From Xiahe, we headed further into the high Tibetan grasslands to the small town of Langmusi, which is at an elevation of 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) and is pretty cold, but with clear skies and little or no air pollution. It is a small Tibetan town nestled high up in a nice grass valley with granite outcrops in the surrounding hills and a small monastery on the hill. In the summer months, these high grasslands are lush and green, and the local Tibetans graze their yaks in summer grasslands, and bring them back to lower elevations during the winter when snow covers much of the higher areas. Here we did a great three-day trek on horseback.
We left town on our horses and headed up the valley along the White Dragon River. Along the way we stopped for lunch in a Tibetan nomad tent. We were warned to stay away from the dogs, since they are big and fierce dogs bred to protect the yaks from wolves and everything else (including stupid tourists). We walked to the tent (but kept our distance from the barking dogs), which had a typical grassland nomad setup: a basic cook stove, some simple ingredients, some padding and a good amount of dried yak dung used for cooking fires.
“Yak dung cooking” may sound a little dirty, but it really is just like burning dried grass and smells more like a campfire than pooh. We had a pretty good meal cooked for us and then we got back on our horses to head further up in the beautiful grasslands for our camp for the night. On the trail, we merged with a small groups of yaks and their Tibetan herders, who were moving their camp to another area for grazing. Riding horses amongst the yaks laden with the tents in this great scenery was really awesome and it felt like we were in another world. The Tibetans offered us some berries on little branches (tart and with good flavor), had a good laugh at our feeble horse riding skills, and chatted with our guides as we rode along while we concentrated on keeping our horse away from the sharp yak horns. The Tibetans in these cold areas wear these great coats with really long sleeves, which cover their hands and keep them warm. When they get too hot, they just pull one or two arms out of the sleeves and wrap them around their waist. This type of large coat seems pretty good and we should have rented some to use for our trek.
We got to a high camp, set high up a saddle in the mountains with awesome views of the verdant green hillsides being grazed by yaks and goats. The views were awesome, with small tents scattered throughout the grasslands, with wisps of smoke coming out of the tents, barking dogs claiming their territory and the vast plains nestled between exposed granite peaks. We met our host for the night, a really nice Tibetan woman who had learned a fair amount of English for us tourists who ride up on horses to stay in her tent and eat her food. Before dinner, they herded the yaks down around the tents so the dogs could keep the wolves away for the night. For dinner in the tent, we had dried yak cooked with potatoes (pretty tasty, and tasted like unsalted jerky). We tried to learn a little Tibetan from our host, but mostly just laughed at our minimal ability to communicate with words. We had a good sleep in the tent, and woke up in the morning to the sounds typical of being surrounded by hundreds of snuffling yaks. We crawled out the tent, bundled up and dumbly watched the Tibetans with their morning routine of getting the yaks out into the pastures on the hillsides. The huge piles of dung left behind were self-explanatory in how they gather their fuel.
That day we rode onwards through the widely dispersed grazing camps, and down into an area called the “Ocean of Flowers”. It was a vast, flat valley with rolling hills covered with thick grass and many wildflowers in full bloom. Although the photos look too much like a Microsoft Windows desktop image, it was a really beautiful place. We rode onwards through a rocky canyon to the next camp for the night. That night and the next day it rained and we made our way back to Langmusi on the third day in the rain, eager to get back to town, shower and rest our sore behinds. The trip was really awesome.