Tibetan children enjoy 'golden worm' holiday

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Song Ba Jiang Cuo, principal of a local boarding school, and his two sons head for the meadow in search of cordyceps

From early May to late June all schools in Yushu Prefecture, Northwest China’s Qinghai province, give a special cordyceps vacation" so that teachers and students can join in the picking of cordyceps, a worm-like fungus regarded as a valuable herb by the Chinese. A Tibetan family, including a grandfather, parents and their two sons, share harvest season with us.

For centuries, cordyceps has been regarded as having miraculous medicinal powers. It has been prescribed by herbalists to treat various ailments, including reducing cholesterol, and is reputed to increase stamina and improve eyesight. Depending on its size and quality, cordyceps can be sold locally for about 300yuan ($48) per gram.

When the two youngsters find one, they cheer, beaming with joy. Their father rushes over. They use a small trowel to carve around the stalk and carefully unearth it.

Cordyceps usually grow on the Tibetan plateau and Yushu is one of the areas known for the best quality. During last year’s Yushu Horse Racing Festival, the best-quality cordyceps were sold for 320,000 yuan per kilogram.

From early morning, the two boys and their father crawl along mountains and comb a tangle of grass to search for the herb 15,000 feet above sea level on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Cheng Lin, 6, and Zha Xi, 4, crawl on the ground searching for cordyceps.

The two boys are cheerful when they finally spot a cordyceps.

After taking their "trophy" home, they have to gently brush away excess dirt because if the fungus breaks it will become worthless.

Local people take their goods to a nearby fair to sell and can also earn cash by selling to vendors who visit .

With social media popular among the younger generation, they also try to sell the valuable herb on Internet platforms such as WeChat or Weibo

One family can earn about 50,000 yuan ($8,055) during harvest season. Some don't own their pasture on the plateau but can earn about 20,000 yuan by searching for cordyceps after paying for licensed permission.

The elder brother observes the herb after digging it out.

The boys' grandfather,a traditional Tibetan, searches in his pasture.

The father gives his sons tips on how to identify and unearth cordyceps.