The year before I was smuggled out of Tibet in 1984, my brother and his friends were talking about going to pick up yartsa gunbu in the hills near our village. They refused to take me with them saying that I could not climb up the hill. When I threatened to tell on them to my grandfather, they allowed me to tag a long.
We climbed up the hill, negotiated the ruins of the monastery destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and reached Gyalpo Ri or the King’s Peak. It was winter and the earth was frozen. We did not find a single yartsa gunbu. At the time, I did not know how the thing even looked like.
|this is what the precious fungus looks like!|
Yartsa Gunbu meaning Summer Grass Winter Worm is popularly known as caterpillar fungus/grass. This fungus, which is found in wild on the Tibetan Plateau, takes over the bodies of caterpillar larvae then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects' heads.
The nutty-tasting caterpillar fungus is highly valued for its supposedly extraordinary curative powers such as a treatment for cancer, anti-aging and as a libido booster. This Tibetan aphrodisiac is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and is particularly coveted by the nouveau riche in China today. As a result, demand for the exotic fungus has sky-rocketed in far away booming cities like Beijing and Shanghai. By one account, the value of caterpillar fungus has shot up by 900 percent since the late 1990s.
|Nomads scouring the hills for Yartsa Gunbu|