Part of a series intended for publication in TEA a Magazine
As part of our cross-country itinerary, the tour members of the China Tea Tour 2011 traveled to Tibet to experience the area’s unique culture, history, and, of course, tea customs. After enjoying the incredible Potala Palace, a traditional Tibetan medicine center, ancient monasteries, and a song and dance performance, the group trekked to Lake Namtso, one of the holiest lakes in Tibetan Buddhism. At over 15,000 feet above sea level, it is also the highest lake in the world.
During a four-hour drive from the capital city of Lhasa, the group passed the expansive scenery of the Tibetan range. Stark and foreboding hills were peppered with nomadic tents and roaming yaks, goats, and sheep. When we crested the final hill, we were rewarded with a view of the lake in the distance that was truly inspiring. The snow-fed oasis reflected the azure blue sky in its crystal clear waters. It is no wonder that this place is a pilgrimage site for Tibetans and also some eastern Indians!
After a chance to enjoy the vista, dip their toes in the sacred water, and sit for a moment on the back of a yak, the group made their way back toward Lhasa. On the way, the bus pulled to the side of the desolate road. The plan called for an impromptu visit with a nomadic family to get a glimpse of real Tibetan life. The lady-of-the-tent was fortunately at home and warmly welcomed the travelers into her abode.
She offered seating on the bedrolls and began preparing butter tea – the ubiquitous beverage of the grasslands – using a slender wooden churn. To accompany the nourishing brew of (brick) tea, yak butter, salt, and a little tsampa (barley flour), she served a bowl of dried, preserved butters, more like a chewy jerky. News of the visitors spread quickly in the open air and soon the head of the family arrived with his children in tow. More tsampa and tea were shared together and, in gratitude, the sated guests offered a gift of tea to their hosts. Exiting the tent, we noticed that a bit of a crowd had gathered, so we all posed for a “family picture,” before we boarded the coach and headed for home.