Hymenostilbe nutans

Hymenostilbe nutans

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cordyceps on the World Stage

Anna wooing the locals in Bumthang
What has this picture got to do with Cordyceps? A lot really. In November 2010 we met an Australian couple (Anna and Mark) at our overnight stop in Bumthang. We were headed to Bumderling and this is a 2-3 day drive! We introduced Anna (entertaining the Bhutanese with her singing in this picture) and Mark to a Bhutanese karaoke place I knew and had a fun (if alcohol-fueled evening). Discussions came round to what I was doing in Bhutan and the Cordyceps story raised its head.

Quite some time later I got an e-mail out of the blue that I very nearly binned: it was titled "Mad Australian Woman". Something made me open the e-mail and that is how I got introduced to Anna's brother Eric Campbell. Eric is a presenter for Australian Broadcasting Corporation's news programme - Foreign Correspondence. Eric said that Anna had told him they needed to do an item on Ophiocordyceps sinensis. They were doing a shoot in Nepal in May 2011 and asked if this could fit with the Cordyceps season. Perfect. The Bhutanese government allow locals to collect in June. With my colleagues at the Renewable Natural Resources (Yusipang) we still maintain a yearly fixed-plot survey.

From left to right: yak-hair tent, Marianne, Dave and Eric
Eric, his producer Marianne (Leitch) and the cameraman Dave (Martin) arrived in early June and we headed straight up into the hills. My RNR-Y colleague Kunzang Dhendup was supposed to be along with us as he is the number one on the project. But he had managed to get himself bitten by one of Thimphu's many unfriendly stray canines and was on a course of anti-rabies shots. His last shot was supposed to be a few days into our seven day trek into the mountains. I offered to give Kunzang the shot and he was happy with this. But his doctor noted it needed to be kept refrigerated and we had no way of guaranteeing this. So, the anticipated star of the show got left behind. It was a tough few weeks and everyone agreed it was one of their more unusual shoots! The programme went out in early August and can be viewed on the ABC website - www.abc.net.au (search for Secret Garden).

I would like to personally thank the Royal Government of Bhutan for all the support they have given to our project over the years - starting in 2002. And significantly, the support they gave in helping to get a film crew up into the rugged mountains. The logistics for getting a film crew to Bhutan and then looking after them safely fell to White Tara Tours and Treks and Nirvana Tours. The greatest logistical hurdle was keeping Dave's camera batteries charged up - there is no mains electricity in the mountains. We had a somewhat temperamental generator with us at first but when it looked as if that was beginning to suffer from altitude sickness a replacement was brought up - no easy task. Suffice to say that there was never an evening when Dave could not charge up his batteries and Eric could not charge up his electric toothbrush. That has surely got to be the first time in Bhutan (possibly the whole of the Himalayas) that an electric toothbrush has gone above the tree-line (4000 metres).