Gold from Dead Tibetan Caterpillars

In the May 2010 National Geographic, Mark Jenkins writes about Tibetan cowboys and Chinese-made motorcycles in his Tea Horse Road piece unwittingly revealing more about Tibetan life under Chinese rule.

The Tibetan cowboys, who once used horses, now use motorcycles to tend their flocks. On the way to 17,756-foot Nubgang Pass, Jenkins passes the black yak-hair tents of Tibetan nomads, and sees big Chinese trucks or Land Cruisers parked outside. He wonders how poor Tibetans can afford such luxuries. Aren’t they supposed to be suffering?

I think, “Maybe they are smuggling drugs into China from India”.  As I read on, I learn I’m wrong.

Photo by Tom Carter, author of China: Portrait of a People

On his way back from the pass, Jenkins discovers these Tibetan cowboys have found wealth in their high grasslands from parasite infected caterpillars called “Yartsa Gompo” in Tibet and “Chong Cao” in China.  These dead caterpillars sell to Chinese medicine shops throughout Asia for as much as 80 dollars a gram—more than the price for a gram of gold.

Why? The Chinese and Tibetans believe these dead caterpillars are a cure-all medicine that also acts as an aphrodisiac.

Discover more about Tibet on The Tea Horse Road


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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