Wild Yak from Amdo, Tibet

15 Expressions of Tibet’s Nomadic Life

Tibet's grassland, big sky, river
Tranquil and harmonious are the words to describe this landscape. Yaks grazing in the foreground and nomadic dwells dotted the space, the Tse-chu River zigzagging and mapping its way through the grassy field and into the big sky-like a work of art intended for a museum.


Lhago and her husband Tsehua decided to have a nomadic life experience. This summer was the first time my sister visited our nomad family in Tsekog, Zekog or rtse khog (རྩེ་ཁོག Zeku) with Tsehua. Our maternal grandmother was born in Tsekog County, in a yak-fur tent. It’s where my family still has a village and half of relatives.

Tsehua said, “Summer is the best time to visit the grassland. It’s absolutely breathtaking.” He shared some live video clips of a flood of yaks (གཡག) moving through green grass that filled with wildflowers. I wish they were shareable links.

However, Lhago and Tsehua also shared a selection of photos that highlight Tibet’s nomadic life, including a wild yak འབྲོང་།, yak-hair tent, and landscapes.Yaks are animals vital to the very existence of Tibetans. Some say yaks were domesticated 3,000 years ago, and 95% of them still live on the Tibetan plateau as livestock. For nomads, yaks are food sources of milk, cheese, meat, wool, and hides. Their dung is also a source of fuel. Thanks to their pictures (via smartphones).


Wild Yak from Amdo, Tibet
It’s a Tibet’s wild yak འབྲོང་།. The huge, furious beast says, “I’m mad. Who cares however many photos you take and share on the Internet.” Wild yaks are endangered animals. Estimate wild yak population worldwide is about 15,000. They live mostly on the grassland and desert regions of the Tibetan plateau.


Yak hair tent, nomad man, butter churner
This is a yak-hair tent that Tibet’s nomad families call home. The dark tent is hand woven from natural yak hair. The man relaxing is my uncle.


"Dri" Tibet's female yak
This longhaired domestic dri (འབྲི། female yak) was well mannered. It answered “Hello” but then decided to move on quickly. Maybe the mother dri’s agenda was to stay close to her calf.


Yak hair ropes, yak ties
These are typical wooden pins and yak-hair ropes to tie up dri (female yaks) and calves for milking.


Tibetan Yak hide bags, sheepskin bag
Bags of sheepskin and yak hides are commonly used to store foodstuff. Yak leather is a thicker and more durable but softer than cowhide. These stuffed animal skin bags also function as insulation for their yak-fur or black tent.


Tibetan nomad baby boy
The nomadic baby gets some sun in his homemade crib.


Tibetan nomad tool, wooden dung tool
Although there are modern gadgets today, this wooden tool is a traditional dung picker that a drokmo (འབྲོག་མོ། Tibetan nomad woman) would use daily. After yaks are let loose into the lush green grass field, she would scoop and transport all the dung onto a designated, sunny area and flatten them to dry. Dried yak dung is then used for heating and cooking, as no trees grown in these high altitude areas of the Tibetan plateau.


Tibetan nomad man in traditional cloth
This is my uncle, who always visited his aunt (my grandmother) in Rebgong and teased me about my light skin color, caused by sunless classrooms and later office life. (I know why his skin is profoundly tanned. It’s not because of the high elevation or direct sunlight. But because he didn’t miss the supper with his family, not long after eating his wholesome meat pasty “shabaley” every day. A herder tending sheep for the day would have a shabaley waiting for him as soon he arrived home late in the afternoon.)


Tibetan knife
It’s a Tibetan style knife that every nomadic man has one.


Tibetan horse, traditional transportation
Motorcycles are very popular among Tibetan nomads, yet most of them still have the traditional transportation, a horse, like the one in the picture.


girl herder in woolen rain robe
A girl is wearing a traditional, homemade wool shawl that’s designed to prevent soaking from the rain. It’s the ultimate umbrella, only better. With this thick wool robe, she can continue to tend the sheep or yaks without getting wet. On the background, a Tibet’s milking bucket in wooden is seen hanging a pole.


Tibetan wild yellow mushrooms
Tibet’s wild, yellow mushrooms are well-known, and my sister, too, picked some.


Tibet's Marmot standing tall
“Oh, my lord. I thought you were in New York City,” said another marmot (to Tsehua who studied at Columbia University).


wildflowers, tibetan plateau grassland
Lush green grass and wildflowers as far as you can see. This is where my nomadic families spend the summer months.


And this drew my sister Lhago and Tsehua to this magical place, our ancient way of life.

Any surprises from these nomadic life expressions?

More Nomadic Expressions

The Tibetan nomad traditions [BBC]


  1. Another beautiful Post Jolma. I’m always so excited to see a new post from you as I know there will always be something for me to learn, and also to experience a deeper insight from a personal level some of the many facets, history, and peoples of Tibet. The baby is adorable, the men, fascinating, and the yak… it’s many uses and cultural associations to food, shelter, clothing over the ages. Thanks so much for sharing, and for the kindness of the photo taker too.

  2. Fabulous photos, esp. the first one with the expansive grassland. Thank you for the lovely gift, Jolma!

  3. I hadn’t seen or heard of that raincoat before, pretty awesome. Nomads are really self sufficent!

  4. I’ve seen marmots before – mainly in the Pacific NW, but I’ve never seen one come right up to a human. These are spectacular photos that your sister shared. It’s another example of how travel broadens our understanding of what it means to be human – so dependent on the environment in which we live. Thank you.

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