Meeting nomads in the Dode Valley:
We were on our way to the ruins of the Nenang hermitage, up a side valley off the Dode Valley to the north of Lhasa city. Along the way we spotted something that’s not commonly found so close to the city - a traditional black nomad tent.
As we approached the tent a woman came out to check on the freshly made cheese that’d been left to dry outside in the sun. We called out hello and (in typical Tibetan fashion) she responded by inviting us in for some tea. Of course we couldn’t refuse, so we took a seat in the warm sun outside the tent and she poured us some refreshing tea while we chatted and asked about her life here.
She said she’s actually from a village to the East of Lhasa, but her daughter lives now in a village in the Dode Valley so that’s why she chose to bring her herd of yaks here for a while. She would be staying for only ten days in this spot before moving along to elsewhere in the valley. As far as we could tell it was just her and her son living here in the tent and taking care of their thirty yaks and two goats.
As we finished our cups of tea (or attempted to - it’s custom here to refill a cup as soon as a sip has been taken, so the level barely drops) the woman asked if we’d like some fresh milk to drink. Ali and I imagined the worst: some chunky unpasteurised funky smelling milk, but we said yes anyway because it’s not often that we find ourselves guests to a nomad. We cautiously took a first small sip and were surprised to find that it was actually delicious! I think it was the best milk I’ve had in Tibet, it was rich and sweet and reminded me of home.
Something kept confusing us though that we didn’t manage to work out until later in the day: the woman kept referring to the milk as ནོར་གི་འོ་མ་ “Nor's milk” and we had no idea what a “nor" was! We know the Tibetan for yak, female yak, half breed yak/cow combinations (there are a few different names), baby yaks, and baby half breed combinations, but none of them sound like "nor”. Each time she would speak of the nor’s milk she would gesture at the baby yaks that were tethered near the tent, but we still couldn’t work it out until we asked a friend later in the day.
We were told that what she meant by “nor" was in fact the baby yaks: in the old days (and nowadays still in some places too) in Tibet yaks are one of the most valuable things to own because they can provide milk (that can then be made into cheese and yoghurt), hair for making tents and other fabric things, and eventually meat. Because of this the baby yaks are sometimes referred to as being ནོར་བུ་ "Precious", which is then shortened to just ནོར་ ‘nor’! What a great little cultural tidbit to know, I thought.
After sitting for a while drinking milk we decided we should carry on or we’d run out of time to relax and explore at the top, so we said farewell and promised to stop by again on the way back down for some more fresh, tasty milk.