Men vs. Desert

Sanji made arrangement with his friends at nearby village to show me how they used yak and sheep manure to cover the sandy spots on their pastureland. Yak dung plays such an important role in the herder’s life. In addition to being their only fuel source, it has become the main if not only means for the herders to save their grassland.

We met them at one of the hillside by their tractor. Even the men giggled when I let them talk about their plan. They’ve got a lot to say but they spoke so fast it would be nearly impossible to cut. After loading up the tractor, they drove over to the deserted mountain side. With the old herder acted as sort of a director, they dumped the manure and spread them around. The contrast between the enormous desert and the tiny pile of manure was startling and sad. While they worked, they joked about me, and themselves all the times.

Two of the guys were brave enough to come out and talk on camera. One of them talked way too fast while the other one had a very comic look on him. They later showed me a few of the smaller pockets where their earlier effort had restored the desert back to much richer soil where grass and mushroom were growing. A promising sight.

As soon as we got done filming, thunderstorm came. They also wanted to show me their grassland on the plains so we followed them through the dried-up wetland to their camp. Hail and rain mixed with moments of sunshine added the thrill to most bumpy ride I’ve experienced.

Their camp was on an used-to-be wetland that has since turned to black soil with very little grass on. Numerous plateau pikes and a bigger sized rodent dug holes and shoveled soil from the depth. For whatever reasons, few grass grow on the the black soil and yaks don’t like to eat those type of grass. The herders here blame the pikas but what are the reasons behind the imbalance? With deteriorating grassland, their herd quota has gone down to 30 sheep a person, hardly enough to support themselves. If it continues like the way it has been, they would become eco-refugees in no time.

Sanji’s friend made us stay for lunch. Two girls, one with a hunched back made us noodle soup. Three little boys played outside the tent. Not far away, a basketball hoop stood eerily in the middle of the darkened grassland.

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