it. On festival nights, our women use the oil to shine their hair. It makes a good rubbing compound for body bruises. We also shine silverware with it."

Here, it seemed, was an indispensable item in Hunzukut existence. (I learned later that apricot oil actually will shine silver.) One of the greatest values of the oil is its remarkable richness in the blood stream. Is there a connection with the freedom from circulatory disease that the Hunzukuts enjoy? Remember, their old men can scale high mountains or work vigorously in the fields day after day without thought of heart attacks or strokes. My eye examinations demonstrated remarkably healthy circulatory systems in these people.

Apricots and mulberries are dried in the sun to serve as food when the fresh fruit is not in season. Enough of this harvest is put aside for use throughout the fall and winter months. Dried apricots may sound unappetizing to the average person in the United States, but there is nothing unpalatable about this fruit when it is eaten in Hunza.

After the dried fruit has been soaked in water overnight, it resumes its original size and is just as sweet and delicious as the day it was picked from the tree. These apricots, cooked with stone-ground oatmeal and milk, and served hot, are the main dish at many a meal. Sugar is unknown in Hunza, and importation of this sweetener is not a problem, because Hunza fruits are rich in natural sweetness. Candidly, I found them somewhat too sweet.

Grains, of course, are eaten in a cooked state by the Hunzukuts. Threshing is done in a slow, primitive way by scattering the stalks on a hard surface and driving sharp-footed animals over them. After endless hours, the edible part of the grain is separated from the stalks, which are shaken thoroughly and removed. The usable grain is then ground in stone mills and stored for future use in containers similar to our round grain bins.

The ubiquitous chappati is generally made of wheat or millet, baked or deep-fried, and served with accompanying food. They are very tasty, especially in their fancier forms, and their nourishing qualities far outshine those of our bread because the natural goodness is not lost in milling. Chappatis can be made of other grains than wheat and millet, and dried vegetables (peas, beans, etc.) are often ground up and used with grains in making this Hunzukut "staff of life."

The important thing about the use of grain in the Hunzukuts' diet is that all the goodness and health-giving properties of the grain are utilized.

This is in startling contrast to the way grain is used in the United States. Modern milling processes remove the germ from the grain. The germ, as the name implies, is the small part which gives life to the plant. However, as this germ is oily, it causes stored flour to become rancid and harbor parasites. And, too, it darkens bread, making it unappetizing to many people in "civilized" countries.

This fact was brought home to me with startling clarity when I saw with my own eyes the vigor and stamina of the Hunzukuts. These people have never eaten "white" bread from which modern milling methods have robbed the phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, manganese and sulphur. The important life-giving substances are found in the germ of the wheat (or other grain), in the brown husk and directly beneath the husk. At least three quarters of the real goodness and fullest nourishment in the grain is lost by our "superior" milling. Of course, it is claimed that some of the elements are restored to our flours—but why take them away in the first place?

Vegetables in season are eaten raw by the Hunzukuts. At home, we eat a few raw vegetables (as in salads), but these healthy natives prefer the food in its raw state. Here, again, they are smarter than we are. They get the full nourishment of the plant, because it is altered very little in the transfer from soil to table. Even corn on the cob is eaten raw in the milk stage. They soak beans and peas in water for one or two days, and then spread the seeds out on wet cloths in the sun. They are eaten raw when they begin to sprout.

Vegetables are cooked by boiling in covered pots—a method comparable to our steaming. Very little water is used and this is replenished in small quantities as required. The water in which the vegetables are cooked is drunk at the time the food is eaten, or saved for future consumption. This, again, is a wise custom, because much of the food value of the vegetables is concentrated in the water in which they are cooked.

Vegetables, whether eaten raw or cooked, are not scrubbed so thoroughly as is our custom; consequently the vital health-giving skins are eaten advantageously. About twenty per cent of the food eaten in Hunza is cooked; the balance is eaten in its natural state.

Livestock production in Hunza is severely limited because grass is almost nonexistent, and it is impossible to fatten animals properly. Such pastures as are available are located high in the mountains. Sheep and goats can subsist on less fodder than cattle, and the available supply of leaves and straw produces more milk when fed to these animals. Cows are a rarity in Hunza.

When an occasional animal is slaughtered, usually in the festival season in winter, every morsel of meat is consumed. Even the vital organs are cooked and devoured. Bones are ground for fertilizer, and the gut is dried for a variety of uses such as thread and instrument strings. Of course, the skins are cured and used as leather.

Meat dishes are predominantly stews, which simmer until tender in large kettles with such whole grains as millet, wheat, barley and corn. During the latter part of the cooking, fresh vegetables are added to make a mutton stew, a real treat for the Hunzukuts.

The goat's milk and butter used in Hunza are a far cry from those products we are accustomed to and, frankly, I prefer the taste of ours. Of course, the preservation of milk and butter is a problem in countries without refrigeration of any kind, and Hunza is no exception.

These sturdy people, of necessity, follow the oriental method of separating the milk-fats and boiling them to form ghee, which is used as butter. Ghee is eaten on their chappatis, and is used in some cooked dishes. Both milk and buttermilk are used soured, as they cannot be kept fresh. Nutritionists tell us that the soured milk actually offers advantages over our pasteurized product; many peoples who use soured milk exclusively are noted for their fine physiques, virility and good health.

Perhaps something should be said about the lighter side of eating and drinking in Hunza, and this is as good a place as any to mention the famed Hunza wine, which I occasionally sampled with gratifying results. This wine is made from the grapes which grow profusely on vines that climb the terraces and mountainsides in the Hunza valley. The drink is called Hunza Panipani means "water"—and it has a pleasant, mild taste that belies its potency. Hunza Pani enjoys a reputation in the Middle East, and almost everyone is eager to get it.

When I drank the wine for the first time I found two small glasses more than sufficient. However, when I brought up the subject at the Mir's table, he laughed good-naturedly.

"Do your people ever become intoxicated from drinking Hunza Pani?" I asked.

He shook his head in the negative.

"Do they drink it freely?" I insisted. "More than two glasses at one time?"

"Why, of course," His Highness assured me. "On festival nights, they drink it by the bottle, and every day it is a normal part of their meals."

At my incredulous look, the Mir added, "Perhaps that is why we are known as the healthiest and happiest people in the world!" It is in the drinking of wine and in allowing their women to go about freely that the Hunzukuts differ from the majority of Moslems.

In Hunza, this type of "garden farming" has produced a quality of vegetables that cannot be duplicated in any other way. Plant disease and destruction by pests are virtually negligible in Hunza. Is this a reward for repaying in full to the soil what the soil has given to the people?

How different is agricultural practice in Western nations such as ours! Each year, countless tons of life-giving soil are sucked up by the winds and scattered over the landscape to become nothing more than a temporary source of complaint to grumbling citizens who dwell in towns and cities within a radius of hundreds of miles. Water erosion, too, is a scourge which must be paid for in money, time and health. Scientific "medication"—calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus—an never restore the virgin quality of the soil, and we pay dearly through loss of health-giving properties in our vegetables and grains.

What foods are grown by the Hunzukuts in this "nothing lost, nothing wasted" agricultural economy? How do they compare in quality and taste with those we are accustomed to in this country? Is there a relationship between these foods and Hunza health? The answers to these questions open an interesting field of conjecture that could apply importantly to our own life and living habits.

Dr. Allen E. Banik
optometrist, Kearney, Nebraska

Dr. Allen E. Banik's interest in Hunza stems from a 1937 magazine article. The Hunza's long, disease-free life and perfect eyesight at advanced age support Dr. Banik's theory of a relationship of the eyes and health. Dr. Banik's trip was paid by Art Linkletter, famous MC of the classic People Are Funny TV show.


The Mir, English-speaking Hunza ruler, and his wife Rani were gracious hosts to Dr. Banik, who is indebted to The Mir for many fascinating stories and personal reminiscences.

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