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Thinley Dorji out for hunting ‘Buddha Mushroom’ in Blue pine Forests

Bumthanps in droves collects magic mushroom helping mint lots of money 

All thanks to income he generates from selling Matsutake mushroom which Blue pine forests in Ura, Bumthang is endowed with, Thinley Dorji, 36 was able to put up decent roof over his head. This is in addition to the steady follow of money for educational expenses of his three school-going kids. But it is easier to be envious of such benefits than having to hear the whole lot of story behind the facade. It simply takes someone a whole lot of determinations and sacrifices in collecting the marvelous Matsutake mushroom.

Thinley wakes up early, from the shed he spent his other night guarding his potato crops from wild animals. Believing that “early bird catches most worms,” he needs to be in the forests ahead of all other folks. Otherwise, what is grown will have to be shared among the parade of collectors.

"Lucky for him, there was a light drizzle, the other night and Thinley heads out optimistic of the good harvest"

There is not much of preparation required, for all he needs to carry is a hand-woven jute bag. Dangling a knife by his waist, he is heading out to the mushroom-growing forest at the first crack of the dawn.
He has his favourite spots, the forests of Sershong, Dhurdur and Kompai, at the walking distance of less than half an hour. The spot remains all for himself maintaining the secrecy of its bounty all for him. 

"Otherwise, he risk competitions"

The spots have all it needs for a ‘Sangay Shamu’ to thrive. Good canopy cover, lots of blue pine needles fallen on the forest floor and ofcourse, according to what Thinley says the loose soil. These spots have never betrayed him, rewarding him his every trip with few kilograms of “Buddha Mushroom.”

The first single mushroom he chance upon is picked up carefully. The mushroom is hand-picked usually with the help of a small twig. “We are advised not to use knife, sickle or any other tools,” Thinley Dorji told ICS. Use of such tools can compromise the quality of the fungus since it will break or damage the mushroom. And it even risks no regeneration in the following season.

Mushroom experts also recommend handpicking instead of using a tool. A technique which include gently brushing the soil from the cap of the mushroom and, with a firm grasp, removing the mushroom by rocking it gently from side to side, taking care not to break the stem. If followed such a technique, whole matsutake mushrooms sell for a higher price in the market than those with broken or cut stems.

With that inaugural single pick, the rain did the magic. He chances upon many growing in clusters. The highest cluster he has picked for the day stands at 20 growing in one spot. All of them are collected carefully and safety tucked into his jute bag.

"So, carrying his half-filled jute bag...."

The day’s sun is almost up throwing its golden rays from the horizon and he needs to head back home for he has his households chores to tend to. Although it is a time worth spending hunting for more, there is no hanging around. So, carrying his half-filled jute bag, he is on his way back. He has been in the forest since 5 in the morning and it is almost 9 am. Until he returns after a couple of days, it is goodbye to the spot for now.

Once home, he relishes on the breakfast his wife prepared. While he is busy with other works, his wife cleans and prepares the mushroom for sale. A day or two old, the mushroom is rendered worthless due to its short shelf-life. The tender and matured one are segregated. “The tender one fetches better prices at the roadside of east-west highway, “says Thinley also lamenting that the matured one are shredded into pieces and dried.

"A kg is sold at prices ranging from Nu. 200-300"

On any other normal day, a collectors can collect only 5-10 kgs. “But the dried one, during the off-season fetches as high as Nu. 3000 a kilo,” divulged Thinley. In the whole Matsutake season lasting for almost six months, a normal collector would be selling 200-300 kgs, enabling them to earn income ranging from Nu 60,000 to 100,000.

This year, there was a good snowfall in winter and a similar rainfall in summer, which tantamount to good season for Matsutake mushrooms. Thinley had been looking for a good fortune. The recent annual Matsutake festival organised by Thurmshingla National Park in collaboration with the community themselves, provided just the right opportunity.

Thinley was able to earn quite an amount this season, the exact income he don’t know having not maintained a proper account. But he is complacent that he earned a lot. But there is no “basking one’s chest in the sun,” in the wake of such an opportunity.

Thinley leaves home with a jute bag emptied of Matsutake mushroom by the buyers and with the promise to return the next day with a full one.

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