foraging for caterpillar fungus

Several hours’ drive north of Shangri-La, northwest Yunnan province, May 2008

This was taken during one of our stops on a leisurely 6-hour car ride from Shangri-La to Deqin, the northernmost border town at 3550m before Tibet proper. Our driver was Tibetan, as was 80% of the population in Deqin, and happy to tell us about the area.

A lot of makeshift structures pop up around this time of the year as many people are collecting – by hand – the highly prized dong chong cao (literally translated as “winter worm” or colloquially in English, caterpillar fungus) used in Tibetan and traditional Chinese medicine. It is cultivated nowadays, and those found in the wild on the Tibetan plateau is believed to be the most medicinally potent, hence the most expensive.

This is inside one such structures. We caught these two collectors mid-lunch, but they graciously allowed us inside and offered to sell us some dong chong cao for a good price since we came to them.

As we bade goodbye, our driver told us that they had probably left their kids with their parents during this period, as that’s a normal arrangement for dong chong cao collectors looking to make some good money.

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