Monday 9 September 2013

Yatsa Gunbu

At our school, we have a really nice guard, who has travelled the world, worked in so many professions and is really interested in plants. Around 10 years ago, he decided to settle down in Pokhara and since than takes care of the security of the school. It is always nice to have a chat with him and from time to time he comes with some plants he likes to show us and tells us their medical purposes.
A while ago, he told us about this 'animal-plant' and we couldn't really believe it. According to him, it grows high up in the mountains and at the beginning it is a
caterpillar and than suddenly it turns into a plant. People would pay a lot of money to get this plant because when you eat it, you would become really strong. Well, a nice fairy story, we thought! Quite curious, we researched a bit in the internet and actually, we found such a animal plant!!
It is also called caterpillar fungus and it is a fungus that parasitizes the larvae of a moth.
We than also remembered that years ago, there was an article about this fungus in the magazine "National Geographic". When we are back in Europe, we really need to dig out this story. It's so fascinating!

Ophiocordyceps sinensis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  (Redirected from Caterpillar fungus)   
Ophiocordyceps sinensis
Ophiocordyceps sinensis (left) growing out of the head of a dead caterpillar
Scientific classification
Species:O. sinensis
Binomial name
Ophiocordyceps sinensis
(Berk.) G.H.Sung, J.M.Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora (2007)
Sphaeria sinensis Berk. (1843)
Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. (1878)
Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a fungus that parasitizes larvae of ghost moths and produces a fruiting body valued as an herbal remedy. The fungus germinates in the living larva, kills and mummifies it, and then the stalk-like fruiting body emerges from the corpse. It is known in English colloquially as caterpillar fungus, or by its more prominent foreign names (see below): yartsa gunbu or yatsa gunbu (Tibetan), or Dōng chóng xià cǎo (Chinese: 冬虫夏草; literally "winter worm, summer grass").
The moths in which O. sinensis grows are ambiguously referred to as "ghost moth", which identifies either a single species or the genus Thitarodes, and the species parasitized by O. sinensis may be one of several Thitarodes that live on the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, West-Sichuan, SW-Gansu & NW Yunnan), and the Himalayas (India, Nepal, Bhutan).
O. sinensis is known in the West as a medicinal mushroom, and its use has a long history in Traditional Chinese medicine as well as Traditional Tibetan medicine.The hand-collected fungus-caterpillar combination is valued by herbalists and as a status symbol; it is used as an aphrodisiac and treatment for ailments such as fatigue and cancer, although such use is mainly based on traditional Chinese medicine and anecdote. Recent research however seems to indicate a variety of beneficial effects in animal testing, including increased physical endurance through heightened ATP production in rats.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Cooking for 40 hungry Nepali… why not?

Arriving back at school at three pm after our walk you would think some general relaxation was in order, but far from it. What better way to rejuvenate aching muscles than throwing a dinner party for 40 people?

This was the culmination of a rash comment made by Wiebke a few weeks ago that we should cook everyone some European food in exchange for all the Nepali food people were urging us to try.

The principle seized on this idea with zeal, and the next thing we know we are in a basic kitchen with one chopping board, three gas burners, some gigantic pots and mounds and mounds of vegetables.

Bravely, we were planning to cook a meal without rice.  To understand what a radical idea this is, bare in mind that all present would have eaten mounds of rice twice a day every single day of their lives. Our menu was as follows:

To start, creme crackers with a tomato, cucumber, lemon and coriander relish.

For main, ratatouille made from aubergine, onions, tomatoes and a strange Nepali vegetable, almost, but not entirely unlike a courgette, served with boiled potatoes.  

To finish we provided fruit salad (apples, pomegranate, pineapple and bananas) served with yoghurt and nuts; toasted and mixed with honey.

Luckily we had lots of help with the chopping - it took 6 people over two hours to prepare all the ingredients, but we were ready for the 7.00 start with a punctuality that can only be described as Germanic.

So it was that 40 Nepali boarding students, school staff and teachers sat down to their first taste of European ‘cuisine’. The starter was an unreserved success – wolfed down by every table. Next, the main course. In the end we had bottled out of only providing potatoes and also cooked some rice – fearing some sort of uprising if we didn’t.

The ratatouille was immediately rejected by the boarding students as utterly disgusting and although the teachers were very polite we could tell that they too had some reservations, although we thought it had rather a good flavour. The desert, however, saved the reputation of European food at the school. It went down very well indeed and one of the teachers, smilingly commented that “this is better!” After helping a little with the clearing up, we retired to bed in a state of utter exhaustion!

A walk with friends

The next morning we were at the school gates by 6.30 waiting for two of the teachers –Kumar and Germain to collect us for a trip to a famous view point. The four of us squeezed into one of the standard Nepal taxi’s – the size of Peugeot 206 – and bumped our way out of dusty Pokhara before winding steadily upwards for about an hour on a surprisingly good road. For the first time in our trip the mountain Machhapuchere, which looks like a gigantic Matterhorn-esq pinnacle from Pokhara, revealed its famous fish tail summit towering above us.

From a low pass we walked up a good path through a lush, mixed forest, pleased to be able to keep up with a Nepali sports teacher fairly easily. We passed an agricultural research station build by the British, with lots of little cottages looking like a 60s seaside development in the west country.

After only an hour of climbing, at one point glimpsing the red behind of a deer through the trees, we emerged onto an open hill top with excellent views of the Annapurna range, although now partially obscured by developing cloud.

We stopped in a village for a traditional Nepali ‘daal bhatt’ lunch where it was decided we should have chicken as a celebration. This meant we had to wait well over an hour for our food, presumable as said chicken was caught and prepared, during which time the two of us embarrassed ourselves by failing to grasp the local rules of rummy.

 The main vegetable with the dish when it arrived was a juvenile fern – I had no idea you could eat such thing, but it tasted quite good. After this it was a steep decent, with many hundreds of steps, passing some buffalo delighting in a muddy wallowing hole, back to the road and the bus to Pokhara. The bus traveled at a maximum of 10 mph, trying to maximize the distance between it and the previous bus and thus the number of customers, but at least it felt safe.

Oratory, handball and yet more holidays…

On Tuesday we found ourselves unexpectedly relieved from teaching duties and invited to an oratory contest at the local Krishna Mandir. As normal at these occasions we sat through a lot of incomprehensible Nepali but it was rather pleasant to relax in the shade of the temple rather than trying to keep control of overly enthusiastic class 4! One of our students did very well in the contest, coming second overall.

Before the contest was over we were whisked away by taxi to the local under 12s handball competition being held at a school in the centre of Pokhara. We ascended the state and collected our second ceremonial scarves of the day (now feeling rather like living mascots) and listened to yet more Nepali men droning on and on while no one paid them any attention whatsoever. Eventually the handball started, and we were treated to some excellent refreshments as we watched.

Alastair had never seen a handball game before, and was surprised at what a fast moving game it is. Our school team won their first game with the impressive score of 14 – 3, which so terrified their next opponent that they ran away home and we got a walk over for the second match.

That evening everyone was preparing for the next day’s festival, where sisters give their brothers a sacred thread to protect them and high caste Hindu’s replace the sacred thread they have been wearing looped over one shoulder for the past year. There seem to be a multitude of these festivals where the women folk perform acts of worship of self-sacrifice for the protection of their men: either by giving gifts, preparing special food or fasting. Of course there are no reciprocal acts of sacrifice by the men, but these customs are so engrained that nobody seems to mind, although the unfairness is openly acknowledged.

As we went for our customary evening stroll down the street there were whole teams of men carrying racks coated in colourful thread and jewelry for sale. On the dark street corners (the power was off) there were stalls covered in Indian style sweets of all shapes and sizes. One we tried tasted distinctly of cheese (very odd!) but we bought some others which were almost edible as long as you didn’t think of them as sweets. Along with the festival comes (yet more) holiday – four days off in total.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Snake in bed

Two days ago, Alastair and I took class 4 to the science lab and showed them there some pictures on of animals that adapted to their natural environment. One of them was a picture of a rattle snake.
This evening, when we came home, Alastair was the first to enter our room and put his school bag onto the bed. Somewhere, in the darkness under the bag as he placed it on the bed, a great rustling and rattling sound emerged. Alastair screeched and ran out of the room and Wiebke shouted “snake!” This was all much to everyone’s amusement when some crinkled plastic was discovered to be the source of the sound.

What a day (continued...)

The result of this whole day was, that leaving the internet last Friday (being exposed to a tantrum, screaming kids, and screaming pig (because it was going to be killed)) I got such a headache that in the evening, I felt quit miserable. When we went to bed and I started to close my eyes, I only saw raw meat and scenes of slaughter. I was really stressed and my headache started to become worse and worse that at one point I thought my head will explode.
This headache didn’t stop for the next 72 hours; I got really sick and couldn’t move out of bed. Unfortunately, Alastair couldn’t help except trying to sooth me and hoping that my headache stopped. Due to the pain I even started vomiting and I almost went to see a doctor (I really try to avoid this here!).
Finally, I got better but then Alastair got suddenly a headache! At least, one of us was feeling ok to take care of the other! He also suffered for 3 days. Therefore last week was not the best but both of us are doing better now. During our time of being sick, our neighbors and also some of the teachers took really care of us. As soon as I felt better, some of the male teachers, who normally don’t say hello to me when Alastair and I appear together, came to see me and asked how I was doing. I really appreciated it and I think sometimes they just don’t know what to do around me being a western female and are really shy.

Friday 9 August 2013

What a day

What an awful day! Today is a holiday (the government decided yesterday that we will have one) and therfore today, we decided to do washing, create new lessons and also spend some time writing emails. In the afternoon, we went quickly to the canteen to have some tea and became part of a tantrum scene. Two boys started to fight and only one of them got then punished. He had to sit down and then stand up again several times. However, he got then so angry because the other boy got away with it so that he started to kick other boys and started screaming. At the end he lay on the ground and started hitting his head on the floor. The teachers then started to scream at him and tried to get him on his feet but he just got worse. In the end I really couldn't stand this anymore and had to interfere. Talking to him in a calm voice and stroking his back and head really helped then!
Now sitting in the internet cafe, there were two small children starting to scream like hell and nobody seemed to care. They were just tired.
And a minute ago, after the kids had left a pig started to scream. If you have ever heard a pig screaming, you know how awful it is! They just killed one outside the cybercafe!
Tonight, we decided to eat in our room with no children around!