A Month In China Part 5: Trekking With Nomads (Day 1)
March 19, 2016
We left HuaHu, got back in the car with our new friend and rode up the road to the small town of Langmusi. Langmusi sits on the border of Sichuan and Gansu provinces. In fact, the story goes that the border was drawn to separate two feuding monasteries. Both of these monasteries still exist to this day and make up ~50% of the population of the town. It is really interesting to walk around basically surrounded by monks of all ages, some driving cars, some buying sneakers and some sitting in coffee shops huddled around iPhones watching videos. The rest of the town is based around our reason for being there and that is horse trekking. There are a few groups now that organize trips for people to go on treks with local nomads. You ride all day, sleep in yak wool tents, eat what they eat, and essentially experience their (fading) way of life.
We chose Langmusi Tibetan Horse Trekking and they set everything up for us. We arrived in the evening, stayed at the guesthouse next door and the next morning showed up ready to go. They provided us with small nap sacks about the size of a small daypack and we were only allowed to take what could fit in those sacks (for weight purposes). We packed, stowed our big packs and then met them around back to start the trek.
Once on the horses we rode through rolling green hills, over rivers and just stared at the scenery. We were at about 10,500" elevation and there were no trees just green as far as the eye could see, broken up intermittently by cliffs rising into the sky. We rode past fields full of yak and sheep, and people just pulled over hanging out with their horses stream side.
After about two hours of riding we came to a tent with smoke billowing out of the stovepipe rising from the middle. Our guide (whose name we never got somehow) let us know that this was where we were having lunch. We hopped down, stretched our legs and enjoyed the cool air and sunshine before stepping in to the sweltering heat of the tent. After shedding a few layers, we sat around and chatted with our companions, Jana from Slovakia (who would be with us the whole time) and two young Chinese girls, while our host prepared lunch and our guides tended to the horses. Lunch consisted of some veggies, an egg-drop soup and little balls of barley mixed with melted butter called tsampas. Fun fact: all of the stoves up here are stoked with dried yak dung. Also tsampas are mixed by hand. Also hand washing isn't really a thing.
After lunch we rode down a dirt "road" for a while before parting with the Chinese girls and riding out into the fields. We made a short pit stop at the spring at the head of the river we had been following. We got down, drank from the spring and checked out the scenery once again.
After the spring our horses climbed a hill and I thought mine was going to die. After we crested the hill we were in the aptly named ocean of flowers. I have never seen more wildflowers in my life. Everywhere you looked there were colors and they extended literally as far as the eye could see. Words and even photographs struggle to do it justice. We stopped for a few moments to take photos then moved on again to our nap location and shot some more while our guide napped for about an hour and a half.
Back on our horses, rested yet ready to be done riding for the day, we began the last leg of our journey for that day. We rode through the ocean of flowers to the Red Stone Forrest, a canyon with red-stone walls (but still covered in green). We rode along a river for a while as the sun began to set and arrived in a small valley where three families were currently residing. Each family had one or two yak wool tents, ~100 yak each and the three families all took care of ~1500 sheep. When we arrived the women were wrangling the yak, tying them up for the night, while some men herded the sheep into what I guess you could call a corral.
After the evening roundup, we all (Us, Jana, our guide, the two women whose tent we would be sleeping in, and their adorable son/grandson) got settled in the tent. Our hosts made dinner, which consisted of a soup with vegetables and dried yak meat followed with more hand-rolled tsampas (yum!). The food was actually very good and very welcome after a long day's ride. After dinner we got ready for bed and they literally tucked us in so we could rest up for a big day tomorrow.
Until the next time,
Don't forget, you can always find many of these photographs and more for sale on my website HERE.
And, here are some links to the previous installments if you missed any of them.