A packet of instant noodles for a yarchagumba-the 'Himalayan Viagra' is the new term of barter in Dhorpatan hunting reserve this season. The collectors, who go above 16,000ft in this former conservation area in search of the fungus/aphrodisiac (NT #195), happily accept the price of Rs 50 for a packet of noodles, the only food available in the Dolpo highlands.
The Maoists have been allowing the people to collect yarchagumba for the past wo weeks, charging them Rs 15 per piece. The government banned harvesting in the area, but the rebels defied the rule and opened the reserve for a month-long period. As a result, businessmen from Baglung, Myagdi, Dolpa, Jumla, Mugu, Jajarkot, Kathmandu, India and China have arrived in droves to buy yarchagumba. In the past two years, businessmen used Tibetan refugees to collect Rs 22 million worth of the medicinal animal-plant.
The rebels are motivated by the bottomline: they earned Rs 3.2 million in royalties and this year their projection is a hefty Rs 5 million. Given the rush for yarchagumba, their target does not seem overly ambitious, especially as the Maoists have succeeded in creating an atmosphere where collectors work free from government intervention. After the rebels set fire to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) office at the Dhorpatan hunting reserve, government presence is confined to the district headquarters, an eight-day walk away.