Tom Herbert

China post: Yakking in the Sichuan countryside

The beast stopped abruptly in its tracks; it had spotted our hiding place in the undergrowth. It eyed us suspiciously, snorted and began to slowly scuff the ground with its enormous hoof. I couldn’t help noticing how sharp the tips of its horns were as they glinted in the dappled sunlight. Was it really going to end like this? Halfway up a hill in a remote corner of south west China, cowering in the bushes on the side of a dirt track, yards away from a huge, hairy and extremely disgruntled yak?

Zhou Ma homestay1 It had all started so well. My wife and I arrived at Zhuo Ma’s Tibetan home stay in the beautiful Shang Si Zhai valley in the pitch blackness of the Sichuan night, and were ushered straight to our room. The following morning began in slightly magical fashion, as we were awoken by chanting monks blessing the newly re-opened home stay. As we lay in bed listening, a mobile phone cut through the recital and the chanting stopped while one of the monks chatted enthusiastically.

After a breakfast of steaming, oven-fresh flatbread and homemade honey, Zhuo Ma, the cheerful owner of the home stay, walked us to the foot of the valley and pointed towards a set of prayer flags in the middle distance. ‘You should walk up to the flag circle to get the best views of the area’, she advised. ‘It’s your first day so it’s best to come back and get some lunch after that. The climb up to the top of the valley is difficult, only the local herders know the way’.

prayer flags zhuo maIt was shortly after reaching the prayer flag circle and its breathtaking views that we made our first mistake. It was a lovely day and as we’d made such good progress why not go on for a bit? Surely the views would get even better? However, as we ascended the path began to change from a well-trodden thoroughfare to a muddy single-track trail and the undergrowth seemed to thicken, narrowing the path with every step.

Suddenly the sound of thundering hooves filled the air and from around the corner two enormous yaks came barrelling down the hill. I jumped up the bank. My wife jumped down, rolling in a blur of red hair and blue fleece and came to rest in the middle of a particularly thorny shrub. When the commotion had subsided I hopped down to help her up.

At that point that the biggest, hairiest yak I’d ever seen came trotting leisurely down the path and came to an abrupt halt right next to us. It looked at us and we looked at it, and for a few seconds man, woman and beast contemplated each other. After what seemed like a lifetime the yak suddenly tossed its head into the air, snorted and trotted nonchalantly off down the hill leaving the two intruders to its world rather shaken, but with a new-found respect for nature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *