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Rich life on grasslands

A rider on a horse emerged from the snow storm like a ghost and approached us slowly; we decided to wait while the storm was calming down.  When he got to 10m distance he jumped down his horse, sat down on a rock, and stood still watching us - or rather staring at us. It was a silent and kind of a weird moment: the two of us were just standing and smiling. Customary question came after maybe 3 minutes of awkward silence: "where are you going from?"  "That valley." was our answer while making expressive hand gestures towards the valley we embarked yesterday. "Where are you going?" was the follow up. We started pointing the other way. Then nothing, this silent moment was longer; you know, the nomads living this remote are not the most talkative people. We returned several customary question and at the end he invited us for a tea when we get to the tents.

We were climbing down from a mountain pass and iceberg from Amnye Machen. The day before we camped at the foot of the mountain at 4300 meters on the other side of the pass. This was very exhausting climb up to 5000 meters with no path, sliding rubble on the iceberg, and weather changing very fast from snow to hot sun and back. My friend seemed to suffer a bit of high altitude nausea. 

It took good 3 kilometers to descend down to a tiny tent village - three main tens were pitched there. A woman was waving at us and navigated us inside one of the black tents - those are very expensive and made of yak fur. We entered with a great reverance. There was only a mother and her daughter. The girl was cute as all Tibetan girls seem to be before their posture is damaged (this I have not figured out why. Maybe so that they were suited for carrying baskets on their backs.)

The interior of the tent was very simple - mats on the ground, a  pile of things in the back, a pile of covers and blankets, and a stove in the middle. No furniture, no decorations. The stove was powered by yak poops; water was already boiling and we were offered a tea. The warmth, the whole situation felt amazing after the demanding ascend!

Mother was preparing a meal on the stove, from time to time she asked us questions in broken Chinese; the girl seemed to be a bit jumpy. We thought we are making them nervous but later it turned out the father was away in the city and they were long expecting him to return. 

It didn't take much time and they arrived. But not on a horse as you might imagine from what I described but in a big SUV. 

Yes! An SUV. This kind which might cost €200000! 

Tent village

They were not really surprised to have visitors. They welcomed us and sat down for the dinner. We politely accepted the bowl of stew. Actually, it felt like infinite bowl as the mother insisted to refill it always when finished. I was super full! We learned it is polite to not finish your meal.

What a surprise when everyone started pulling out their iPhones in middle of the dinner! There was even one extra iPhone hanging attached to the top of the tent, I believe to have a signal. 

Believe it or not, the nomads are actually not so poor. Nomads never kill their yaks but they sell them to Chinese who kill them. A yak older than 2 years costs more than 10000 kwai, around 2000 Dollars. I would say that a typical size of a herd is usually around 100 yaks. And we have seen much bigger ones. 

According to In Exile from the Land of Snows, throughout the history Tibetans didn't suffer much poverty and hunger until the Chinese came in 1950s and brought Mao's communist land reforms and took away the produce. 

Other big source of income for nomads is the worm grass. It was very creepy thing at first. Locals trade the grass like heroin. In town there is usually a special place devoted for the trading the grass hidden at the back of a market or corner of a street. Sometimes there are even shops to make this business. And the price is sky high.

Despite that, around 60% of Tibetans might be living the nomadic life with yaks in tents, something an ordinary westerner don't understand. If they sold their yak herds they could emigrate and live comfortable life somewhere in a city. Well, the government would not let them, but that is another story. 

But think about it; a smart phone is next to a car the only thing even nomads consider important for their lives! Where automatic washing machine, dishwasher, central heating, rock building failed to attract nomads, smart phone  with internet connection swept them off. Maybe there is something more to it!

We finished the dinner, politely thanked them and gave our farewells, and continued on our adventure. 

Although there is still so many Tibetans living the nomadic lives, I believe it is inevitable this to disappear sooner or later - maybe as soon as a decade with the old generation gone. I am so glad I was able to experience and record the nomads from the first hand; in 20 years we will find nomad tents only in a museum. 

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