Lachenpa youth clean up Yartse Gumbo area in North Sikkim

Gangtok, 26 Sept:

Youth from the village of Lachen, North Sikkim, undertook a clean-up exercise in the high altitude areas above Lachen from 23 to 26 September and recovered around eight big sacks of garbage from the area where the much sought after caterpillar fungus, locally known as the yartsa gumbo, grows during monsoons.

A WWF press communiqué informs that the 9-member team was led by Phuchung Lachenpa and included Palden Lachenpa, Kassang Lachenpa, Gokul Lachenpa, Surjay Lachenpa, Kunga Lukjung Lachenpa, Norchen Lachenpa, Sonam Tshering Lachenpa and Changba Lachenpa.

Villagers from Lachen, Lachung and other areas throng to these high altitude pastures in search of the prized fungus which has a high market value owing to its purported medicinal properties.

With people going up in large numbers and camping in makeshift tents, these fragile and pristine areas that are home to an array of important flora and fauna are heavily impacted, WWF points out.

Important species such as the snow leopard roam these areas, along with other enigmatic species. Requirement for firewood for cooking and heat during the collection trip that could last from 5 to 10 days is a major concern, along with the non biodegradable trash being left behind, the release adds.

To minimise these impacts, Lachen Dzumsa has been working to bring about sustainable practices during the collection process with support from WWF-India. Kerosene stoves to minimise firewood usage have been distributed, and strict instructions for bringing back all the trash are given during sensitisation programmes organised every year before the onset of the cordyceps collection season with the communities.

The idea behind conducting a clean up after the collection season was mooted during a learning trip to Bhutan organised for the Lachenpa community by WWF-India in 2017, where similar exercises are organised by the community involved in cordyceps collection.

The current clean up exercise was jointly organised by Lachen Dzumsa and Lachen Tourism Development Committee with support from WWF-India under its Biodiversity Conservation project supported by TATA Housing, it is informed.

Armed with sacks for collecting the garbage and the indomitable Lachen spirit, Phuchung and his team left for the high altitude areas from Lachen on September 23, 2018 despite inclement weather conditions. The team spent four days in the high altitude meadows, cleaning up areas where waste had been dumped, as well as collecting litter along the trails. A quick waste audit conducted on the collected trash revealed that most of the waste that were collected were of multilayered plastic packaging and PET bottles, the WWF release details.

Phuchung, who is a cordyceps collector himself, says that the team was motivated to organise the clean up as the high altitude areas were important to not only the wildlife but also for the people who depended on the cordyceps for their livelihood. He also expressed hope that more people would join in the clean-up campaign in the future, as a lot more effort is required to bring down the trash lying in the mountains.