Sleeping under yak hair: life with Gansu’s Tibetan nomads

I wrote about my experiences of living with Gansu’s nomads for Lonely Planet, remembering the sights, sounds and smells of the grasslands and the yaks the nomads rely upon. Even though I only spent a short amount of time with them, it was amazing getting to know how people in this area of Gansu live.

The most challenging aspect, apart from having to do everything at altitude, which is incredibly tiring, was the complete lack of toilet facilities. The family would do their thing literally anywhere there wasn’t a ferocious dog lurking, which I found a bit disconcerting. I was only with them for a couple of days so I managed to keep my toilet sessions fairly, shall we say, simple but I dread to think what I would have done if things had got more complicated! Also, women are the main labour force for the nomadic families and I would have loved to have asked them how they manage with their periods out on the grasslands with no facilities or privacy, and with wolves roaming about. But, alas, these things usually aren’t easy to talk about in your own language, let alone in another, and the subject, funnily enough, never came up with the men of the camp. Still, an insight into the lives these women live and the lack of home comforts I have that I probably take for granted.

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