(#wanderlusttips #Tibetannomad) Getty photojournalist Kevin Frayer follow the nomads to the remote mountains and grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau and documented their hunt for elusive treasure in a stark and staggeringly beautiful landscape.
Cordyceps is created when a parasitic fungus infects caterpillars living in the soil. After the fungus mummifies the caterpillar underground, it thrusts out of the soil each spring and Tibetans seek out the tiny protuberances or the caterpillar fungus — in a Tibetan region of China’s northwestern Qinghai province.
The rare ingredient is highly prized in Asian traditional medicines and it’s used for treating everything from asthma, to cancer, to impotence. And while price estimates vary, some reports say it can sell for up to $50,000 per pound.
“Many of the areas are difficult to reach,” says Frayer. “At altitudes of 4,500 meters and higher, the terrain is vast and difficult.” He said that he never found even one in five days.
Yet growing numbers of local nomads have become heavily reliant on the hunt each year, choosing to sell off their yaks and cattle to invest everything in the fungus, Frayer says.
And as the search gets bigger each year across the Himalayas, so does the environmental impact, as grasslands used by livestock are raked over with tools. This year, a lack of rain meant a meager harvest. “In one of the areas I visited famous for high quality fungus, they told me in previous years they could find 100 or more in a day and this year three maybe four…if they were lucky.”
“Many of the Tibetans I met were nervous of what the future might hold — if suddenly the cordyceps fungus market totally collapses or when the grasslands give no more cordyceps.” says Frayer.
And he wonders whether nomads who gave up a way of life that is millennia-old for a potentially false economy, can ever go back.
CNN | Wanderlust Tips | Cinet