Amne Machin White and A Travelling Circus

The following is an excerpt from Jeff Fuchs’ Tea and Mountain Journals, a blog by explorer, photographer and writer Jeff Fuchs.  Jeff is the 2011 recipient of AsiaTravel’s Explorer Grant.  He and friend Michael Kleinwort are currently traveling through unknown portions of the Tsalam route in Qinghai.

Below is an update from their journey…

Our two yak stand still in the blowing white snow; around them there is nothing to suggest a specific time-period and looking at their ice-encrusted wool I imagine a time long ago when gas-spewing, noise machines on wheels hadn’t yet taken over – where movement on land required the foot or hoof. Here, now, in this blowing snow beneath a mountain it is remarkably easy to imagine this time.
Amne Machin White and A Travelling Circus

The yak stand before us resigned and powerful, and it is evident that it is in their DNA and memory banks to wait, to be loaded and to traipse where few beings can. Mobile, tough and silent they provide the broad backs for transport. Nomads delight in riding horses but in these parts no other ‘transporter’ can predictably claim the reliability title at altitude as can these behemoths.

Apart from the yak, all things seem in rapid motion. Snow is contorting and rushing at us from above. The headwoman of the village is continuing to issue orders, while simultaneously tightening up yak wool cords around our gear.

Amne Machin White and A Travelling Circus

Ancient and essential, the art of loading and tying gear to mules or yak’s backs is something that has long been prized and traders often picked their muleteers or ‘yak-men’ based on their abilities in this skill. Our guide Neema, a short and slight man whose face wouldn’t be at all out of place in the Andes of South America is organizing our food and necessities into bigger bags that will also be tied onto the back and flanks of our yak. One item, an essential given the time of year is a double reinforced bag of dried yak dung patties – fuel for our life giving fires. We are above the treeline here at almost 4 km’s in the sky and the areas where we will tread will not yet have herds of yak…nor their vital ‘droppings’ for us to use.
Amne Machin White and A Travelling Circus

Huge flakes of snow explode into moisture as they pop against our jackets, and the mountains around us (that we can make out) are already building up their coats of white. The snow is unrelenting and it is hard to imagine a world without white. The winds are crafty, coming at us from all angles at once it seems.

Making our way out of the valley our vistas open up, but not our sightlines. They are paralyzed by drapes of white snow. Our contingent of moving bodies has somehow become eight bodies. The two yak seem to know precisely where they are going silently leading the way. Neema has mounted a chestnut pony – a lanky tough looking creature, and two dogs have joined along. One dog, a beige 10 kg livewire of energy looks part terrier and part fox, carrying a small diagonal scar on his snout which gives him the look of a seasoned street fighter.

The second dog, a Tibetan mastiff carries his black bulk easily and has the most forlorn brown eyes I have seen in a long while. Michael is wrapped in a black hood and I am encased for the wind and snow. Snow, as it does has at once darkened the entire day and made it so bright that we need the sunglasses for the glare.

Squeezing through a last bottleneck of space, we make out a hazy outline coming up to our left. Unseen to our right, down a plunging valley is the Nam River and the structure to our left, which clarifies as we approach, is the Ge Re Monastery, a new monastery that reminds me strangely of a mosque in shape. It sits as sort of a gateway into a bigger world beyond. It is still in the onslaught of snow…everything but the snow now seems still.

Amne Machin White and A Travelling Circus

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Image: Jeff Fuchs

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