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Stories from Dolpo: A Blessing

Dung is life. Yak dung that is.

At the highest elevations there are no trees that grow, and what was there as far as other plant life has long been harvested. So in order to keep warm and cook food the women of these areas hike for miles to gather what brush and roots they can find as kindling, then keep their home fires burning with yak dung. It is a sustainable resource, as the yaks they keep provide food, clothing, and fuel. Surviving at this elevation may not be possible through the winter without it.

The outskirts of Tinje are cultivated with walls to separate properties and to keep the animals from eating their bounty. (Those small black dots are yaks plowing the fields).

During a rare unscheduled time on our trek, I strolled into town with a few friends. The pace was leisurely, the sun was shining although the wind occasionally picked up and was brisk. The fields had been harvested but there is still a lot to prepare for the arrival of winter.

The village was quiet except for the occasional local, including an older looking woman, basket strapped to her forehead in the traditional way to carry a heavy load. She stopped and asked us "kanna? kanna?" We didn't have any food with us to give her. A little disappointed she points to my wooden string of beads I am wearing around my wrist. I simply say "mala," since I can't form a full sentence in Nepali or Tibetan, but I know this local word for my beads. She takes the string of beads from my wrist into her arthritic hand covered with dry flaking black dung. Then I notice her heavy basket is full of her recent harvest.

She proceeds to chant with my mala: Om Mane Padme Hum. This chant is one I've heard often in these mountains, said audibly or quietly again and again with each bead, repeated quickly in this instance. She gets through the 108 beads and hands them back to me. She is small and already bending forward to balance her basket. I bow to her, my hands together in prayer position embracing the mala beads, and say "namaste, tashi delag." We touch foreheads. She is smiling and so am I, with tears welling up in my eyes.

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