We’re in northern Yunnan’s Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which these days is infamously billed (and officially renamed) by the local government as the ‘true’ Shangri-la of fictional fame. We’re hoping to catch a flight from here to the next phase of our trip: Lhasa, in the now strictly controlled Tibetan Autonomous Region to the northwest. Since June 20th, the TAR is officially re-open to most of us nasty foreigners (with certain conditions, and excluding a few particularly sinister nationalities, like the Dutch). But our permit applications have still not been approved (or rejected!), so now we wait.
And acclimate. Not only to the altitude–it measures here between ten and eleven thousand feet–but also, it seems, to the yak. Yak yogurt, yak cheese, yak butter tea, yak meat. The local Kham Tibetans here seem to be mostly pastoral, living in big (government-subsidized) traditional houses and growing 青稞/highland barley. It seems much different here from the more nomadic Amdo Tibetan areas we passed through last year in Qinghai. But there are still small herds being raised outside town, in pastures that perhaps support them year-round, and yak is on the menus and in the air– the smell seems to be inversely proportional to the amount of oxygen. Yesterday while poking around, we somehow found ourselves sitting down with a local herder in his shack, drinking the tea, eating the yogurt, talking about the economy. After so long on rice and stir-fry, to be sitting by a smoky wood fire, listening to the wind outside, and ingesting fair amounts of unpasteurized yak dairy while giving up on Mandarin was a great introduction to the next phase of our journey. Wherever that ends up being.