We find ourselves in Langmusi, a town of high elevation. I have promises to keep. With Fumiko a horse ride is a request on repeat. My capitulation early. “Liyi I understand you have horses”. “Yes.” “My daughter and I would like to go for a ride”. “Three days OK?” “Absolutely”. Always the attraction to suffering through distance. “I have five women leaving tomorrow”. “Perfect, my daughter is ready for some sisterhood.” “But I think you are too fat”. “I sensed discrimination”. “You are over 85 kg I think?” “Not by much”. “85 is too fat for a Tibetan pony”. “Fat is a strong word.” “You must walk”. I smiled. “Of course, I will walk. All day will I walk”.
On our last horse ride Fumikos horse kicked me solidly in the shins. The resulting swelling was such that I watched for birth. My two instead of four was an unexpressed relief. The night before Fumiko was unconfined excitement. The only shadow were her sulphur belches. A stomach in discontent or giardia. The belches grew into vomiting through the night. By morning I was ready to call it. But the hero of the story was having none of it. A bland breakfast. A last vomit, a mount up and a pronouncement “I’m OK now.” And so she was.
The valley started wide and green. An overgrown golf course. Ideal for nomads and their grazers. The ponies climbed toward the pass at 2.5 mph. Hiking is slightly faster so I was free to roam. Bending wildflowers in pursuit of my own vistas. Laying amongst them. The fastest way to stilling ones entirety. Besides when I walked next to the horses I felt like Monty Python’s coconut guy. We rounded a bend to an explosion of yaks. The green spotted black. Their strangled bellows emanating from no obvious exit.
Yaks are central to the Tibetan nomads existence. Fire, meat, tents, cheese, clothes, milk, transport and yogurt all source at the shaggy yak. I’m sure there is plenty more. Their numbers parted as we climbed to the pass. Upon cresting an ambush of white. A thousand displeasured sheep screaming “bad” poured down. Beyond them a valley thick with yak and our home for the night.
Home is where your tent is. This tent was made from yak hair. Think inch thick burlap. 20 panels of it. Every year a panel is replaced. A full recycling takes taking place every two decades. Enter through the front front flap. To the right a raised sleeping platform made of dried mud. Covered in branches and then again in carpets. To the left the kitchen and the yak dung pile. Central is the small dung stove. The roof is seamed to let the build up escape. Rules. No shoes on the bed. No pointing your feet at the stove. And no combing your hair inside. Total size, maybe 18 x 18. Slept 10 snuggly.
Our host was a petite Tibetan woman with popeye biceps and an elevated work ethic. I offered to help with dung collection. For the experience you know. As did a French woman with the endearing name of Auld. Think New Year’s. Our host sized us, then tossed some baskets. She lifted her rake and it began. But first a dung education. Dried dung burns, and burns well. Some methods of drying. Hand plop dung onto walls. When it falls off it is ready. Or pile it into mountains. Remove dried layers. Here on the grasslands spread thinly by hand when wet. After four days rake it up. Which is what we did. And did. Long past experience, well into work. Sweating. Huffing at altitude. Our raker grinning maniacally. I straightened looking for a break. Fields of dung spread far before me. A raker grunt brought me back to my pile.
There were breaks. We tried to milk a yak. Sunscreen lubricated fingers a modern deterrent to effective nipple tugs. We tried the sling. Not evolved since David had a go at Goliath. Tordan, our guide, had a range of 300 feet, accurate at 100 feet. The stones used to drive off wolves and move sheep and yaks in a desired direction. We simply embarrassed ourselves in the sling department. We were shown where the Tibetan mastiff’s were staked and the range of their leashes. Warned that they attacked all that was strange. We being the strangest things out here.
Night came down. A wheat dough was stretched into loops. Similar to taffy. When the loop threatened the floor it was handplucked into bite-sized segments. Then flung into a boiling soup pot. Eight sets of fingers making short work of the process. The tent warmed with the stove and activity. A dot of comfort on a cold plain.
The morning with its shock of 10 people in one bed. Morning constitution in a communal ravine. A ride to a mountain and its subsequent climb. Respectable at 15,000 feet. Fumiko educated in the “to that rock and rest” approach to mountaineering. A father’s pride at her summiting. On that summit prayer flags letting the wind carry their words aloft. Surrounding giant wooden arrows plunged into the high point. Don’t know why.
Then yet more hours in the saddle to another nomads tent. This one set in a red rocked canyon. Large horned yaks standing sentinel on narrow ledges looking down on our progress. Calling to mind Greek myth and Minotaurs. I arrive out in front thanks to Tordan’s constant pointed out shortcuts. Off trail in the wildflowers and skulls. Fumiko the last to camp. Her horse the unfortunate victim of an early lobotomy. It’s gait that of a zombie on the move.
There was more. A carbonated spring, a bloated boar, a garland from purple robe and a runaway truck. But I’ve gone on long enough. Suffice it to say Langmusi eventually arrived in our sights. As we closed in Tordan dismounted and walked beside me. We were the same age and I enjoyed his comradery Though we only had about six words in common. I affectionally patted his shoulder. He smiled and took my hand. And that is how we walked into town.