A Glimpse of Life of a Bhutanese Nomad
A wise man once told me… nothing in this life is coincidence, nothing is random, even when shuffling cards or throwing a dice. We always thought that throwing a dice is random simply because we dont control the force. We human are so weak that we cant even control our force precisely. But to think it over, when we throw a dice and it ends up at number 6, is no coincidence. How hard we throw it, the angle of our hand, the gravity, the air pressure, the wind, the surface… everything contribute to how the dice ends up at number 6. The mother nature already know it will end up at 6… only us humans… are lack of that knowledge. The wise man then continued, nothing is coincidence, it was all planned and written… long ago, during the “zulumat”. Everything happen for a reason… every small thing.. even the most unimportant thing to our eyes. Every entity has its own purpose in this universe, everything was written, we are here only to experience.. to realize.. nothing more. So life is to experience and to realize… to realize the truth and surrender to it. Lastly, that wise man, who is a sufi master, explained that this life is a journey, a human journey, to experience. So live your life as a musafir, a traveller… be in a journey, be on the road… the goal is to collect experience. Live with minimum belongings, too much material possession will feed the greed inside you and it will outgrow you. The wise man’s words went deep inside my heart. I then decided to live my life as a musafir, a traveller… a nomad. And whenever I meet another nomad, I observe them thoroughly, studying everything about them…..
While in Laya, I stayed with a nomad family, theyre yak herders living high in the mountains with their yaks and horses. But on winter time, they retreat back to Laya. I’ve been following and studying nomads in many places now. Ive seen nomads who dwell between Siberia and Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang and now… Bhutan. They all have something in common, they live with their herds, they all live the hard life, they possess very little things, they’re kind and friendly, they give even they dont have much and they know well their surroundings. They can read if the weather will turn bad from the sound of birds, the condition of the snow and the pattern of the sand in the desert. Here in Laya, the nomad that became my host named Tshering, doesnt talk much except when necessary. A man who doesnt talk much, is difficult to predict. There is an art to learn a man from his talking, not by listening directly to his saying, but by studying the between the lines. The choice of his words, his tone, the speed of his talking, everything can be turned into information. Like I said earlier, nothing is coincidence, nothing is random, everything is related, cause and effect. But this man is quiet most of the time, so I tried to learn him by studying his wrinkles. A man who has passes over 40 years old, you can read his life experience by studying the wrinkles on his face. Tshering has survived the cold Bhutanese winter 51 times in his life but his physical body and strength easily beats a 25 years old man. A very strong man, he climbs the high mountains like a normal man walks in a shopping mall…
Two days I stayed in his house with his 2 adorable kids, they smiled everytime we had eye contact but they dont talk much either. They’re shy kids, when looking at them straight in their eyes, they smiled and quickly looked away… sweet little kids. After 2 days resting in Laya, we packed our stuffs into Tshering’s horses. I wanted to follow him to the high mountains where he will dwell there for the whole summer with his yaks. So he took all his 9 horses and take as much stuffs as they can carry… including firewoods. Its a 2 days journey to get to the high mountains where he will set his summer camp, but to return back to Laya takes only a full day, since its mostly going down instead of climb. After everything was prepared, we then started our journey, walking slowly leaving the village behind. Besides having 2 kids, Tshering also surprising, has 2 wives. On the first day it was only a short 2 hours walk, we walked to his other house on the next valley, where his other wife was waiting for him. We walked down from the valley where Laya is, crossed a river and begin to climb the next valley where his other house is. Once we reached his other house, Tshering and his 2 wives quickly unpacked all the stuffs from the horses and pitched our tents and made some fire inside the house to warm us. Theyre nomads… and theyre very hospitable to travellers. They make sure that my stomach is always full and I always feel warm inside their house. In the evening, I started to see their yaks came back from all over the place. They have probably around 30 yaks. They need to take the yaks to the high mountains because this place will be swarmed by flies by summer. Plus the grass is so fresh during summer in the high mountains. So I’m here at the right time to witness the animal migration.
The next morning, they woke up early to prepare the journey to the summer camp, high in the mountain very near Tibetan border. They feed their yaks and horses, put all our stuffs on their horses, had a good breakfast together and finally, hit the road. It was a very steep climb right when we started, gaining high in elevation before moving through the high altitude forest. Then, slowly the trees disappearing as we moved higher in altitude. We passed valleys after valleys, towards the Tibetan border. We stopped a while for lunch near a river before proceeding higher. At one point, we passed the tree line and finally the landscape turned into grass and rocks, which means we are already very high in the thin air. I was walking right behind Tshering with his horses, while the two wives, my guide and his friends together with the yaks were far behind. While I was exhausted from the long trek, Tshering pointed a snowy peak mountain high above, signalling that we are heading there. I was surprised, it looks really high, that peak in front of us must be at least 7000m high. I stood still for a few seconds, inhaling all the fresh air into my lungs before proceeding, trying to catch up with him. Looking at him, he didn’t seems to show any sign of fatigue. He climbed as in he’s still fresh. I climbed really slowly, trying to catch up with him but he just got further every second. I was exhausted, my legs were really tired, so I used more force from my upper body to push myself up with the tree branch that I used as a walking stick. I stopped once in a while, to get enough air and enjoy the magnificent view of the mountain range. After more than an hour, I felt really exhausted and couldnt go any further. When I looked up, the snowy peak was still far from reach. But just after a few more steps, I saw a small flat area. Tshering finally stopped and start unpacking his horses. I felt relieved, we finally reached our destination. It was cold, the wind was blowing and the icy rain fell upon us.
We quickly pitched our tents and I quickly grabbed my thick parka since I fell really cold. I felt so tired and took a good rest inside my tent. An hour later, my guide, his friends and the two wives arrived together with the yaks. Then they started to pitch their traditional tent made from yak’s fur. One thing I realized here in Bhutan, they never tie their horses or the yaks unlike in Central Asia. Back in Kyrgyzstan, if I dont tie my horse’s legs, it will runaway and I will have problem catching it. But here, they just leave their animals roaming free. If they need to catch their animals, they will just climb the mountains to find them. Weather here changes so rapidly. You see the sun for a few minutes then it will rain just 5 minutes later. The clouds were so thick that I couldnt see much views. The visibility was very poor. It was getting darker so I took early dinner and went to sleep early.
I woke up really early the next morning but since it was too cold, I stayed inside my tent until I started to see the sunlight shining through the tent window. I went out and was surprised to see the beautiful landscape under the clear sky. I had a quick breakfast and quickly took my camera out to film the surroundings and the daily activities of Tshering and his two wives with their yaks. They get the milk from their yaks early morning and make sure their yaks and horses roam at the right places to get the good grass. It seems like a hard life but they’re so used to it. Sometimes Tshering and his wife will come back down to Laya once in a while to visit their kids. But most of the time during summer, they will spend their time here in the high mountain to look after their animals. I asked why don’t they live comfortably in the city, they said that they’re so used to living in the high mountains and they feel like an alien living in the city. Plus they don’t know how to live their life other than this… living the nomadic way of life is their only way. This has been their way of life since generations. “A true nomad”, I whispered to myself while looking deep inside their eyes studying their souls.