Gemstones have a long history of cultural significance through the ages and in all parts of the world. From ancient Egypt to Rome to far east Asia, precious stones appear on amulets and charms for their beauty and believed virtues. The lore is endless. In Nepal too, stones symbolize the celestial bodies of astrology. Ruby for the sun, pearl for the moon, emerald and diamond for Mercury and Venus, coral for Mars, topaz for Jupiter and the most revered blue sapphire for Saturn. Nepal is situated in the Himalayas and the environment of both the Greater and Lesser Himalayas is conducive for the formation of precious and semiprecious mineral deposits. Yet Nepal imported about $85K of precious and semi-precious stones other than diamonds from India in 2019 according to tradingeconimics.com
Sapphires and rubies are both corundum crystals that occur close to the Main Central Thrust zone, which is a geological fault area along the Himalayas where the Indian Plate pushes under the Eurasian Plate. The gem-quality rubies found in Nepal are typically small and light red. And the sapphires range from light blue to dark and although small, is also of gem quality. These occur in Ruyil and Chumar of Dhading district and other remote areas under the Rasuwa district. They were first recorded by Basset in the mid-1980s. Himalayan rubies especially are said to be popular in the international market because of their color and distinct internal features.
Colorful tourmaline has been known in Nepal since the 1934 earthquake that exposed these rocks through landslides. And aquamarine and transparent quartz are also scattered along with the country, but most famously from the Taplejung district.
The appeal of precious and semi-precious stones such as these is quite clear. The myriad of gem shops spread through the streets of Kathmandu beckons the eyes of anyone passing by with their sparkling contents. Nepal has the opportunity to take advantage of the geological features it has been endowed with. There is great potential in the national and international market for these home-grown gemstones.
The state owns all mineral resources occurring in the country. As such the Department of Mines and Geology(DMG) under the Ministry of Industry(MOI) is responsible for conducting geological mapping and mineral exploration activities as well as issuing prospecting and mining licenses for the extraction of these resources. It also regularly inspects and monitors mining activities. By 2075-76, about 142 mining licenses and 388 prospecting licenses were issued by the DMG.
But the rough terrain of the Dhandig district and other areas makes it difficult to mine these important resources, and licensed mining has since stopped. However illegal mining activities by unskilled parties have continued and severely damaged the existing resources. This means that larger gem-quality stones are very difficult to find because of the destruction caused by the lack of technique of illegal miners.
Nepal has the potential to be an exporter of gemstones like ruby, sapphire, aquamarine, tourmaline, beryl, etc as well as quartz crystals like amethyst, citrine, smoky quartz and so many more. But the lack of resources dedicated to this segment can be cited as the main source of its stagnation.
There is so much in the prospect of Himalayan gems that remains untapped because the research done to explore these resources has not been extensive. The full scope of possibilities for this sector seems promising in theory but remains practically unknown. More exploration and field mapping is required in order to properly assess the extent of the resources available in these regions and further calculate how they could help boost the economy.
Gemstones’ value also increases exponentially from their raw state to after they have been properly cut, polished and finished. The lack of resources allocated to these processes within the country is also what leads to Nepal importing finished gems from countries like India instead of feeding their domestic industry.
However, in order to best reap the benefits of these mineral deposits, it is imperative that there be a check on the illegal mining that so damages these precious non-renewable resources. Also, the authorities need to keep an eye on the equipment, human resources, and technique used during licensed mining and have regulations in place to ensure the mining is as sustainable as possible and therefore able to be an asset for as long as possible. After all, Nepal is blessed with such rich resources; it is only fair that they are treated with the respect that they deserve.