Yarsagumba pickers hit by avalanche in MuguOne dead, two are missing in the incident at Chyarkhulek.
Raj Bahadur Shahi & DB Budha
A yarsagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) picker died while two others went missing in an avalanche at Chyarkhulek in the highlands of Mugu district.
The avalanche struck a group of 15 Jumla locals who were on their way to the Mugu uplands on Friday to collect the caterpillar fungus. According to the District Police Office in Mugu, Punna Singh Sarki, aged 38, died while Tara Singh Sarki and Bir Bahadur Bohora went missing in the incident.
Twelve yarsagumba pickers came in contact with Mugu police late Saturday evening. Six of them sustained injuries in the incident. According to Kanna Sarki, who survived the incident, the avalanche hit them as they were passing through a narrow foot trail to reach Chyarkhulek of Mugumkarmarong-4.
“The avalanche hit some 150 metres above the foot trail. We have been using the same trail for years to go to the highlands to collect Yarsa so that we could make some money to manage food for the family members and provide education to the children. The avalanche has ruined our dream,” said Kanni.
According to Chief District Officer of Mugu Mohan Bahadur Thapa, a police team has been dispatched to the incident site to search for the missing duo. “Two people who survived the incident contacted us. They informed us that they have spotted the body of Purna. Two others are still missing,” said Thapa, adding that efforts are on to find the missing victims.
The area where the avalanche hit is at an altitude of about 5,000 metres above sea level. Rescuers are having a tough time as they do not have the tools and equipment required for high-altitude rescue work. “We requested the Ministry of Home Affairs to search for the missing victims and rescue the injured,” said Purna Singh Bohora, the chairman of Patarasi Rural Municipality.
Mugumkarmarong Rural Municipality in Mugu will open the highlands for yarsagumba pickers starting May 18. However, hundreds of people from Mugu and Jumla have already reached the highlands by hoodwinking the authorities.
Yarsagumba is the main source of income for many families in several districts of Karnali, Sudurpaschim, Bagmati and Gandaki provinces. The precious fungus, prized for its supposedly medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties, is harvested before the monsoon season, between May and June, when tens of thousands of people swarm over the Himalayan foothills. Yarsagumba is found at elevations between 3,000 and 5,500 metres and is the world’s most expensive medicinal fungus.
Hunting Yarsagumba is full of risks. Many people lose their lives during the gold rush each year. Some die in avalanches and others from falling off cliffs, altitude sickness or being swept away while crossing streams.