Yarsagumba pickers return home empty-handedThe priced caterpillar fungus was scarce in Dolpo this year due to frequent snowfall, storms and rains, locals say
Pima Pun, a resident of Karuwa village in Jajarkot, had left for the highlands a month ago—in hopes to make a fortune by collecting Yarsagumba (Cordyceps synensis).
While foraging for the priced caterpillar fungus at Kagmara highland of neighbouring Dolpa district, she spent around Rs 15,000 on food and shelter. She returned home on Saturday, but empty handed.
According to Pima, she could hunt down only a dozen Yarsagumba during her month-long stay in the highlands. “I took Rs 15,000 loan to manage necessary expenditure on food, tent and other requirements while going to the highland to search Yarsa. But I was unable to pick enough of the precious fungus this season,” said Pima.
Other Yarsa pickers also share a similar ordeal. Hundreds of people from various settlements of Jajarkot went to Dho, Sisol, Kagmara, Nawarpani, Puhbari among other highlands of Dolpa this season.
Most spent a good amount of money to set out on their difficult sojourn in the highlands but were unable to collect the Yarsagumba. They say they are now worried because they don’t know how they will clear their debts, with some already planning to go to Indian towns to do labour work to repay the loans.
According to the pickers, Yarsagumbas have become very rare in the highlands this year. They believe the numbers have sharply dwindled this year due to frequent snowfall, storms and rains.
“We went to the highlands risking our lives. But we could not find the fungus like before. Even the few Yarsas we have collected are not good in quality. They are black, and I don’t think we can sell them at a good rate,” said Keshav Pun of Nalgadh Municipality-3.
Four Yarsa pickers from Jajarkot died during their Yarsa hunt this year while many others fell ill. The people, living in pitiable conditions in flimsy huts pitched at high altitude slopes, are at high risk of succumbing to even basic illnesses, such as diarrhea, common cold, altitude sickness—since there are no medical facilities available closeby.
He added that at most pickers have managed to collect 20 pieces of Yarsagumba each this season—which will come to only a few thousand rupees. Generally a picker earned Rs 50,000 to 100,000 in the past.
The Yarsagumba picking season generally begins from the end of May and lasts till the end of June. Thousands of people go to the highlands in various mountain districts and live there to earn some fast, hard cash.