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Rice paddy terraces

Herding Yaks

I was quietly reading my book overlooking the tiered hills of Sakur when Ama, my host grandmother, opened the creaky door to the family room. She beckoned me to leave the room, slightly bowing with each stroke. Unsure of what she wanted from me, I rose and packed my book into my daypack. After leaving the comfort of the stove heated room, I made my way to the main door of the house where I ran into my host mother.

She greeted me with a slight bow and I was once again beckoned to go further beyond the house. Her hand pointed to the main road. I was unsure of what she wanted but figured it was important. I began walking past her when I remembered that I had herded the yaks yesterday at around the same time. One thing that stuck out to me was that she did not leave any intention to help me with my mission. I made a last ditch effort to get her accompaniment but was rejected with a few words of Tibetan. She expected me to herd about ten yaks back to the house by myself.

I made my way toward the main road still only about seventy percent sure I was told to herd the yaks given our language barrier. As I continued walking, I ran into Tsing who excitedly agreed to help. We walked another five minutes to the top of our hill where we spotted the yaks. I trudged forward across the muddy abandoned terraces, being careful not to step into any of the many gifts the yaks had left for us. It took a good three to four minutes to reach them. The view was breathtaking. In three directions we were the highest point for at least five miles. We stood there for a bit overlooking the hundreds of terraces.

Tsing held back at first, given that the steep terrain was not very kind to her sandals. I saw a yak a ways down the hill, at least four or five tiers down from my current position. I headed to the rest of the yaks still not sure how I was going to get that last yak. I positioned myself co-linear to the yaks and the road. Recalling the tshhh sound that my host mother had used the day before, I made my advance toward the yaks with their forward facing horns.

In a mocking manner they proceeded to move down to the next lower tier of the terraces. At this point I was already winded from the hike to the yaks given sea level was 2900M away. I was not ready to give up. I called back to Tsing that I was going to trek further down the hill to try again and redirect my family’s rebellious yaks. I proceeded down two tiers to deter any further devious behavior and came up behind them once again attempting to herd the yaks back to the main road. They simply trotted around me and proceeded further down the hill. At this point I was ready to give up as I felt that I lacked the required knowledge to complete my task.

I headed back to Tsing who made it down to where I was attempting to herd the yaks. We decided that we might as well take some photos and videos to document our little adventure. I took some pictures as Tsing made her way over to the group of Yaks. They parted their group formation as she approached. We changed roles and prepared to go back to town. In the distance we saw a woman beckoning us to come back. While I failed in what I had set out to do, I learned a deep respect for the skill it takes to herd yaks effectively.

We headed back to the instructors’ house to share our experience with our group members. This experience felt very surreal given the mountainous background. I am glad to have had the opportunity to experience such a unique opportunity and look forward to the next one.