Times of India: GitaDevi of Kullu used to routinely visit apple orchards and jungles every morning, collect some guchhi ( morel mushroom, also known as common morel, morel or yellow morel) and leave it to dry near the tandoor and sell it for high prices to traders at her doorstep. She used to earn good money in two months, but now she has only stories of destruction of guchhi to tell her grandsons, as guchhi is disappearing fast from the mountains.
The environmental changes have apparently taken a toll on the traditional earnings of hundreds of people in Himachal, who used the collect and sell guchhi ( morchella esculenta), a fast disappearing species of edible mushroom, in spring season. Guchhi is found on a large scale from late February to April in orchards and jungles of Kullu, Shimla, Kinnaur, Mandi and Chamba districts. While some people used to collect it for own use, most used to sell it for a good price. But of late, guchhi is neither easily available nor are local residents taking interest in collecting it any more.
Stories like Gita Devi’s are plenty in Himachal as elders used to tell youngsters how they had collected kilograms of the most expensive mushroom in their times. “Until a decade back, guchhi used to grow everywhere — in orchards, fields and jungles. But it’s already March and there is no sign guchhi anywhere,” says Chande Ram of Manali, who no longer go on gucchi search. The environment is changing and the disappearing gucchi may be part of that change, he said. However, he believes that April month would tell the complete story of guchhi production.
The spring season last year had also noticed a big decline in guchhi production despite good snowfall. This year, too, traders believe that the decline shall continue as lower area orchards have no gucchi. “Nobody will believe that I used to collect nearly 50 kg dry guchhi from villagers nearby 15 years back. Last year, I had collected only 3.5 kg. I am sure it will disappear completely in the next 10 years,” a local gucchi trader, Guman Chand, said.
The price for a kilogram of dry gucchi has crossed Rs 10,000 in local markets while it is higher in bigger states. Its price being very high, guchhi is mostly served in five star hotels and restaurants, sources said.
However, sources said, quoting scientists, that experiments were on to cultivate it artificially. Many experts, who have been carrying out research in this regard, said that unscientific plucking of guchhi for years could be the reason of its disappearance.
Resultantly, the week-long fair in Banjar, which acts as the largest market for guchhi traders, is also losing its fervor. With it, the costliest mushroom of the world has gone missing from the shops, sources pointed out.
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