Tibetan Medicine (Sowa-Rigpa) in Ladakh
Traditional medical practitioners in Ladakh are known as amchi. There are around 200 amchi in Ladakh, many of whom belong to family medical lineages going back several generations. Amchi attribute the origin of their system of medicine in Ladakh to the famous Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), who was active in the area in the 10th and 11th centuries. The position of amchi is traditionally a hereditary one passed on through the social institution of the gyupa lineage. Many amchi families profess medical genealogies of six or more generations. In some cases the eldest son is given the name 'Smanla' which combines the Ladakhi (and Tibetan) word for medicine sman with the honorific suffix la. It has always been possible for individuals who do not belong to hereditary lineages to become amchi, but in the past this must have been quite difficult as most people's time was taken up by farm work.
The age when individuals commence their amchi training and the duration of that training vary. Usually the amchi novice will embark upon their study at about the age of twelve. The study will be carried out whenever the individuals concerned are free from other work, and often goes on for six to seven years. In the past, it was common for Ladakhi amchi to spend time training in Tibet, but this situation ceased after the Chinese occupation; following the Lhasa uprising in 1959 the border with Ladakh was closed. Most Ladakhi villages have at least one amchi family.
Usually amchi have a full time occupation and practise medicine in addition to this. Most often they are farmers and have a special room in their houses where they attend to the villagers' medical problems, either before or after the daily work in the fields. Amchi gather many of the plants that they need to make their medicines from the surrounding valleys and mountains in the summer. Certain ingredients are bought in nearby commercial centres.