Friday, 12 April 2013

More Yak Facts

As yet another Yak-train passes us on the narrow track and we huddle intimately into the bank trying to avoid their baleful eyes and razor sharp horns I wonder how many incidences of roadside banditry there are along this road.
A Yak train in a semi-urban environment
High-jacking, or I suppose more accurately, Yak-jacking would have to be a peculiar and special disreputable art, for the following inescapable reasons.

  • Yaks are slow, methodical, contemplative and irritable. On steep inclines they will walk for perhaps ten paces and then stop, gaze around, have a think, catch their breath and proceed for a further ten steps and repeat the process, and mutter “Om Mani Padme Hom” under their breath.  A quick getaway would be out of the question.
" . . then stop, gaze around, have a think, catch their breath"
A couple of Yaks taking a well earned rest.
  • At lower altitudes where there is vegetation the paths are generally walled or steeply cut into the mountain sides making deviation from the path very difficult, so temporary and nefarious road diversions would also not work because there is nowhere to deviate to. At higher altitudes where visibility is excellent for kilometres in all directions a road sign saying “Diversion, Road-works Ahead”, or a set of temporary traffic lights will look decidedly fishy, and would cut no ice (sorry!) with a hardened Yak handler.
  • Yaks are fitted with an automatic tracking system in the form of a Yak bell hung from their neck that you can hear from at least half a kilometre away (much further in open valleys) – so stealth would be a bit of an issue. 
Some very visible Yaks against a painted sky . . . 
  • Lastly the Yak handlers while generally small and apparently infirm with hacking tubercular coughs are actually as tough as the old boots they wear, so tough you would not want to tangle with them while trying to steal a Yak train.
I conclude therefore that traffic offences of this nature are rare. A conclusion that is fully supported by a complete absence of traffic cops.

Flippancy aside, Yaks appear to be beautifully groomed – unless their coats are naturally glossy and well kempt.

"Yaks appear to be beautifully groomed"  Photo shoot from
the latest Khumbu Valley Spring Collection
I think that they are truly naturally good looking animals that are revered as such by their owners. Interestingly while there is lots of shouting, gestured threats and full body lunges made at Yaks from their minders, never once did we see any form of violence against the animals.

Yaks are an essential part of the economy of the Khumbu Valley being the pack-animals of choice. Unable to avoid a professional interest I established that a Yak day costs $10, and that travelling time between Lukla and Everest Base Camp (EBC) is five days. (Obviously Yaks do not need acclimatization days.) A Yak can carry up to 60kgs at a time, and the return journey is three days. Thus the cost to transport 60kgs to EBC is $80, all inclusive, or a smidgen over $1 a kilo.  However there is a minimum charge – you can’t hire anything less than four Yaks at a time. So if you are desperate to get your meagre 60kgs to Base Camp and cannot make up the weight with other stuff you could end up paying premium of $3 per kilo. The moral of this story is make sure you have got stuff for four Yaks to carry before you hire Yak transport; or to put it another way make sure you've got a sufficient supply of mars bars with you, because the marginal cost of extra emergency supplies will be incredibly high.

Gratuitous photo of a truly handsome beast. A Yak among

There was a point at Lobuche where the afternoon became a white-out. The clouds closed in and the snow fell in earnest. The planned walk up and along the ridge of the lateral moraine formed by and overlooking the Khumbu Glacier was cancelled, despite pleas to Hari.

Kevin and Lavern were discussing the conditions outside – which were blisteringly cold. A party of Yaks and their minders were parked just outside the Tea House windows. Everything was caked in new blown snow and it all looked very bleak out there. I had missed the essence of the conversation but caught Lavern saying something to the effect that “- a least they should have gloves – they are after all human beings.” For some reason, which I still cannot fully explain I thought she was referring to the Yaks, and not the attendant Sherpas. This may have been prompted by previous comments about her dislike of seeing Yaks being used as pack-animals – and for some weird altitude induced moment I thought that she had taken this notion to fantastic anthropomorphic heights of animal welfare, i.e. that the Yaks should be equipped with gloves.

I laughed and was rightly rewarded by a sharp look and “What are you laughing at?” or “What’s so funny?” or something along those lines, and I could not give a reasonable explanation. I could not explain that I had had a vision of Yaks in mittens, woollen bootees and those distinctive conical Nepalese hats with ear flaps. That I had so missed the point of this conversation about Sherpa welfare, and that I could not explain that, I could not explain how stupid I felt. And I still have not apologised for this faux pas.

"Everything was caked in new blown snow" A picture of
gloomy Yaks without mittens

1 comment:

  1. Accessorised yaks, extremely fashion forward, I think!


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