Langmusi is such a cute spot and a super ideal destination for someone like me: someone who wants to explore especially Buddhist related culture and rural areas BUT who likes to be comfortable, thus not too far from my Columbian morning coffee or Instagram-friendly WIFI (!).
"Unfortunately" we only just got settled here and I got super excited to start exploring the famous monasteries before Leon announced that the little-discussed 3 days horse trekking had already been locked in, starting the morning after arrival... As mentioned in last post: I didn't totally reject the idea when Leon briefly mentioned the possibility but I definitely never confirmed that I was going. So when we sat down with the organizer Liyi and Heather from Chicago who was going as well, to go through the information (read: SAFETY instructions) I panicked. To quickly run you through the thoughts in my head:
- "Prepare for 3 days on a Tibetan horseback through mountains and the rural Tibetan grasslands" (I haven't been on a horse since we sold our 2 small ponies when I was around 13).
- "Prepare for 0-10 degrees during the trekking and especially bring warm clothes for the night which will be spent in a nomad tent" (I'm always cold and while I did bring clothes for a somewhat cold climate I did NOT bring clothes on this trip for tenting on Tibetan mountains).
- "Prepare for 3 days and nights in the same clothes as there wont be private space to change clothes or wash" (ok this won't kill me but am I really paying to do this?)
- "Prepare for dangerous dogs who is protecting the nomads Yak herds, meaning that you can not walk around alone in the nomads camp. Always have a local with you even when you have to go to the toilet" (I'm super afraid of dogs, even cute dogs who bark too loud. I'm going camping with wild dangerous dogs, are you kidding me?)
After our little briefing I literally started crying and Leon promised me we didn't have to go.. But funnily enough that didn't make me feel happy again... On one hand I was super scared and uncomfortable about the idea of this special trip and on the other hand I couldn't stand the thought of so easy letting go of this absolute unique chance to trek into the "wild" and experience traditional Tibetan nomadic life.
In the next 12 hours I went back and forth between wanting to give it a chance and absolute refusing to go so many times that I lost count but as the title of this post reveals I of course ended up challenging myself, getting out of my comfort zone and committing to the 3 days horse trekking. And what an adventure. It was absolutely amazing and though I had one or two minor melt-downs I can not describe what an experience it was. Being in one with nature and totally dis-connected to normal life.
Our 3 Days Of Trekking
Friday morning we were "picked up" in Langmusi town by our horses and guides. We were 6 people going with 2 very local guides (the guides are actual yak and sheep herders from the Tibetan nomad families hosting visitors). After a quick lesson on horses & riding by Liyi we were introduced to our individual horses, offered-slash-forced to wear authentic Tibetan super-warm coats and before we knew of it we were out of town on horseback heading towards Tibetan grasslands.
To my big surprise it felt so natural to be back on a horse. As mentioned, we had ponies when I was a kid and I guess it's a bit like bicycling - you just don't forget once you've learned it. I absolutely loved the feeling of riding again and it didn't take long before I asked our guide if we could speed up a bit. Leon seemed to be feeling and doing great as well, though his black beauty wasn't at all as cooperative as my new best friend Cammerat.
After a couple of hours riding in the most beautiful landscape, feeling super warm in our traditional Tibetan outfit we did a lunch stop and both horses and riders had a break.
The Tibetan Nomads Camp
After another 2-3 hours of riding in very changing weather (sun, rain, hail, sun), we climbed another mountain and on the other side we were met by green fields covered with small black dots as far as our eyes could see: YAKS, hundreds and hundreds of yaks.
Our two guides broke our group into 2 and me and Leon continued with Heather and our local guide Tudan. Scarily enough Tudan guides us straight into the Yak field, riding only a couple of meters from massive yaks with massive horns. We quickly discovered that yaks are more scared of humans than (some) humans are of them. Mei Wentis, no problem!
After 15 minutes of riding through this beautiful terrain, graciously named the "Ocean of Flowers", we reached our new home on top of a small round hill: The nomads' summer camp. Our host mother and a cute boy from another nomad family met us, took care of our horses in no time and offered us warm water and tea inside the super warm and cozy black tent (authentically made of yak hair). We sat down with Tudan and the boy (who's name was so long none of us remembered) and chatted while the host mother literally ran around to finish all her errands. Tudan showed us his very interesting mix of Yak butter and barley flour - a super nutritious and fatty add to every meal he had. We tried it but I'm not a fan.
Tibetan Nomad Traditions
In Tibetan tradition the women does almost all the work: the work with the animals, the house work and even the hard work. In the next couple of hours after arrival our host mother got her family's yaks in place (about 30 yaks whose names she all knew) by tying them up right outside the tent, she cleaned up in and around the tent, she made sure the oven was warm and that her guests had hot water to drink and she finally cooked dinner around 8.30pm. After dinner she sat down 5 minutes to do a few stitches on her interesting Mao sewing work... But she quickly got up and this time Tudan went with her as apparently one yak was missing. Tudan explained that a yak on its own probably won't make the night because of wolfs in the area. Same wolfs are the reason why every Tibetan nomad families have the "dangerous" dogs. During daytime the dogs are mostly tied up but during nights they will be free to protect the yaks and tents. As soon as they know that strangers like us are guests of the nomad families, they stop being dangerous to us... But I had a hard time walking around alone. Not taking any changes with big Tibetan dogs!
The night was so clear this high on the Tibetan Plateau and I've never seen so many stars in my life. It got very cold but in the black tent we had sleeping bags, thick blankets and our Tibetan clothes so none of us felt cold at all.
Day 2 as Tibetan Nomads and a mission to Huagai Mountain
The following day our host mother rose at 5am to release the yaks for their morning walk. Meanwhile she picked up all the fresh yak dung in a basket on her back and spread it out in a nearby area to dry - this is the nomads only source of fuel for the oven and stove in the tent. Super organic and super efficient way of heating their home. Surprisingly enough apart from a smokey smell neither the tent or the area smelled as bad as I would imagine burned dung would smell like... An hour later our mother herded the yaks back to the tent area to milk the females: Fresh yak milk.
After a warm breakfast (of course cooked by our Tibetan mother) we got back on our horses and went for this second day's mission: A 2-3 hours ride to Huagai Mountain, a 2-3 hours climb and then back to camp. Though super cold, it was a super clear day and again we rode through beautiful landscapes in the most rural areas. Once in a while we met a marmot, an eagle or a yak on the run from the herd.
We reached the mountain and while Leon and Heather climbed it, I stayed down with the guide to do a small yoga session in this beautiful landscape. After their 2 hour climb we had breakfast leftovers and home-made bread for lunch before we started the ride back. Oh and we had a sip of Leon's Jamaican rum brought in his awesome hip flask from our favorite Shanghai brand Lanehouse Apperal.
I really needed this as I had gotten so cold sitting at lunch and for some reason we hadn't brought our Tibetan clothes for this day trip. During the ride "home" to our tent I was dreaming about a warm shower and a warm bed. The thought of another night in the tent with all the crazy animal sounds was a bit exhausting... but I soon forgot my misery as we rode straight into a Tibetan super woman who was herding a small group of big yaks. They had been on the run and she herded them back in the most cool Tibetan cowgirl style. So impressive and as we followed her yak-herding talent all the way back to the Ocean of Flowers yak field, the ride back went super quick.
After another home-cooked meal and a somewhat good night's sleep, the following morning we headed back to Langmusi. A 4 hour ride, probably the most unpleasant ride during this trekking as our butts where really now feeling the many hours of horseback riding. Once again weather was absolutely beautiful and we reached a Langmusi covered in sunshine around 3pm. Handed over the horses and went straight to take a warm shower followed by a big nap in our hotel bed. Happy & exhausted back in civilization!
Horse trekking info and tips
Liyi from Langmusi Tibetan Horse Trekking did all the arrangements for us. She also booked our hotel in Langmusi as well as helped us with bus tickets for our continuous journey. She's super nice, English speaking and serves the best Columbian coffee in her Black Tent Cafe in the heart of Langmusi.
- You can book 1, 2 and 3 days horse trekking through Liyi's website.
- Prices go from RMB 250-750 / per person.
- Warm clothes is the most important - I highly recommend to rent the Tibetan clothes for RMB 15/day. It's so warm and gives you an extra layer to protect your behind from the riding as well.
- Don't let the safety instructions scare you, from our experience the horses are so mild and well-behaved. They are also treated very nicely by the guides who's typically their owners and per Tibetan nature humans live in balance with animals. I was so scared of the dogs before we reached the camp but they where no problem and they were even afraid of the yaks (not sure how they can protect them from wolfs then).
- Food: As both me and Heather are vegetarians, we had only vegetarian meals (there's only one stove so everyone has the same for every meal). Every meal was simple but amazingly tasty Chinese food: Rice with vegetables, noodles with vegetables, home-made bread and yak butter. The other group also had yak meat in most meals.
- It's an absolutely amazing and once-in-a-lifetime experience! I really had the feeling of seeing the authentic nomadic life on close-hand and while 2 days would be a good option as well if you're lack of time, the 3 days trekking gives time to really see the everyday life routines and get closer to the animals and nomad family!