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the samc trcl, refused tll try it.
Two days later, a freal, avalanche
erushed him to death.
"Please, pJew;e," I<.rishna said,
assuring me I was Iud,,' to find
who'd sell it. ''I'll eat the
other hnlf."
[ later found out that
sagu111 ha-one of scvcraI na mes
and spellings it goes by-forms
when a aWlcl,s ghost moth
larva. The caterpillar lllul11lllifies,
and :l mushrool11 shoots out of its
head, spreading spores that l\ill
other eaterpillars.
We met the same fate.
Forty-eight hours after huying the
stuff, three of us were convuls-
ing. Mal'ing matters worse, it had
hcen e10udy for days. This me;,1nt
the solar eell only had the juiee
for ;1 two-minute S( lS.
I phoned eousin. She never
sleeps and has a high limit on her
IIlasterCard. It was J ;1.111. in Los
l\ngeles when l\manua answered.
"So you're in a village in the
Jlimalaya," she respollde'd, "You
just OD'ed on eaterpill[lr with
sh rooms ,growi out its head-
and want an evne on n Soviet-
J meant to answer, hut the line
went dead.
Finding Nirvana
It was just medicine. Right?
f course it was a bad idea, but evcn the guide
considered it sate. lIe hou,ght 400 rupees' worth.
So did some of my Sherpa triends. The interpret-
er planned to give it to her parents to improve
digcstion, cyesight and stamina. Why not try a piece?
:\obody kncll' what this thing'
was, but it J<)(JJ,ed harmless. j\
tapered two
inches long, it had popping
aeross and a tuber sprouting out
one cnd. It rescmhled ;1 shriveled
e;lterpill;lr with a tumor ,growing
from its forehead,
.\s we treld,ed to lIungung, ;1
remote village in wc hC;trd
the loea Is prod;li m t hc nW,l\iea I
properties of "Y, \\V-Sheh (;OOM-
hah" Lt treats sunhurn, strength-
ens nails, rcgcneratcs the hairline'
It's the \\'ell-I\I1o\\'n Ilimalavan
Viagra\ It's the world's only half-
plant, half-animal. One bite accel-
enltes thinldng, relaxes the mind
;\I1d makes the fat man slim!
i\ porter named Krishna told
me ahout a depressed En,t:!ishman
who swallmved the "magic
hie" lIe immediatelv
started a hotel business. made
millions and seduced a heauti-
ful woman. A (3erman tourist on
get there. I tool, a tlight to an ail'-
strip in Aepal. Then I
joined 2J others smashed into and
on top of a flatbed truck that jostled
along the road ended near a
cliff. !\ext. we trudged five days over
switehhaeks ami passes,
canyons over bridges made of rusted
elwin linl\. The aren lacks running
water, eleetrieity, l11aehinery and
an official spelling. Almost everv-
thing is made from SlOne, reeds,
wood and dun,g mortar. Speaking in
one of the Sherpa Innguages, ehil-
dren in Bungung petted my skin
and asked whv it was white.
h;td left for IIungung to
researeh <I hool, ;lhout K2's
hcroes, sec!, peace and a\'oid frus-
tr;ttions at home. I met the
sagul11ba dealer on the bad\.
IIis gnarled arms ,lI1d dented bee
made me thinl, of a tree stump. ,\
group huddled ;tround him. and he
unfolded a h<lndl,crehiet'
that revca led t.he yarsagumba.
Ill' comhed his fingers throu.l\h
the pile. Speaking in \'epali, he
said you should chew the "worm
hean" straight, hut you can also
grind it to a paste, hrew it as
tea, ruh it on your s\dn or sprin-
Ide it on food. Its value exeeeds
SJ()O,OOO per kilo. But he lil,cd
me a nd would eut a dea I.
I distrust hard dru,!!,s; life is
ehedelie enough without them. I
didn't imagine yarsagumha could
he a narcotic. Everyone described
it as medieine. I ha!!..-&\Ied. hCllIght
some worms and, along \vith
friends, ;tte one. It tasted like Eng-
lish Brealdast Tea ;lI1d had the
texture of wood. I waited for the
ener,gy boost to power me up the
1,200-meter elimh planncd that
day. !\othing Iwppened.
At camp that evcning in I"lllll, a
cxamined our worms, \\'e'u
been semllmed, she said, For that
inferior stuff to worl\. \ve'd neeu to
gorge ourselves on two dozen pieces,
Playing it safe, I swalkJ\ved another.
friend f'as<lng Lanw took two.
A few hours later, vision
blurred. The ,ground morphed, \voh-
blin,gand sinkin,g beneat.h boors.
]3!;lck poll'<I dots scattered across
my field of vision, winking off. on,
off. on, then darti11g in ,green
streal,s. jaw vibrated.
thing I touehed was velvet. Time
turned frcnzied, cartoonish. Dru,gs
arcn't for evcry'onC', hut th<lt carcr-
pillar was working for Ille.
We erouehed inside a hut around
a fire, eating rice and dahl. :\ohody
else felt the effects of the half-plant,
half-animal. Some claimed I was
it. f'asan,gswaJlowed another.
If I felt weird, this
mountaineering wouldn't
let me go it alone. Ohli\'ious, I sang
a Sherpa tune resemhling "Tal,e Me
(Jut to the Ball Game" and shoveled
handfuls of riee into mv mouth. The
made taste
like truffles in ,\-1 steak sauee.
:\ext thing I remember, I woke
in a sweltering tent. ,\Ithollgh on
the I groped for <J hand-
hold to prevent from f;lJl-
ing through. The walls of the tent
s"emed to be closing in on me. I

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