Tibet has around two million nomadic households. All nomads live on the Tibetan plateau at an average elevation of 2500 m above sea level. Tibetan people have a way of life closely connected to nature. The people living in the pastoral area are known as nomadic people, which is a very interesting way of living.
Life as a Tibetan nomad is often romanticized in movies and books, but the reality of it is far more interesting and complex. Tibetan nomads are an integral part of the Tibetan culture, living in the vast and remote grassland of the Tibetan Plateau. And their lifestyle is defined by a nomadic tradition that has been passed down through generations.
Tibetan nomads depend on their herds of animals for sustenance and income. They raise yaks and sheep and use their milk and wool to produce dairy products and clothing. The nomads are also experts at riding horses and yaks, as well as herding and breeding the animals. The nomads also have an intimate knowledge of the land, knowing where to find the best pastures and water sources for their animals.
The nomads migrate from place to place in search of the best grazing grounds and resources, and the nomadic lifestyle is full of adventure. The nomads live in yak-hair tents, and the families are very close-knit, with many members living in the same tent. Despite the harsh conditions, life as a Tibetan nomad can be very rewarding, with a sense of freedom and fulfillment that is hard to find in modern life.
Tibetan nomads are also renowned for their traditional crafts, such as weaving carpets and making jewelry. They also have a deep spiritual connection with nature and the environment, and their culture is steeped in traditions and rituals that honor their connection with the land.
They have a permanent house made of mud and stone only for the winter season. For the rest of the season, they lived in a black yak wool tent. In the early years, every nomadic household owned a yak wool tent. But these days many households use polyester tents. However, the Tibetan black tent is one of the unique craftsmanship products of Tibetan nomads.
The Tibetan black yak wool tent is made from yak wool. In fact, there are two types of yak wool. One is much softer and comes from the neck and the back of the yak. The other is much rougher and comes from the thigh and stomach of yaks. The black tent is made of yak fur.
It is a completely handcrafted tent. Firstly, they clean up all the yak wool they got and brush it so it becomes soft and silky. They hand spun into yarn and folded into rectangular shapes like carpets in different sizes depending on the size of the tent that household needs. They join those rectangular carpets by stitching them together, making them into two cuboidal halves.
When the two halves join together to form a cuboidal shape the top of the tent has a large opening that is used to let the smoke out and warm sunshine in and also has a cap on it to close during rainy days. It takes almost six months to build a medium size tent by hand, which covers around 20 to 25 square meters and requires about 80 to 90 kilograms of yak wool.
They need two wooden poles eight to ten feet tall and ten to twelve shorter wooden poles. They also need long ropes made of yak wool to tie up outside with shorter wooden poles. A standard tent has eight ropes holding it to the ground. The first pole, the furthest inside the tent, is called the sacred pole.
Usually, a traditional Tibetan silk shawl, also known as a Khatak in Tibetan, juniper leaves, and wool are draped around the top of this pole. Only the wool of a dead sheep or the wool of a Tsethar (saved life) sheep is used to adorn the sacred pole. Tsethar sheep are sheep that are neither killed, sold, nor eaten. Since a family set these sheep aside from their other livestock and vowed to spare them from death. This is a religious practice and an act of compassion.
The second pole is called the warrior’s pole. Swords, guns, and horses’ bridles adorn this pole. The last pole is the wife’s pole. Women’s household implements such as cloth and sewing implements are hung from this pole. The household’s cooking utensils are all placed underneath the wife’s pole. The tent’s interior is held in place by three main poles connected by a ceiling board. There is a door at the front of the tent that is split into two pieces. It is an exclusive tent with some special features. In hot weather, every yak tent tends to be loose and soft, letting the breeze pass through and keeping you fresh and cool inside. While in cold weather, the tent becomes tight again, keeping the wind and rain out.
There is neither a bed nor a chair inside the tent. As a result, people sit on carpets and cushions. They don’t keep those belongings because they have to move from one place to another every season. In the middle of the tent, a fire was set up.
Behind the fireplace, there are fuels made from yak dung. The tent is naturally divided into two quarters. Males occupy the left half, and females the right half. The inner part of the left side is a worshipping place equipped with Buddha statues, scripts, and lamps. The right side is for utensils and food storage.
Butter, barley, rice, and meats are kept in leather bags to protect against insects and dust. In the center of a Tibetan tent lies a traditional earthen cooking stove made of mud and stones. For Tibetans, the stove is a precious site as food is the most significant for survival and the stove is where food and water cook.
Therefore, they will not step over the stove, out of respect, nor is the stove ever destroyed, even after the family gathers its belongings and moves to the next pasture with the change of seasons. Outside the tent, they build a small structure of sod or rocks to protect themselves against the cold wind. Every householder has a Tibetan mastiff dog tied outside the tent and at night they release the dog to protect herds from wolves and bears.
Tents must be folded properly and loaded on yaks when they migrate according to the season. These days most nomads use trucks for transportation. During winter, they don’t use a tent as they live in a mud house.
For travelers, these nomadic householders are very kind and helpful. They will provide food and accommodation for the travelers even though they have little space inside the tent. However, they will try to manage it. The only thing you have to remember is to respect their culture and religion. They always enjoy receiving visitors.
In conclusion, life as a Tibetan nomad may be difficult and demanding, but it is also full of beauty and joy. For generations, the nomads have been living in harmony with the land and their animals, and the nomadic lifestyle remains an important part of Tibetan culture. The nomads are a reminder of the beauty and resilience of nature, and their way of life is an inspiration to us all.