We sat on long, cushioned benches in the living room of a Tibetan matriarch while sipping Yak butter tea. Dressed in a black robe with long salmon colored shirt, black and white striped apron and light pink hat, she talked about life in Tibet through the help of a translator. In the background her shy granddaughter avoided our gaze. Donning a pink fleece with long pink pants with a long split in the back she cast an occasional quizzical look our way. A Yak walked freely in the inner courtyard.
I had only been in Tibet 2 hours, but already I was getting a glimpse into life in Lhasa by experiencing a local home visit. The benches we were sitting on doubled as beds at night. The quintessential flat screen TV atop hand carved cherry furniture stood out more than we did. Soft walls, painted in pale yellow with a green and red stripe through the middle reminded me of Mexico. In one way Tibetans live such a simplistic existence, yet in another so much forethought and detail is put into the decor. The ceiling looked right out of Versailles.
The grandmother was in her early 60s but looked at least a decade older, probably a combination of a hard life and harsh climate. Lhasa is poor in nutrients and a with two mile (3.2 KM) high altitude, being closer to the sun means high in harmful UV rays. Yaks remain a key figure in to the survival of Tibetans. They provide nourishment from their meat and milk, and their hair is used for clothing.
We sipped on Yak butter beer which has an unsavory flavor combination resembling goat milk and beer. The matriarch also served butter tea made from Yak milk which has an unpleasant salty-sweet and gluttonous taste. Thankfully yummy Yak candies removed the bad aftertaste. On the savory side Yak meat reminds me of beef and is a staple of most dishes.
Yak is really a delicious met and does well in tibetan curries accompanied by bread which resembles naan. My advice is to avoid the Yak beverages but stick to the proteins. You’ll avoid a lot of unpleasantries that way.
It’s not often one has the chance for a home visit in a place so unique like Lhasa. Please book a home tour when given the option. Our guide had set it up, but you’ll find many options online. It certainly adds insight into a way of life almost untouched by time. When you live in such an isolated place, time tends to stand still.
You’ll most likely need a translator but any good tour will include one. Our tour operator hires local guides who not only speak English but also have an intimate understanding of the local culture. That way you not just getting a mouth piece. You have someone who knows what they are talking about and can answer questions in an intelligent and informed way.