The Tibetan Travel Buddy, the Yak

‘Yakety-Yak don’t talk back’, would have been my answer a while back, if you ever asked me to tell you all I know about Yaks.

However, as I photograph my newly-found shaggy friend, it’s a completely different story. Let me explain.

At the moment I am on a high. Literally. 5210 metres above sea level actually. I am driving through the Gyawo-La pass, one of the highest mountain passes in the world, along the Friendship Highway that links Lhasa, in Tibet, to Kathmandu, in Nepal. Gazing dreamily out of the window at the imposing Himalayan peaks that dot this road, I suddenly spot him sitting on a blanket of snow, a few metres away, within easy reach — my companion throughout this Tibetan journey. Bigger and sturdier than I ever imagined. Every shaggy hair of him was real.

My car’s screech penetrates the eerie silence. I run out of the jeep. I’m almost emotional. Finally, I get to meet him in person –- or whatever!

tibetyakcb500aMy first introduction to the beast had been a few weeks back, at Rongbuk Monastery (the highest in the world) after visiting Everest Base Camp. I felt cold and groggy. I felt the effects of the altitude and all I wanted was a nice cup of tea, Earl Grey, if possible. And that’s when I tasted Cha Su Ma — Yak Butter tea. This is the traditional Tibetan drink, I soon found out, and it is rude to refuse it. So I painfully sipped this thick, salty, tangy drink, my stomach churning as I did.

Walking through Gyantse, a lovely, authentic village, I decided to visit the Pelkor Chode Monastery, one of many imposing buildings in Tibet. What initially seemed like a dark and gloomy place, was suddenly lit up by hundreds of little lights — Yak butter lamps, I was told. Apparently the butter lamps help to focus the mind and aid meditation. However, the pungent body odour of the masses of Tibetan pilgrims spinning their prayer wheels as they squashed their way into the monastery, had me focus only on one thing – the exit!

The day I got to Tingri, a tiny, one-street village, but with 360- degree views of 8000 metre peaks such as Cho-Oyu and Everest, was one of the coldest days ever. Walking stiffly into the guesthouse, my bones aching and fingertips blue, I was overjoyed to see an open fire in the “reception area.”

“Great” I thought, “I’ll just sit here and thaw.”

However, as much as I tried to look at this fire as warm, cozy and inviting, something seemed to be stopping me. A strange, disturbing smell permeated the air. Now, what was fueling this fire, I thought to myself? Yak dung, of course. Obvious to any Tibetan. Not to me though, as I cursed my way through a freezing night!

Later, I would have to taste the damn creature. I was sitting at a table in the busy Barkhor Square in Lhasa, lost in a world of prostrating women spinning prayer wheels and the humming sound of monks in deep red robes reciting mantras, when I was rudely interrupted.

‘Eexcuuuuzz madam, food for yuuu’.

Great, my steak had arrived. A big, fat, juicy steak. Ravenous, after a bout of acute gastric flu, I dug into it aggressively. Twenty minutes later, my jaw was still aching after a failed attempt at chewing the beast. Yak steak? Not top of my list at all.

And so it went on. In the form of rugs and carpets for sale in market places, necklaces made out of its sturdy horns, cheese sandwiches and fresh yoghurts in coffee shops, blankets to snuggle under at night. The list is endless.

Eventually, my journey was over, and so was the strange relationship with my newly-found friend, who till now I had never met. My travel buddy. The Yakety Yak.

Coming from the tiny island of Malta, my desire to explore the world is intense. Mountains are my greatest inspiration and I especially enjoy trekking in the Alps. I love adventure and have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, been to Everest Base Camp and backpacked through South East Asia. I have visited 30 countries so far and hope to top 50. I work as a Physiotherapist and in my free time love reading, swimming, cycling and any other form of outdoor activity. I keep journals of most of my travels, have written several articles, and love reading about other people’s experiences, as this motivates me to constantly plan where to conquer next!

Author: Carolyn Bonello

Coming from the tiny island of Malta, my desire to explore the world is intense. Mountains are my greatest inspiration and I especially enjoy trekking in the Alps. I love adventure and have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, been to Everest Base Camp and backpacked through South East Asia. I have visited 30 countries so far and hope to top 50. I work as a Physiotherapist and in my free time love reading, swimming, cycling and any other form of outdoor activity. I keep journals of most of my travels, have written several articles, and love reading about other people’s experiences, as this motivates me to constantly plan where to conquer next!

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