Earning Gold from Dead Tibetan Caterpillars

Mary Jenkins writes in the May 2010 National Geographic about Tibetan cowboys and Chinese-made motorcycles in his Tea Horse Road piece unwittingly revealing the truth 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.

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.


The Chinese and Tibetans think these dead caterpillars are a cure-all medicine that also acts as an aphrodisiac boosting sexual performance—just what China needs with its population of almost 1.4 billion.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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17 Responses to Earning Gold from Dead Tibetan Caterpillars

  1. tompkins says:

    Great information. Lucky me I found your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have bookmarked it for later!

    • You have a nice site with advice and recipes for a vegan diet. Too bad it isn’t in English. I was interested in that cookie recipe. About 2% of America’s population is vegetarian or vegan. That’s about 6.3 million people—and that’s not including all the other English speaking countries. If you had English translations for your posts, you might attract some of that audience. Maybe you could have another page on your site where you publish the English translations. After all, English is the most spoken language in the world. Even in China, learning English is mandatory in the schools.

  2. m perez says:

    Do you think we can find those worms in other high mountain areas outside of tibet like the rocky mountains in the amercia?

  3. domingo says:

    I shared your blog with my twitter group. I think there’s a lot of folks that will really appreciate your content.

  4. Maritza says:

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  5. Marti says:

    Incredibly wonderful article.

  6. mitch says:

    So, under Chinese rule, the Tibetans who stayed in Tibet have prospered, their children go to school and their life expectancy has more than doubled. Why would Tibetans want the Dalai Lama to come back?

  7. Madeleine says:

    Do you think those dead worms really work?

    • I have no idea, but many Chinese and Tibetans think they do. They also think parts of other animals work miracles too and now many of those animals are endangered because of people wanting to kill them for their paws, gall bladders, horns, etc. And so far, scientific studies have found nothing to prove that these animal parts do what some claim they do.

      But the people selling them don’t care because they are making money anyway they can. The world can be a cruel, crazy place.

  8. Teepee12 says:

    One minor problem with motorcycles vs. horses: Your horse can eat grass, but if you are out there with the flocks and run out of gas? The grass won’t do the job. Just saying 🙂 I prefer horses.

    • So true. I think the Tibetans were better off with their horses—like cleaner air and less noise—but you know what they say about wanting to keep up with the Joneses. Once one neighbor does it, everyone else wants to do it too. I’ve seen this behavior among some of our own neighbors.

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