With the melting of the snows in the Himalayas, hordes of villagers of Nepal’s far western region trek up to the alpine pastures near the towering Himalayan peaks where they pitch up camps for an extended stay of almost eight weeks, braving the cold and harsh environment. They spend their days mostly on all fours, crawling through the shrub lands, digging with utmost care when they espy an unusual kind of mushroom called Yarsagumba. This, they brush gently with a toothbrush, and keep it in their pickers’ basket. They come in their thousands, lured by the high returns promised for finding this unusual herb. Experienced pickers can earn over 2,500 dollars each during a good season, five times more than the annual average earnings of a Nepali. Yarsagumba is said to be the most expensive herb in the world today, a kilo of it fetching more than 10,000 dollars in the international market. Apparently, pickers at the site get a dollar apiece which eventually inflates to 30 dollars apiece in the cities. In the old days too, Yarsagumba couldn’t be said to come cheap. Travellers have noted that in 1890, black, rotten specimens cost four times their weight in silver (Cooke, 1892). In 1990, Yarsagumba cost $700/kilo in the Chinese wholesale market (Hollobaugh, 1993). So, what exactly is Yarsagumba and why is it in so much demand?
Yarsagumba (Cordyceps, or also Ophiocordyceps Sinensis) is a most weird herb. One term often used—Chinese Caterpillar Fungus—is pretty descriptive of the species. So is dong chong xia cao (winter insect, summer grass) as Yarsagumba is often referred to in China. How is it formed? The caterpillar of a moth genus Thitarodes (Hepialus) lives underground in shrub lands of the Tibetan plateau and Himalayas (3000 m-5000 m) for almost five years before becoming a pupa. During its larva state, it is attacked by a fungus of the genus Ophiocordycipitaceae which kills the insect by filling its body cavity with mycelium. Once the weather gets warmer, mushrooms growing out of the caterpillar’s forehead emerge from the ground.
Yarsagumba’s health benefits are believed to have been known from some 1500 years ago, and in ancient times, it was said to be taken as a potent tonic by kings and noblemen. Its pharmacological properties include combating the rigors of stress by strengthening and rejuvenating an over-exerted system. In Chinese traditional medicine, it is said to be a cure-all for all types of ailments. This includes strengthening lung and kidneys, increasing energy and vitality, stopping hemorrhaging, and so on and so forth. However, the most publicized benefit of Yarsagumba is to enhance weak libidos, that is, Yarsagumba is believed to be a potent aphrodisiac. Besides this, it is touted highly for its anti-ageing benefits. In other words, to summarize, Yarsagumba is believed to be an excellent tonic for nourishment of the body as well as for the brain and its long-term use is said to improve organic functioning as well as the immune system. And, it must be kept in mind that since Yarsagumba is a natural product, the chances of any side effects are minimal. Is it any wonder then that Yarsagumba is so highly prized all over the world?.
At the same time, it should be noted that Yarsagumba’s popularity in the West is not centuries old but of more recent times. In the 1990s, the tabloids went crazy over “Ma Junren’s Army” and their world record breaking feats. Ma Junren was a legendary Chinese coach whose women runners achieved astonishing times in the middle and long distance races, shattering a number of long standing world records by significant margins. When asked for the secret of his fantastic successes, Ma Junren disclosed that his runners were fed Yarsagumba three times daily so as to fight the stress involved in rigorous training in the high mountains. Soon enough, tabloids globally had latched on to the scent of a sensational story. The rest, as they say, is history. And so was born the legend of Yarsagumba, the “miracle” mushroom.
Spiritual |Jun 12, 2023
The story goes like this: Shiva falls in love with, and marries, Dakshayani, daughter of Dakshya Prajapati, a descendant of Lord Brahma, an unlikely villain of the story who isn’t pleased that his beautiful daughter is married to the rough-looking, high-living Shiva.
Volunteer Tourism |Jul 11, 2023
After two hours of ride from Kathmandu, I reached Teeghau, a small village in Nuwakot where Panchkanya School is established. Surrounded by silent –enormous- green hills and covered by artistic clouds, Teeghau is surely an unexpected beauty.
Nepal |Nov 11, 2019
For years, Kathmandu, Everest, and Annapurna have enticed travelers with dreams of exotic cultural experiences and epic trekking routes.
Nepal |Oct 9, 2022
Among the newer attractions, one can also look forward to visiting the Hidden Valley of Happiness, as Tsum Valley is referred to in ancient Buddhist texts. It has not been long that this enchanted valley has been opened to outsiders, a matter of about only five years.
Tours |Jun 22, 2023
An important and fascinating World Heritage Site, made up of three large squares filled with shrines, temples and activity; Bhaktapur is the essential Newari city with some of the finest architecture in Nepal. In its heyday (14th-16th centuries) Bhaktapur
Tours |Jun 21, 2023
Lumbini in Kapilvastu District of mid-western Nepal is one of the four essential Buddhist pilgrimage sites for devotees around the world, the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Sarnath in India. Lumbini is where Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautam in 563 BCE.
Tours |Jun 13, 2023
A glowing chapter was added to the history of the Himalayas on May 19, 1975, when Junko Tabei became the first woman ever to reach the top of Mount Everest, the highest place on earth. Many more women have climbed Everest since then; however, Junko Tabei is the name that always comes to the forefront when talking about women and mountaineering
Tours |Jun 21, 2023
First you fly to Paro, a small and charming town that’s pretty spic and span anyway you look at it. The flight itself is an experience by itself, flying as will with the magnificent Himalayan peaks in your sight most of the time.
Tibet |Feb 12, 2015
Tibetan Losar, the Tibetan New Year is one of the most important festivals, which is held on the 1st to 3rd days of the first lunar month in the Tibetan calendar.
Wildlife |Apr 6, 2019
Do you know what makes Nepal one of the most biodiverse countries in the world? Hint: it has something to do with a giant called the Himalayas.
Wildlife |Jun 14, 2023
Imagine a warm and lazy day on the riverbank, watching long-legged herons and storks fishing in the placidly flowing waters of a slow moving river, while a herd of thick-necked water buffaloes amble about leisurely on the shore, perhaps ruminating on whether it’s time to call it a day and retire for the evening.