We were all pretty excited about camping with nomads. Nisha and I were wondering how we would find them, but Mr. Dorje was confident that we would just be able to drive along and see them. Sure enough, as we came around a bend we saw a field below dotted with tents and goats. Lots and lots of goats. We drove down until we were level with the field, and drove in until we met a guy standing around. He showed us where we could park and set up camp. It was evening, and they were preparing to milk the goats by tying the does together in a line with their heads facing alternate directions. We set up our tents and Brighu cooked a lovely dinner, which we ate in the car. As it got dark, the nomad tents lit up with the glow from their solar-powered lanterns. And the stars—I’m completely spoiled for starry skies for the rest of my life.
Eventually we decided to squeeze 4 of us into one tent rather than 2, because it was so cold. I was squished in the corner, which was both uncomfortable and cold despite my theoretically below-freezing sleeping bag. I also had some chemical warmers, but they took a long time to kick in. And there were the dogs. Dozens of them, barking and howling all night. I did get a little bit of sleep towards the morning, and then woke up and wandered out to see what was going on. Padma and Mr. Dorje were awake and chatting outside the tent of the family that had greeted us the night before. We wanted to go in, but were hesitant because we could hear someone chanting inside and we didn’t want to interrupt. Mr. Dorje said it was ok, so we went in. Inside, an older man was sitting next to a Buddhist altar, chanting out of a small book. He was wearing a straw cowboy hat with a button of the Dalai Lama pinned to the front. Two women were puttering around making tea, and offered us some—the salty butter kind, which is good if you don’t think of it so much as tea but more like a broth. Then a young man came in, gestured at his shoes, and said something in the local language. Padma and I were both immediately worried that we were supposed to have taken off our shoes, although everybody else was wearing their shoes inside the tent. He sat down next to me and tapped my shoes, and said, “good.” I realized that I was wearing the sturdiest shoes in the place, and that he wanted me to give them to him. Suddenly, I became very aware of being the rich white American tourist, and I didn’t like it.
Outside, Nisha was having trouble with the altitude again, so we decided to break camp and head down a bit lower. While we were packing things up, several of the nomads were standing around admiring our things—the camp stove, tin cups—and in some cases straight out asking for them. In the tent, Mr.Dorje had pointed out some handwoven blankets and bags, and one of the women came over with a bag to sell. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and Padma eventually bought it from her. (To be fair, several of them also helped pack up the tents, which was quite kind). We ended up giving them a bunch of food from our provisions and then headed back towards Keylong. So long, nomads. Thanks for letting us crash your party.