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Day 71: Near Yushu, Qinghai Province

Qinghai Province, Tibet 
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Yak herding on the summer pastures of Qinghai province. They look pretty docile, but are far more temperamental than lowland cows.
Michael Palin - HimalayaSonam greets us and Duker Tsering, the young Tibetan fixer who's brought us here. Sonam is slim, around 30 I should think, and not at all what I'd expect a yak farmer to look like. His face is oval, quite unlike the broad, squarer features of Duker, and with soft, sleepy eyes and delicate, almost feminine features, he looks like the model for a Renaissance Madonna. He's turned out in a smart brown suit, with a designer label sewn on the outside of the sleeve, and a natty pair of imitation crocodile-skin shoes. It crosses my mind that he might not be a yak farmer at all but an actor brought in to play the part.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt I follow him into the tent. It's surprisingly spacious, some 30 by 20 feet inside. Sacks of grain and flour fill one corner, a milk churn and a pile of dried yak dung fill another. There are three beds, all piled with brightly patterned rugs, blankets and bolsters. The only light, spilling down from a hole in the roof, falls around the handsome head of Sonam's wife. Tall, with a straw hat, woollen shawl, striped belt with red tassels and a big sand-coloured sweater, she's stirring a bubbling bowl of yak cheese at a stove built from turf and topped with dried mud. Two of their three small children run in and out. The eldest girl, Sonam tells me, has just started school.

We sit down on one of the three beds. Salty tea is poured for me from a big, blackened kettle, and in lieu of sugar, a rarity on the plateau, Sonam adds a small slab of butter, which liquefies into a greasy scum across the top. It tastes, well, not bad, just different. As someone wisely said, if they called it soup rather than tea we'd have no trouble drinking it at all.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 71: Near Yushu, Qinghai Province
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Near Yushu
  • Book page no: 168

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