With about a dozen Cordyceps Sinensis collectors withdrawing their goods from the auction last week in Tsento, Paro, it gave meat to the rumour that much of the trading occurs outside the auction.

The collectors claim they were unhappy with the bid amount. To most, the bid was not even half of what they expected and openly declared that it was better to sell in the market than at the auction.

Dorji Tshering from Soe gewog pulled his 52 grammes out of the auction. He had expected at least Nu 80 a piece but the bid at the auction stopped at Nu 29.

“This won’t even cover the expenses incurred during collection,” he said. “Selling to tourists would at least fetch me Nu 400 a piece.”

Every year, each collector invests about Nu 15,000 for a cordycep collection trip including costs for ration, tents, trekking gear, and ponies.

Those collectors withdrawing from the auction have to pay the royalty and can participate in other such auctions in other dzongkhags.

Soe gewog’s mangmi Tshering Dorji said there were too many collecting from a small area. The gewog had the most collectors with 108 sellers from 48 households.

Tsento gewog administration put a firm control on the number of collectors this year.

“In the past, other individuals were sent when individuals from some households could not go to collect but we did not allow that this year,” Tsento Gup Dolay Tshering said. There were 107 collectors from the 45 households in the gewog. The rule allows three individuals from every highlander household to collect the prized caterpillar.

Foresters caught two highlanders with excess cordyceps based on the figure registered with forest officials earlier in Doteng gewog.

Some turned up with less than 50 pieces at the auction. “It was a difficult season, we could get only two a day on most days,” Tshering Dorji said.

Meanwhile, although there was an elaborate display of goods at the stalls, business outside the auction was not much.

“I had to pay Nu 300 as rent for space and sold items worth Nu 800 only,” a vendor said.

Those selling food and snacks were disappointed in a new temporary delicacy shop nearby.  Most of the people attending the auction went to the sweet shop.

The vendors called for customers yelling their momos were better for the Bhutanese palate.

Some displayed silk kiras with intricate designs of prices ranging from Nu 15,000 to Nu 80,000 a piece, while others sold toys, clothes, and religious items. Large refrigerators, television screens, lighting equipment, and cooking appliances were stacked along the road to the auction hall.

There were more than half a dozen temporary shops and dart game stalls set up in tarpaulin sheet and by the walls outside the gewog meeting hall in Tsento.

Highlanders in Bumthang, Gasa, Lhuentse, Paro, Thimphu, Trashiyangtse, and Wangduephodrang collect the fungus.

The fungus is a coveted medicinal product in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine for the last 2000 years and is known in the west as Himalayan Viagra.

It is highly priced with a kilogramme fetching as much as USD 24,500.

It is found throughout the eastern Himalayas and eastern parts of China. It appears annually and is harvested between the months of April and August.

Cordyceps harvesting was legalised in 2004 in Bhutan.

Forest officials said Lingzhi gewog collectors have about four kg of cordyceps for auction. They will attend the auction in Dodeyna, Thimphu for the last auction of the year on August 6.

Tshering Palden | Paro