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Feature: Nepal quake puts lucrative Yarsagumba' business in jeopardy

By Shristi Kafle

DOLAKHA, Nepal, May 19 (Xinhua) -- The picking season for the Himalayan caterpillar fungus, widely known as Yarsagumba has just begun in Nepal engaging hundreds of people in the hills in picking this precious plant.

Picking and selling of Yarsagumba has been the most lucrative business in some parts of the mountainous region of Nepal as it is sold in the price worth of gold across the world, especially in China for medicines purpose. However the money-making plans of hundreds of people in the upper part of the Dolakha district have been shattered this season along with the powerful earthquake.

Forty-year-old Amrit Bahadur Shrestha is among those who had gone to Shamling of Dolakha, some six hours away by foot from Lamo Bagar VDC, only to return back with broken dreams and empty hands.

Citing health reasons, he was rescued by a Nepal Army chopper from Lamo Bagar to the district headquarters Charikot this week.

"I went to the highland just one week ahead of the quake packing a tent, blanket and sufficient food stock for two months. But the quake ruined my dreams. I knew that my house had collapsed injuring my six-year-old son. I am so worried about my family," Shrestha told Xinhua in the Army barrack before leaving for his village.

He shared that though the picking area is safer, his friends have been desperate to return back for their family members.

However, the landslide has obstructed most of the roads connecting Shamling and Lapse to the district headquarters.

As a result, a few hundred people from different villages of Dolaka, Sindhupalchowk, Solukhumba are still working in the area.

These pickers had paid 2,000 Rupees (19.62 U.S. dollars) to a local management committee while entering the area for picking the world's most expensive biological resource.

As this plant is valued for its purported aphrodisiac qualities, large number of impoverished people settle in the hills for around two months to pick the plant as much as possible in the past years.

Yarsagumba is generally found in extreme environments at an altitude of 3000-5000 meters. The harvesters and pickers need to struggle with low oxygen, altitude sickness and even avalanches in the hills during the task.

Despite huge challenges, the highlanders find it the most lucrative income source and make temporary settlements in the hills for months along with their families sometimes.

Twenty-four-year-old Nawang Sherpa from the Solukhumbu district, who has been picking this precious hybrid for the past two years also had to return with empty hands this time.

Sherpa told Xinhua, "I earned more than 500,000 Rupees last season and had thought working hard this time would earn more. I had planned to reconstruct my old house but everything was in vain. "

Around dozens of these pickers have started returning to their own villages followed by the second powerful quake of May 12 and subsequent aftershocks.

The government started issuing permission for the harvesting and the collection of Yarsagumba only since 2006.

After Tibet, Nepal is the second largest supplier of this expensive plant to the global market.

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