The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau in the world stretching from central China to Kashmir in Pakistan and India, and is bordered by the tallest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, to the South. Often called the Roof of the World, the Land of Snows or the Third Pole, it is unlike any other place on Earth. 8000 m mountains and thousands of glaciers descend onto the 4500 m plateau, supplying water and life to billions of people living along the Yangtze, Mekong, Ganges and Indus rivers.
Photo credit: reurinkjan
Nomads on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas are some of the last remaining nomadic cultures which were once widespread in Asia and Africa, with an estimated 2 million Tibetans still practicing some form of nomadism. Most live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, living in black yak wool tents in summer pastoral grasslands, and wooden log homes in winter.
Their livelihood is strongely tied to their land, relying on yaks, horses, and sheep for food, clothing, transport, housing and income. An average nomadic family will have up to 50 yaks, 300 sheep and a few horses, living on a diet consisting mainly of cheese, dried meat, butter, yoghurt, sour milk and tea.
Photo credit: Lyle Vincent
However, traditional Tibetan nomadic culture is quickly disappearing as life on the Plateau becomes tougher and tougher, and migration to the cities is encouraged. The contrast between the economic boom in Chinese cities and the endless expanse of grasslands, rivers and mountains couldn’t be greater, but the reality of settling into city life and prospering is not as easy as it is seems. There are still people that want to continue living a nomadic lifestyle, but desire a better quality of life, education for their children, access to medicine and technological advancement. Motorbikes have replaced horses, cellphones have made communication possible and children often go to boarding school in a nearby town or city.
Photo credit: jbdodane
Developing the yak fiber industry and creating a genuine demand for it in the international market is one step towards creating a reliable source of income for the herders. Currently the collection, processing and use of yak fiber is in its infancy, despite its amazing properties, but the potential can clearly be seen. Starting with the raw yak fiber, purchased directly from co-ops or other small enterprises, we can begin the process of crafting it into a high performance yarn and fabric that is perfect for outdoor clothing and is ready for use in the same wild and unforgiving environment that it comes from.