Meeting Nomad Tibetans - Drokpas


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May 2nd 2006
Published: May 3rd 2006
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Nomad Camp surroundingsNomad Camp surroundingsNomad Camp surroundings

Tent, Dropka, yak, yak dung, Himalayan landscape
On my way to Namtso Lake, 4 hours north of Lhasa, I travelled thru the high-altitude plains of the Changtang (northern plateau), the highest and largest plateau in the world. This area doesn't have rivers, only lakes, and supports very little life. At this time, all the lakes are frozen, including the holly lake Namtso.

The wind is brutally cold and at almost 5000 meters, the high-altitude makes it hard for me to breath (a short walk feels like a marathon!). My feet tingle, screaming for oxygen. But, I'm having the opportunity to wander in a spectacular surrounding in remote Tibet, and I won't let the high altitude get on the way.

The harsh landscape is very unique. Arid soil, snow still on the peaks of the mountains (as high as 7000 meters), drokpa women and kids tending to the yak or sheep herds and many nomadic tents could be seen scattered around the plains. Mounds of dried yak poop, used for fuel for cooking and heating, were found piled up by the black/brown or white tents.

There are now ~2 million nomads in Tibet, half of the number at the time of the Chinese invasion. They travel
Still landscapeStill landscapeStill landscape

Frozen lake. Tent at distance.
in groups of up to 20 families, each occupying one tent, which are made from yak hair. At this time of the year many can be seen in this region.

My eyes caught a small nomad tent being approached by two women and a girl. (see photo). Minutes later, I asked my travel companions if we could stop by another tent I spotted, where a woman and daughter were. I got close, said "Tashi dele" and smiled. The woman responded with a smile and some words. You learn to interpret the meaning of their words by reading the body language and I felt welcomed. The girl held a little lamb, which she passed on for me and Marleen to hold. (photos)

I pointed to the tent and the woman openned it, inviting me in. The others followed. She signal for me to seat on the floor covered by cloth. Yak fur on the ground, a small fire with a kettle, a yak butter tea jug, a few pieces of cloth, some Buddhist images. That was all the contents of this "home".

Soon other neighbor nomads came into the smoky tent.We were all curious of each other but
Comformist tentComformist tentComformist tent

Chinese flag instead of player flag. The resourceful dried Yak poop (feces secas amontoadas)
we could only comunicate thru gestures. Plenty of pointing and smiles. They consented that I take pictures but my camera stopped working after a couple of shots.... It was soooo frustrating!. I got the polaroid, and how happy they all were to have photos of themselves to keep!

I bonded with Yangi, the 8 year old girl with the pink scarf. Her eyes followed mine, and I'd have loved to be able to exchange words with her. I sneacked a pen into her hands, which she immediately tucked into her clothe. She thanked me with a profound stare. Later she touched my hair. The other women followed. Rubert said: "They are all touching your hair". I thought it was weird and interesting, but I let them "play" with it. They were laughing, each grabbing a chunck of hair and soon they were braidding it, probably finding amuzement in the fact that it was different from their dark long black hair.

I don't have enough pictures to share of this incredible experience, but the memories of this brief encouter will be engraved in my heart forever. It was a singular moment of simplicity and hospitality shared my strangers of
Nomad WomanNomad WomanNomad Woman

Typical Clothing
different worlds.

YEARS LATER I RETURNED...


Four years later I returned to Tibet and headed to the same area, with a couple of photographs from 2006 in hand, determined to find the family who welcomed me into their tent.

What a change in the environment of the area. NO NOMAD TENTS AROUND!!!!

There was a new settlement of small, ugly concrete block homes. My driver helped me to try to track the family down, as we showed the pictures to local Tibetans. After a few empty attempts, a man pointed us to a house. A woman and a little boy come out and after we show the pictures, she calls a young man. I couldn't believe it! It was Yangi's brother, whom I met at the tent years ago. He was all grown up now. He was so surprised to se the pictures, probably puzzled too. He invited me into the home. So different from the tent! There was a radio, scattered pieces of furniture, and "things". At the tent, there was only yak blankets, a fire, a pot with boiling yak butter tea.

I asked about his sister, and he tells me she is at school, where she lives.
Nomad lifeNomad lifeNomad life

Yak herd
The mother is working somewhere and the father is a truck driver. I asked about their yaks and sheep. "No more", I am told.

What a different reality! I was so surprised: A true Tibetan way of living is being wiped away, and that is very sad.





PORTUGUES: Hoje existem uns 2 milhoes de nomades no Tibet, metade do que havia antes da ocupacao chinesa. Eles vivem em tendas feitas de cabelo de yak e viajam de acordo com as estacoes do ano, em grupos de ate 20 familias. Sao que nem ciganos, mas criam yaks e carneiros como fonte de renda, e os trocam por farinha de cevada. Este eh o principal alimento deles, junto ao leite de yak. As peles sao castigadas pelo frio e sol em altitudes de 5000 a 7000 metros acima do nivel do mar. Eles usam fezes de yak secas como fonte de energia pra cozinhar e aquecer-se.
Pedi pros companheiros de viagem que estavam dividindo o custo do carro de aluguel comigo pra parar perto de uma tenta. Fui muito bem recebida pela senhora e a filha, e logo ja estava dentro da tenda. Vizinhos nomades chegaram. As mulheres pegavam no meu cabelo. Minha camera nova nao gostou de estar a uns 10graus abaixo de zero e parou de funcionar. Mas tirei fotos com a polaroid pra dar pra este povo simples e hospitaleiro, o que foi o maior sucesso. Uma das memorias que serao inesqueciveis.


Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


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Dropka kidsDropka kids
Dropka kids

They help their mothers care for the lamb herds and weave blankets
Yangi and LambYangi and Lamb
Yangi and Lamb

Skin castigated by the harsh Himalayan high altitude "desert"
Me & my hostsMe & my hosts
Me & my hosts

Mother and daughter
On the wayOn the way
On the way

Buddhist carvings and prayer flags on top of holly mountain.


8th May 2006

Hey Patricia, you've been there for a long time, what an adventure and experience! Thenks for sending the pictures, it feels like I'm traveling with you. When are you coming back?
9th May 2006

Hey "You"
Who are you? I wish I was still traveling, but I'm actually just back home. I have a final entry about Tibet which should be published soon after I download the pictures. I think they say more than my words, don't you agree? Thanks for your message.

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