Home > Nomads, Tagong, Tibet > Yak, Yak, Yak…

Yak, Yak, Yak…

Yak. After a six hour horse trek and the abuse of some muscles that Carl and I were unaware even existed, we arrived at the Nomad Camp in the TagongGrasslands, 4000m above sea level. We were surrounded by hills of lush green grass and bright yellow buttercups. In the distance we could see rocky snow topped mountains glistening in the sun. The sky was blue, the air crisp and the sun strong (strong enough to overcome my factor 50 and easily burn my entire ginger head). Having spent some time in Tagong and other areas in the Tibetan province of Ganzi*, we knew this weather wouldn’t last and that soon we would move into spring, or even winter.

We were led by our guide Pentso, a Tibetan nomad who spoke no English but communicated to us through friendly and humorous gestures. We were taught how to ride the horses in this manner. Carl named his horse Terry. Terry was a grey horse who always wanted to be at the front of the pack and kept galloping off with Carl holding on for his life. I had originally called my horsey Hazell, but I changed the name to Carl when he kept stopping to eat and poo all the time. Carl was vicious and he tried to bite Terry on numerous occasions.

We were staying with Pentso and his family, and his extended nomad family, and of course his Yaks, in his yak hair nomad tent. There were about eight young children at the camp who ran to greet us with friendly smiles and curious eyes. They were fascinated with my hair and by Carl’s camera. Every time he pressed the shutter they’d flock to see the photo displayed on the screen, and every time I’d bend down I’d feel a small hand shyly stroke my head. The Tibetan children had a very distinctive look; rough dark skin with big raw wind swept cheeks, clear mucus streaming from their noses, dribble coating their chapped lips and white yak milk teeth. They’d laugh wildly and carefree at the smallest things. They made games out of hiding buttercups, running around with a metal wheel at the end of some wire, and yak poo. Pentso laughed at my reaction as one little boy showed me his favourite toy; a nicely molded piece of yak dung. It was like play dough, but this smelled better.

Carl and I played with the children for hours. They taught us Tibetan, andwe taught them English. They made me endless buttercup chains and rings, and never tired of posing for photos. We helped Draga, Pentso’s wife, and Guaranura, one of Pentso’s sons, to prepare the freshly picked herbs for dinner. This was about the only substance that didn’t come from the Yaks. Each nomad family had about twenty yaks each. The big black tents were made of yak hair, they used dried yak dung as fuel for fire and from the yaks milk they produced milk tea, butter, cheese, yogurt, dried cheese and more unthinkable delicacies. They’d only eat yak meat if the yak died naturally. Contrary to what I thought I’d see they actually appeared to care for the animals and treat them as pets, even to the extent of keeping them inside the tent.

After some explanatory impressions we managed to work out that the night before we arrived at the camp there had been a wolf present; therefore all the baby yaks were moved inside the tent, right next to where we would be sleeping. Once the ten baby yaks were safely inside the tent, next to our bed (made out of a popular mountain bush, floor and Tibetan coats) it was time for dinner. Draga had made yak cheese and herb momos which were delicious! Little balls of dough filled with a yak cheese and herb mix and steamed with a clever little device over an open fire. As we were drinking our after dinner milk tea, the family continued to chat and joke and Pentso communicated to us through hand gestures that his children were being cheeky to him. We all shared a laugh as one of the baby yaks let off a huge fart that was impressive even by Carl’s high standards.

Then it was time for bed. Us by the baby yaks on one side of the fire, and Pentso and family on the other side. As soon as we hit the deck it started to rain. And then it started to pour. To our surprise the yak hair tent was not exactly waterproof and light droplets of rain fell on us as we struggled to find a comfortable position on the makeshift bed. Then thunder started. It shook the tent and felt more like an earthquake, although the nomads didn’t blink an eyelid. As I lay eyes open in the tent I started to sense something moving at the end of our bed. ‘Wolf’ I thought, ‘who places their guests next to the wolf bait, it’s bad manners really’. I pulled a Tibetan coat over my head, curled up and hoped that the wolf would favour the flavour of my more meaty boyfriend. Thunder came again, then a bout of fork lightening lit the whole tent revealing a huge yak standing at the bottom of our bed, and another one coming in through an opening in the tent. Their staring eyes reflected the light and their huge menacing horns grew in the shadows. They were mothers, come to see their babies who were right next too our bush bed. Luckily the yaks weren’t smart enough to keep quiet and Pentso soon awoke and shooed them out of the tent. This continued all night long and I resigned myself to the fact that if I did somehow get to sleep, it would probably be next to a yak.

* The Tibetan province of Ganzi is classed by the Chinese as Western Sichuan, however it felt distinctly Tibetan to us. Tagong and its surrounding areas in Western Sichuan are occupied by Tibetans and it’s a good place to go to get a taste of Tibet if you don’t want to pay the permit and tour fees to enter the official Tibet Autonomous Region. Angela at the Kham Cafe in Tagong is an American who married a nomad and can help with trekking arrangements

. www.definitelynomadic.com
  1. Uncle G.
    August 2, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    What a wonderful read and what an experience that must have been! Don’t think you two will ever come back!

  2. Coolmum
    August 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I agree with you Hazell, its very bad manners to use the guests as bait- bet you’re glad it was yaks not wolves!

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