Asthmatics gulp down live fish
From Satinder Bindra, CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief
HYDERABAD, India (CNN) -- Here is a tale you may find hard to swallow.
Hundreds of thousands of people are braving the searing heat to travel to the southern Indian city of Hyderabad to gulp a live squirming fish stuffed with a herbal remedy.
They believe it is a miraculous cure for asthma.
As many as half a million asthmatics have arrived in town for the fish treatment, prompting the Indian government to put on special trains and deploy 5,000 extra police for crowd control.
The so-called cure is prepared from an ancient recipe, according to the Bathini Gaud family, who say they received it from a Hindu saint 162 years ago.
"We only give out this medicine once a year and for free because the saint who blessed our family with this medicine making skill told us that if you charge money, the medication will no longer be effective,'' a family member Bathini Harinath Gaud said.
Nearly 200 family members and volunteers administer the live fish to patients.
The mystery medicine is believed to be a collection of herbs that are ground into a yellowish paste.
A tiny ball of the paste is then stuffed into the mouth of a five- to seven-centimeter (2- to 3-inch) live fish.
Even children wait hours to get a dose of the secret treatment.
The Gaud family claims the squirming fish makes the medicine more effective because it clears patients' throats as it wiggles all the way down towards their stomachs.
"This is a very trustworthy medication," said a patient, Rajinder Singh.
"I have been speaking to a lot of people and even read about it in the papers, and that's why I'm here."
After swallowing a live fish, patients begin a special 45-day diet and are usually required to repeat this process at least once every two years.
Scoffing at such treatments, skeptics are threatening to take the Gauds to court, unless they disclose the exact contents of their recipe.
But the Gauds are refusing to reveal their herbal formula, saying it would commercialize something sacred and their cure would then lose its efficiency.
The Gauds say millions of people have benefited from the medicine, and they will continue their practice. They also say it takes special skills to administer their fishy pharmaceutical.
But Indian doctors say there is no evidence that such treatments work, and the crowds are there more for psychological cares, rather than clinical.
The Gauds say the best judges of their therapy are their patients, who keep coming back in large numbers every year.