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A glimpse of the nomad life in Qinghai China


It was late in the afternoon on the 9th day of our trek around sacred Amne Machen mountain and we still hadn't found what we were looking for - a place to camp near some nomads - but stubborn and tired as we were we trudged along. Even with snow or rain clouds gathering and dark looking like it might visit soon. Just when the rain started to fall, we saw a nomad on a horse herding some sheep across the road onto a very bumpy and not all that level spot of land not far from a small camp of one or two tents. In my usual over politeness I make an an effort to get permission from the horseman to camp on the spot despite that fact that my partner has reminded me time and again that they are nomads and themselves don't own the land they camp on so there is no need really to ask them permission to camp on a random empty piece of grass. But regardless, the man nods some kind of approval with an odd smile that says something like "who the hell are these odd-looking folk and what are they asking?" And so we set up camp in a pouring cold rain and the deepening darkness.

Then its time to do what we had been hoping for the past few days.. hang with nomads. The small camp down the hill had inviting smoke coming out of one of the two tents and so we knew we could probably take in some wet gear to dry in the wood-stove heated tent and, if lucky, get offered some hot tea and warm bread. The lonely little camp barely had any sign of life except the little smoke from the chimney and the warm glow from inside.. but no activity around the camp, so I was a little worried a wife alone or with a kid might be wary of us..

No need to have worried.. warm bread, hot tea and a place to dry our gear over night is what we got. Along with some Tibetan DVD with the cute little kid. After thirty minutes or so of warming the bones, we climbing back up the hill in the cold rain to our tent and crashed.

What a different story the next morning. Chilly but bright clear skies and enough sun to dry the rest of our gear and warm us up a little.

After getting our dry gear from the nomad's tent, we were off find a ride to Xia Dawo, where we'd started backtracking after a night in the school. The rides are easier when you're not being a big jerk to Buddha so today we made good time to the town. But since we wanted to get a lot further, and actually cover some new ground beyond what we'd done before, we hoped to just grab a hot meal and supplies before trying to cover some new ground.

Our first ride was a sweet couple heading to the town, probably to stock on supplies for their own camp They we super excited to give us a ride and show us some places they would stop and pray on the way.

Food and supplies we did find.. in the bustling market down just a short distance from the school we'd stayed at.

Xia Dawo had a little bit of a wild west vibe to it with nomads coming in from far and wide to buy supplies for yak herding and life in tents in remote valleys. It was basically just one street lined with a few shops on either side, a couple of vegetable and fruit stands and restaurants serving the traditional Muslim fare found in the region. And after several nights of tent food, that's what we needed. We stuffed our faces with scrambled eggs and tomatoes and fried rice served up by a very friendly Muslim man, who looked a little out of place and was transplanted from Azerbaijan I think he said. Then after buying some supplies, being ogled by and ogling some amazingly colorful locals, we hit the road once again.

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