98 Nomads of the Tibetan Plateau

Nomads of the
Tibetan Plateau

Interview with
Trachung Kunchok Palsang

By Tracy Burnett and Tsering Dorje

For the past few years, we have had the privilege of interviewing nomads from different parts of the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Each nomad has spent a significant portion of his or her life herding or otherwise caring for yaks. Trachung Palsang has further created an environmental and cultural discussion center near his hometown, inclusive of food and rooms for tourists who come and supplement their travels with these healthy discussions. Palsang’s interwoven interests in nomadic life, literature, environmentalism and society helped him see straight to the heart of our questions about Tibetan nomadic life, and his answers are insightful, stimulating, and poetic. For six hours during summer 2019, he graciously shared his wisdom. We have done our best to select the most relevant excerpts of the interview for this journal and translate them faithfully to Palsang’s original words and meanings. We begin this journey with Palsang’s description of life on the grassland from before he left his hometown to attend school at the age of 14, and his musings on what he has seen changing within people since then.1 Yesterday, as the two of us were talking, one thing I said was, “Wherever there is real life, there is beauty.” If you want to experience life’s beauty, your heart must be attentive to real life.

For example, within the society of my childhood herding livestock on the grassland, if people had stayed distracted by things such as looking at phones and staying in outside teahouses—like children these days do—I don’t think they would have had any chance to see the beauty. I think to myself, “In general these days, aren’t there very few nomads who see beauty within their own lives and livelihoods?” Something seems to be replacing it, and I wonder, “Could the most important thing be whether one’s heart is attentive to real life?” It is difficult to say exactly whether or not this is the case. For example, reflecting on a single couple, in the past, after breakfast, the men would herd their livestock to far-off pastures, eat on the grassland, and abide there in leisure. When they were coming back home in the evening, their wives for their part saw them coming, herding animals, accompanied by the murmuring of livestock beneath sunset’s blushing clouds. For one thing, they had been separated for the entire day. For another, the beauty of their husbands drawing near—their particular form; their appearance on their horse; the scene of them herding livestock—brought with it a feeling like hope.

It was also like that whenever the women drew nearer, like when I used to see my mother. That also was beauty: black yak-hair tent, smoke, and there the motions of women at work carrying jugs of water or baskets for yak dung on their backs. The scene slowly came to embody what seemed like a movie. Then, when the couple gathered in their black yak-hair tent again—for example, when coming back from having gone outside and glanced around—and squeezed back close to the glowing light there, the light was the waving, blazing hearth fire of their black yak-hair tent. They would stretch up and down and sit, and if the husband told the stories of the day and the far-off pastures, they were all new. Really, from this, sometimes I think there is one hundred percent the semblance of romance. This is life; when not many people had interfered with the lifestyle of that time, it was an extremely delightful and good way to live. However, these days, a variety of things like phones have strong propensity to obscure the beauty-perceiving heart. “Once people cannot see beauty, has huge change arrived?” I wonder.


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