Sooner than I had expected, I came across the first nomads after leaving the city of Xining, capital of Qinghai province. As soon as we reached the Tibetan plateau, I could see lonely tents scattered in the countryside. The further and higher I got, the more often I saw nomadic tents - but I did not see many nomads, and sometimes, the tents seemed to be empty. It was only when reaching the Bayanka-la or Trawo-la Pass, the border between Amdo and Kham country, that I saw two nomads on their horses. They looked so marvellous I went after them, and a friendly but wordless "conversation" followed, after which they rode off into the emptiness of the Tibetan landscape.
The next days on my trip through Qinghai, I would see more nomads, or drokpa in Tibetan, sometimes in towns, but mostly on the most unlikely places: in the middle of an empty plain, near a bend in a frozen river, under snow capped mountains, or whizzing by on fancy motorbikes. Several times, I stopped to be able to just look at them, as they often looked so amazing. It is estimated that some 40% of Tibetans are nomadic or semi-nomadic; the land is so enormous, however, that they can easily disperse and live by themselves. The more tents I saw, the more I wanted to see one from the inside, and meet its inhabitants. At one moment, I asked the driver to stop, and after he asked them if we could visit, we were invited in as if they had been expecting us all along. As we approached their tent, I noticed a solar panel on one side, and a yak with three young yaks on the other.
It was quite cold outside, and we were invited in and were asked to sit down in this family tent where we met several children, two monks and a woman and man. As if it were the most normal thing in the world, the woman prepared us tea, and then gave us big chunks of dried yak meat and some fried bread. The yak meat was chewy but a welcome snack, and the hosts never stopped topping up my tea cup and giving me always more meat. The roof of the tent had an opening through which not only daylight came in, but also snow flakes; it also served as an outlet for the centrally placed stove. The woman regularly added yak dung to the stove, which obviously also served for preparing food. I touched the tent and found the yak hair to be very strong and much harder than I had imagined. In one corner of the tent, there was an altar with butter lamps, prayer flags, and many pictures of the Dalai Lama. After a while, the monks started a ceremony, humming texts from their religious scriptures and beating a colourful flat drum. I certainly had never expected to find this service in a remote Tibetan nomad tent. When we felt our time was up, we thanked the nomads for their great hospitality, took out some presents to leave behind, and moved on with a very good memory in our minds.
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