A bizarre murder trial in Nepal has led to the conviction of six men who received life sentences in prison.
The court found the men guilty of having murdered seven others who were fighting over Yarsagumba -- a fungus that grows into the mummified body of a bat moth caterpillar and is highly prized as aphrodisiac.
Yarsagumba has been hailed as the “Himalayan Viagra.”
The killings occurred in June 2009.
Aside from the murder convictions, thirteen other people received two-year prison terms for their part in the killings, while another 21 defendants were acquitted.
According to court testimony, the killers, all from the village of Nar in the remote northern district of Manang near the Tibetan border, formed a gang to kill seven strangers from the Gorkha district who had arrived to harvest the pricey “Yarsagumba” fungus.
Evidence showed that the six were directly involved in the murder while the rest had provided indirect help, local court official Shambhu Baral told Agence France Presse news agency.
BBC reported that for poor Nepalese, foraging for the fungus provides a major source of income, particularly in markets like China where one kilogram of the “Viagra” is worth up to ten thousand dollars. Others consider it a kind of “medicinal mushroom.”
Every year hundreds of Tibetans cross the border into Nepal illegally to purchase Yarsagumba from local resident and re-sell it in China at a tremendous mark-up.
The medical properties of Yarsagumba are numerous and many, Carroll Dunham, a medical anthropologist told BBC.
Yarsagumba is known as an immune booster. It's also known as a great aphrodisiac. It works in a way similar to Viagra. It's considered to be helpful for impotence in men and it's considered to be a great stimulant.
A website on Yarsagumba states that: “According to Himalayan legend, Yarsagumba was discovered by Tibetan and Nepalese herders who, in springtime, noticed grazing yaks and goats acting [strangely] in the high mountain pasture. After eating this strange looking substance, the animals would become frisky and start chasing each other around with [lustful] intent. Soon the locals were consuming Yarsagumba and also experiencing this added vigor.”
The high value of the fungus has brought some measure of prosperity to the remote isolated (and formerly impoverished) Buddhist communities of northern Nepal – but also now jealously and crime.