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Himalaya

Day 73: Yushu

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe junction opposite our hotel, where the Xining-Lhasa road meets the southeast turn-off to Sichuan, is a hive of activity. Shops and cafés line crowded pavements where it seems everything is traded. Women are selling butter and yak cheese, which is hardened, cut into small blocks and carried on a string round the neck. More conventional necklaces are also available. They're expensive too, made up of the highly sought-after amber and coral, as well as cowrie shells (exotic luxuries for people so far from the sea). More furtively traded, but fetching high prices, are withered black shoots called caterpillar fungus or Cordyceps sinensis.

Difficult to find, and detectable only by a thin shoot sticking above the ground, it is apparently a potent tonic highly prized by the Tibetans. A herbal cure says Duker.

'What does it cure?'

'Everything.'

I buy five of the shrivelled pieces of grass for 50 yuan, nearly £4, and find them several weeks later down one of the seams of my bag.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 73: Yushu
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Yushu
  • Book page no: 172

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