Zone of Peace
It reaches into every aspect of rural Tibetan lifeĒYartsa gunbu: Chances,challenges and prospects Ė an interview with Daniel Winkler
TibetInfoNet Update 29 August 2008
The explosion in the collection of the medicinal fungus yartsa gunbu (Cordyceps
sinensis, known in the West as 'caterpillar fungus'(1)) has in recent years
generated a massive boost of revenue for Tibetans in rural areas who were
otherwise largely left out by official development programmes. TibetInfoNet
published an Update on the subject in February 2008(2), mainly drawing on the
scientific publications of mountain ecologist Daniel Winkler, an international
expert on the subject(3). In the following interview, TibetInfoNet explores with
Winkler the conditions, the impact and the possible future of the yartsa gunbu
industry in Tibet.
Q: We gather from your scientific publications that you estimate the income that
rural Tibetans make out of yartsa gunbu could account for about 40% of rural
cash income. This is quite an impressive figure; could you explain how you
Daniel Winkler: I am aware that the claim of 40% cash income
contribution from yartsa gunbu to rural Tibetan incomes seems quite outrageous,
but I didnít just make it up by myself. I started by basing my calculations on
official annual production figures for the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region). At
first I was very surprised that these figures existed and, of course, there is
an issue of reliability. So I crosschecked with figures from other Tibetan
prefectures outside the TAR, for example, Kardze, (Chin: Ganzi),
Kyegudo/Jyekundo (Chin: Yushu/Jiegu), Golog (Chin: Guoluo) and also county-level
production figures I had collected previously. It all tallied pretty well, so
the figures seem realistic. Most production figures are compiled on village and
district level, then they are reported at county level, then at prefectural and
then at regional or provincial level. The collection of data at a very local
level reduces the likelihood of substantial miscounting, so to further assess
reliability, I asked people at a grassroots level. Different responses came to
the fore, but as a whole I found that these production figures are pretty
Q: How do you get from the production figures to the 40% of rural cash income?
Daniel Winkler: When we were in the field in 2006, [Tibetan researcher] Luorong
Zhandui and I took the latest figures available, those of 2005. We looked at the
current market prices, and we also tried to find out how much people get when
they sell the fungus on the slopes(4), how much they get when they take it to
the district or county towns and what are the prices in the provincial or
regional towns. The price differences between the county markets and the
provincial markets are surprisingly small. Weíre talking about people adding
five or ten per cent in value. If you sell on the slopes, you might lose out
about 20%, but people often do that early in the season to get some cash. Then
they accumulate the stuff and take it themselves to the county town to optimise.
When I worked on these figures, I tried to come up with a realistic value for
when itís sold on the slopes. I took that value and multiplied it by the
production figures. On this basis, I could calculate the total cash volume of
the trade in the TAR. I then took that figure and divided it by the population
figures, including the rural population, as well as small-town Tibetans, thus
covering 93% of the official TAR population. The result accounted for 25% of the
per capita income.
Q: But you claim it provides 40% of cash income not 25% of income?
Daniel Winkler: Right, but you have to consider that the [official] rural
Tibetan income figures include subsistence production, i.e. the value of what
people produce for themselves, even if it is not sold on the market, like
butter, meat and barley. Now, I consulted [economist] Andrew Fischer and we
concluded that subsistence production accounts for roughly 40% of the Tibetan
rural income based on the Tibet Statistical Yearbook, which means that cash
income makes up about 60% of the total rural income figure. If yartsa gunbu
collection and sale is 25% of total rural income it falls under this 60% cash
income, and so 25% of total income equals, after some correction, 40% of total
cash income. Note though, that this figure applies to the whole population of
the TAR, but yartsa gunbu is not evenly distributed and nor is the income.
There are regions with no yartsa gunbu habitats; for instance, in the Chang
Tang(5) where there are only a handful of people, or regions with very limited
resources like Shigatse prefecture. Shigatse has hundreds and thousands of
people but just a few yartsa gunbu areas in the Himalayan areas. Otherwise
there's no caterpillar fungus in the hills and mountains of northern Shigatse
prefecture. In contrast, in other rural areas like Drachen (Chin: Baqing), Driru
(Chin: Biru) and Sog counties, in the south-east of Nagchu prefecture, they have
the biggest caterpillars and that decides the price.
If you base your figures on official statistics, people probably make 100% or
120% of their annual income from caterpillar fungus there. I would guess thereís
between 70% and 90% of the annual cash income in these communities coming from
it. Now Iíve got to elaborate a little on how I can claim 100% or 120%. I am
convinced that a lot of the income from caterpillar fungus, as with other rural
income from medicinal plants, and maybe from other mushrooms like matsutake(6)
or morels(7), are only partially accounted for in these income statistics.
Fungal income is hard to track and much of it is on the informal market. In
addition, subsidies for Tibetan counties are based on income, or the lack of it.
If you report a low income, your area could be classified as a poverty area and
you could get central government subsidies, but if your income is too high, you
are not going to see any of these subsidies. As a result, it is definitely to
the administrationís advantage to underreport. I think that is the explanation.
Moving on from the household income contribution to the contribution to the
gross domestic product, I did not use the initial sale value of yartsa gunbu in
the mountains, but used the value it has in the markets in Lhasa or Chamdo etc.
The price there is maybe 20% higher or so - then weíre suddenly at 8.5% of the
GDPÖ When we take the harvest amount and then the value, we suddenly have a
figure of 8.5% of the gross domestic product of the TAR coming from caterpillar
fungus! But I donít think itís in the statistics, since even the annual rural
increment in income still lags behind the annual increase in value of the
caterpillar fungus industry. The increase in rural income is mostly attributed
to off-farm income, and this is probably the place where we should look for any
accounting for caterpillar fungus income, but it is not specified in any way. I
find it quite strange that an income of such importance is not clearly on the
books. I didnít expect a section in the statistical yearbook of Tibet to be
called "Caterpillar Fungus", but "Off Farm Employment" seems a bit odd and its
figures don't really match too closely the value of the yartsa gunbu trade.
I think this figure of 40% income in rural areas might also apply to quite a
degree in the Tibetan areas outside of TAR; it is probably at least a third [of
the income] in most of [the region known to Tibetans as] Kham [(today widely
integrated into the Tibetan autonomous prefectures within Sichuan province)],
Gansu and Ngaba. It could be true of north-west Yunnan too, but matsutake is
much more important there, as thereís more forest areas than high altitude
pastures. Jyekundo, Golog ... These prefectures in the south of Qinghai have
very rich resources too. Looking at [geographer] Andreas Gruschkeís research in
Jyekundo, I think we have a very similar situation where most of the rural cash
income comes straight from caterpillar fungus.
Q: You said the difference between the prices paid on the slopes and those paid
in local markets is not very large, but there is a large difference with the
prices paid for yartsa gunbu in Mainland China or other places where it is sold
Daniel Winkler: Yes, but in comparison with other natural products, I donít
think itís much at all. In lowland China, the price is still increasing, even
more so than in previous years. I calculated between 1998 and 2005 an increase
of about 21% each year. I have the feeling prices rose even faster in the last
two or three years. What also happened is a big differentiation in price based
on the size of yartsa gunbu. In some areas, like in Kardze (Chin: Ganzi), I
heard people complain that the prices are going up but they donít benefit from
that because their caterpillars are smaller, while in other areas, which have
big caterpillars, their prices go up at a crazy rate. I would say that the price
in Shanghai is sometimes up to double that of Lhasa, but the doubling of a price
by retailers (as a minimum) is normal business practice in the West too. When
you buy a t-shirt at a store here [in the West], the production price of the
t-shirt is maybe 2 or 5% of what the consumer pays. [In Tibet] we have 40%, 50%
or maybe even 60% of the value going to the collectors. Even at 40%, I would
regard this as a comparatively very lucky situation.
I recall some research in the Himalayas from the early 1990ís, where people were
collecting medicinal plants and they would get maybe 3% or 5% of the value that
they were sold for down in the markets in India. Tibetans are much luckier in
the amount they get. I attribute this partially to the communication system in
Tibet now, with cell phones etc.
The price difference between, say, Lhasa and the county towns of Sog or Bachen
(Chin: Baqing) is still very small and you need a lot of cash to make these
deals happen. It involves hundred of thousands, if not millions of yuan and
apparently, if you make a margin of 5% or 10% and transport it for a day, itís
good enough. Itís not like you are going from 100 yuan to 110 yuan, but you are
going from 10 million to 11 million, thatís a one million net gain in a few
days. Thatís pretty sweet. Overall, I think itís a very lucky situation for
We have to keep in mind that most of the economic endeavours in Tibet generate a
lot of money that the local population often canít capture. Look at the timber
Industry [of the past decades]: most of the profits were captured by the
government sector. Mining? Maybe a few small communities around the mine might
not just get the disadvantages, they might also get some benefits. The same goes
for hydroelectricity. You can say that for most of the time local people get the
disadvantages and the money goes somewhere else. But now with caterpillar fungus
here, and other mushrooms and some medicinal plants, the money really stays with
the people and that is just awesome.
Q: Are the distributors who bring down these products from Tibet and sell them
in China or abroad themselves Tibetans?
Daniel Winkler: Not in general, there are regional differences. In Qinghai and
in Lhasa, there are lots of Chinese Muslims (Hui) in the trade. In the Kham
region, there is much more of a Tibetan presence; there are Chinese (Han) who
buy up for pharmaceutical companies down in Guangdong or Shanghai but many of
them also hire Tibetans for buying. In Lhasa, I think at least two thirds of the
trade is controlled by Hui who settled in Lhasa in the last ten - twenty years
or so, but they told me that they are losing trade to Khampa dealers, because
Tibetans, when given a choice, prefer dealing with Tibetans. In the end though,
itís all down to the price. Many collectors like to sell to the same people they
trust and where they donít have to haggle over the price for too long Ė they
trust them over the price. There is a relationship between collectors and the
dealers who do their rounds. The mobile ones will go out on the slopes and buy.
Other people just hold onto their stuff and take it down to town and think: "I
can make a couple of thousand yuan more by selling it myself to one layer up in
the dealing hierarchy".
Q: Statistics may be more or less reliable, but the impact on the local
population, particularly the social impact should be visible. If you generate a
lot of cash, it generally shows on how big your house is, your status symbols,
even the way you behave. What are the effects from the yartsa gunbu business
that you have observed among rural Tibetan communities?
Daniel Winkler: As I pointed out, so far, the cash income is a real blessing for
Tibetan communities. We have this rural population that has an extremely hard
time keeping up, or dealing with the modern world pushing into their lives. They
see all these things out there; they also see how their traditional farming or
herding activities are not really geared in a way to generate cash, at least not
based on the traditional management approach. Rural Tibetans have a hard time
just switching over to meat production. They are reluctant to sell animals for
cash, they will do it if necessary, but itís not how it used to be done. Things
do change, but slowly.
We now have this cash influx there and Tibetans can invest it in
home improvements. You see that in matsutake areas. Originally, you used to have
a little village all in earth colours and suddenly there are pink [painted]
houses and blue houses, yellow houses, and then there are these satellite dishes
on the rooftops, and motorcycles. In the nomadic areas, to be a male of some
recognition you need to have a motorcycle; horses are out. Itís motorcycles now.
Everybody has these 125cc Chinese-made motorcycles. So big changes; capital is
there for business; for schools - you can pay the fees to send your kids to
school, and easily afford the books and the boarding, with the caterpillar
fungus money. Visits to the doctors - all those kinds of things become possible.
And if you want to invest in a little tractor for agriculture, you see how many
tractors there are - the walking tractors - all these things become affordable
for Tibetans who spend four weeks a year collecting caterpillar fungus and bring
home five thousand, ten thousand or twenty thousand yuan. But I think there are
Q: This sounded pretty good so far, what could be the disadvantages?
Daniel Winkler: The disadvantage is that their access to 'easy money' takes away
the necessity for young Tibetans to learn a trade, to start a business, to
participate actively in their local economy. You go out there, collect for four
weeks, you have enough cash for the year and you are set. Who needs to learn
masonry, carpentry or plumbing? Also, if you can make your money this way, you
keep your subsistence economy going on the side and produce some meat, some
grain or whatever and your cash needs are met. So I see a bit of a danger here.
The easy caterpillar fungus cash prevents people from entering professions they
can rely on in a transforming society. Thatís happening all around them. With
the new cash, people build houses, and often they hire Chinese crews to do the
work. People say: "We donít have to do that [construction work]. Come on, what
do we earn here? It would take months to earn what we make in two days
collecting caterpillar fungus, and without somebody else telling me what to do".
So, I think this is the [main] disadvantage of the cash, [it removes the]
necessity of participating in a new economy that is establishing itself very
strongly in the Tibetan areas. Through the new cash, people just donít need to
get involved in a way beyond collecting caterpillar fungus. There are stories
from Nagchu prefecture how the local farmers in Drachen donít even do their farm
work themselves anymore, they hire people from Shigatse with caterpillar fungus
money. They have the cash, they donít have very expensive habits here and so
what do they do with cash? Well, there's someone else [there to] do the
agriculture work and Shigatse people donít have the access to caterpillar
fungus, they are the migrant collectors and workers all over TAR.
Q: From a Tibetan perspective, one might argue that this keeps traditional
Tibetan attitudes and practices alive. Working in the fields is part of their
culture, but they will not do other manual work unless they have no other
choice, as you mentioned. So they might not be integrated into the economic
system, but integration into the economic system might not be what they actually
Daniel Winkler: They integrate themselves into economic life through the cash
they bring and through the shops they support, the goods they buy. They are
definitely integrated, but as their cash source is mainly caterpillar fungus,
what do we do if the resource suddenly collapses? That would be a disaster. The
caterpillar fungus is a really unique resource - I canít think of another region
in the world where rural people have a comparably valuable product they can
harvest each year. This fungus is apparently quite resilient to collection and
each year produces a crop. Yes, some years are better, other years are worse,
depending mostly on rain and temperature but it simply grows there. The question
is just how long it will be there. We donít have any reliable research about
whether the current rate of collection is sustainable. What I know is that itís
been collected for centuries; we have reports from people travelling to Lithang
[for collecting] from one or two hundred years ago. There are production figures
in Chinese documents showing that fifty million specimens were collected in the
mid 19th century, but now collection happens at a level of many hundreds of
Q: Could this change in scale be dangerous?
Daniel Winkler: Yes, the scale has changed; I would guess by a factor of maybe
five to ten times, at least from the figures I have, which do not cover the
whole Tibetan plateau. But a factor of five Ė five times the amount collected
[in the past]. They have discovered new areas where people never bothered to
collect before and yartsa gunbu are so tiny, they are very difficult to find,
but there are always more; you canít find them all. I think it is quite a
resilient species and sustainability is much better guaranteed than with many
other medicinal plants that are collected to such a degree, but questions remain
about how long it can continue at this level. We need more research and so far
we donít have any published results of any multi-year studies and I have been
trying to work on that. I know some other people who are trying to get similar
research off the ground but we donít have any figures to date.
The caterpillar is dead anyway, so it doesnít matter if you collect the
caterpillar or not; it has already been digested by the fungus. The fungus just
needs to produce some spores. Many caterpillar fungi are collected before they
produce spores but, at the end of the season, most of them have produced spores
and people give up collecting because the caterpillar goes soft and nothing is
left inside. It has no value anymore.
Each year we might still have enough spores around from reservoir populations to
keep Cordyceps going well, but who knows? Itís such a strange life cycle and is
so very complex that there are no clear answers yet. All we can say is it hasnít
crashed so far. Itís been collected for centuries and hopefully we can find
management approaches that suit Tibetan needs and the fungusí need to reproduce
and re-infect larvae. I could imagine that it could be collected at an intense
level without wiping out the population, but this has not been proven in any
way. As part of my research co-operation with Beijingís China Tibet Research
Institute, Luorong Zhandui wrote a policy advisory document for the TAR
government, parts of which were turned into law.
So now they officially monitor the production and they want to map out the
collection areas. They talk a lot about management of the collection camps and
the ecological impact of these camps in high altitude pastures: garbage, people
burning all kinds of woody vegetation where there is not much left, and all
these sorts of things. They want to have collection licenses, collection fees.
Basically, they already have a licensing system all over TAR, but itís very
different from county to county, so they talk about harmonising it but, for
example, in north-west Yunnan, you donít need a license as a local and outsiders
are just kicked out. There are some things in the works and there is awareness
about its importance, but I think we still really need to speed up our research
and data collection.
Q: Who delivers these licenses?
Daniel Winkler: County governments require their people to have a license. If
you collect in your home district you might pay twenty, fifty or a hundred yuan,
which you can pay off these days with between one and five caterpillar fungi.
Itís a small fee; itís cash but itís a small fee compared to what you gain from
collection. If you collect in your own county [but] in a different district, you
can easily get charged a thousand yuan and, if you go into neighbouring
counties, it can run into many thousands. Itís an especially big problem in
Qinghai province; there are a lot of non-local Muslims and Han pushing in. In
some areas, already in the 1990s, it was documented that there were more people
coming in to collect than there were people actually living there. The county
government made a lot of money with permits and this would then have to be used
in the community. In the case [Tibet researcher] Melvyn Goldstein has written
about, [they] supposedly used it all for schools and roads and whatever;
everybody was happy at that point. With the increasing value, most areas now
shut out outsiders and there are roadblocks and buses donít go through anymore.
Each year a few people get killed over it when outsiders are caught poaching and
donít back off after being told: "Hey, this is our pasture, what are you doing
There are fights but when you talk about the money thatís involved,
thatís probably still quite harmless for the scope of the industry. I have to
say that the situation is very different in different provinces. In Qinghai, the
situation is different to TAR or Sichuan or Yunnan. In Qinghai, sometimes the
collection rights are separated from the land usage rights. People who have a
pasture are not necessarily entitled to collect there; or they are entitled to
collect, and other people are not allowed to step on their territory, but they
can sell their rights [exclusively] to others. It is a very complex picture. You
canít generalise what practices exist. Itís quite different all over the
Q: Do these collected fees remain in the counties or districts?
Daniel Winkler: From what I have heard, they always stay with the counties. It
is not that the TAR government has told the counties to collect fees. The
counties realised that they had to step in and regulate the situation and that
there was a lot of money to be made, so they wanted a slice of the cake. There
is no taxation so far, while there is on matsutake mushrooms. The counties claim
to use the money for cleaning up the collectorsí camps. Iíve never verified
that, I have just seen places where camps were taken down and there is
definitely a problem here. The garbage is an issue because people donít come up
with just a bag of tsampa nowadays. The cash is there, so they buy instant
noodles, beers and sodas and so on from shops. When the collectors leave, there
are bottles, plastic containers, etc. So thereís a garbage problem up there
above the tree line.
Q: But if the county authorities levy these fees and take higher fees from
outsiders, wouldnít it be in their interest to have more outsiders collecting?
As far as I can see, there is no popular control by the local population...
Daniel Winkler: Yes, thatís [the kind of] conflict that received international
media attention in Zatoe (Chin: Zaduo, Jyekundo / Yushu prefecture) in May 2005.
Some people got killed and there was a confrontation between the local people
and their own administration. Initially, when this conflict erupted the county
governor supposedly said: "I donít need police here, I can deal with the
people". He apparently underestimated the situation and people were furious.
Interestingly, according to what I heard, it wasnít outsiders like Hui or Han
people pushing in for collection, it was people from Nangchen (Chin: Nangqian)
who were invited into Zatoe county and were charged large amounts by the Zatoe
administration. When the local people heard about this they said: "Our
administration is embezzling that money and not using [it] for community use".
So, I donít know the full background, and there are a couple of storylines out
there, but it is a contentious issue. It seems that since some of these
incidents, there is an awareness that it is a very sensitive issue and in order
to keep ethnic harmony, it would be better avoid situations like that. But also
in Qinghai, there are places where people rent out their own space; they charge
fees for people to come in to collect from their pastures. Where do you draw the
line? If private individuals can do that, counties or districts might do that
Q: Are there any other issues related to the ecological impact of the
Daniel Winkler: [The presence of so many] people in alpine areas, around the
tree line or often above it during spring raises some issues for wildlife. In
many places, there is not much wildlife left in Tibet but still, in spring the
grass is just starting to come back, and the animals are still weak, so it could
well add a stress factor on, for example, the Tibetan gazelle [Procapra
picticaudata] or the blue sheep [Pseudois nayaur]. On the other hand, in some
areas they also used to have livestock and herders out there, so it might not be
that big a problem. Another issue is that digging out a caterpillar fungus
leaves a hole of about 10 sq centimetres. If people donít care and donít put
back the grass, animals could step in there hurt their legs. It could also
support erosion. Thatís an issue being raised, but when you look at the size of
the area; yes, we have millions of holes each year, but they are tiny and I
think if we have more and more local people collecting, it becomes a thing
easily addressed. Where collectors have to get a license, they should also get
instructions explaining the dos and doníts, including graphic explanations on
how to fill the holes. I have seen instructions like this in some TAR counties.
This is one advantage of the licensing system.
Some people were trying to say that the desertification on the plateau is being
spread by caterpillar fungus collection. I donít really think so and if I
imagine any other economic activity generating only a fraction of the money for
rural Tibetans, it would have more negative ecological impact. So, I think we
are pretty well off with caterpillar fungus as a source of income.
Q: You say that Tibetans are to a large extent in control of the yartsa gunbu
business, but rural production the world over tends to be brought to an
industrial level; this is the declared policy of the PRC too. Considering the
high profits at stake, how much is going on of research aiming at getting the
financial benefit of the caterpillar fungus without having to go and collect it
in the wild as it as been for hundreds of years. Are you aware of any such
Daniel Winkler: Actually, caterpillar fungus is a declared crucial rural
industry, or indigenous industry, in many Five Year Plans, not just the recent
one, and I think that goes back at least to the 1980s. There is a lot of
research going on in China looking into the artificial production of Cordyceps,
[just the fungus without the caterpillar] in a sugar solution in a tank. Itís
also been grown on grain or rice and that process has been going for years. In
fact, the West is basically supplied only by artificially grown Cordyceps. There
is such production for instance in the US and also in China. I think in the
West, Aloha Medicinals in Nevada is now the biggest producer. But in eastern
cultures, people have an appreciation for the wild fungus so they want to see
the caterpillar. In the West, people donít want to see the caterpillar. Itís bad
enough being called caterpillar fungus; nobody wants to eat the actual
caterpillar. So, the artificially produced Cordyceps is just perfect for the
western market and I think is also very good news for sustainability.
Another research project thatís been going for a long time is
artificially breeding the caterpillars, which are actually larvae that live
underground. They are naked; they are not like a hairy caterpillar. Chinese
researchers use their knowledge from the silk industry, which is also dependent
on larvae. Then the larvae can be infected with caterpillar fungus and spread in
the grasslands. Each Tibetan area, Qinghai, TAR, Sichuan, have small research
facilities for this. I have visited one in west Sichuan. So far though, they
have not really been that successful in introducing them on a large scale on the
If that worked, it would be a very worrying development. If just a few people
captured all the profits by breeding the caterpillar, infecting it, putting it
out on the slopes, then digging it and having the whole thing indistinguishable
from the natural product, they could make millions or even billions of yuan,
while undercutting the natural market, and rural Tibetans would be pretty much
left out. At least the prices could come down so substantially that rural Tibet
could be really cash stripped again. I am worried about it, but I donít see
anything like that happening in the immediate future. But, of course, somebody
might be really close to it and if they were, they would not disclose it.
Q: Do the local authorities, either at a provincial or central level, run these
facilities or are they private or local enterprises?
Daniel Winkler: My understanding was that they are usually government funded
semi-private organisations, or straightforward government research institutes.
Universities have been working on artificial cultivation, at Chongqing, in
Sichuan, for instance. Itís one of the most famous Chinese medicinal products
and one of the most precious ones. So of course, all over China, administrators
and researchers are aware of it and [are] looking at the profit potential.
Q: Should such an endeavour become successful, would it effectively put Tibetans
out of business?
Daniel Winkler: Yes, and it would be devastating if that cash was suddenly not
there anymore. People have got used to having cash for necessities and for
consumer goods. It would cause a lot of social turmoil if it suddenly were not
there any more. We can only hope it doesnít happen, but if it did happen, my
vision would be to make the yak herders become caterpillar herders. This would
mean getting this kind of business out into rural areas to generate the income
[locally], instead of having some two or three big facilities generating big
profits for a few owners or shareholders.
Q: Do you see any further impact of the caterpillar fungus trade on Tibetan
Daniel Winkler: Well, maybe we can see the impact of the yartsa gunbu cash in
the recent events [of spring 2008] in Tibet. The fact that people have cell
phones in many areas is because thereís surplus income, the cash, which comes
from that trade. People all over the Tibetan areas heard about the events in
Lhasa via their cell phones and thus the incidents spread.
Also one thing I havenít mentioned yet is that a lot of the money generated in
the industry goes into donations to Tibetan cultural institutions, which mostly
happen to be monasteries. A good example is stupa(8) building. Yes, government
agencies support some causes, but the local population finances many religious
institutions and buildings, like stupas. Some are built for tourism, but most
arenít, and you canít really afford fancy great stupas just by growing barley to
sell at low prices. So yartsa gunbu really reaches into every aspect of rural
Yartsa gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis; Chin: dongchong xiacao) is a fungus which
infects ghost moth larvae and grows its fruiting body out of the head of the
larva in spring or early summer, after overwintering superficially buried in the
ground. The Tibetan name of this larva-fungus is translated as "summer
grass-winter worm". Yartsa gunbu is in high demand for Traditional Chinese
Medicine (TCM), generating prices equivalent to their weight in gold.
See: Yartsa gunbu, Tibet's underground cash cow
Many of Winklerís publications are available on his website at See:
Some collectors sell their first loads of caterpillar fungus directly after
collection to traders who travel to the collection sites on the slopes of
Tibetís alpine grasslands. Prices on the slopes are the lowest.
Chang Thang (which in Tibetan means ĎNorthern Plateauí) is the vast
high-altitude desert area, sprinkled with a great number of lakes, that extends
in the north and in the west of the Tibetan plateau, in Ngari and Nagchu
prefectures in the TAR and Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in
Quinghai. It accounts for almost half of the surface area of Tibet and is almost
Tricholoma matsutake, known in Tibetan as besha; lit. "Oak mushroom".
Morchella species, known in Tibetan as gugu shamo; lit. "Cuckoo mushroom".
Stupas (Tib: Choerten) are sacred structures that range in height between 1-2
metres to 10 metres or even higher; holy objects, mostly relics, are interred
inside. The largest stupas may be partially hollow and contain a shrine room,
but most are solid. Stupas are the most characteristic religious structures
throughout the Tibetan cultural area in Tibet and Himalayan regions.
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