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Himalaya

Day 108: Jangothang

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe farmhouse is of the traditional manorial style, surrounded by a compound protected by a five-foot-high wall made from stone and topped with birch twigs and dried yak dung.

Inside the compound is a solar panel unit and a number of archery targets. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan.

We climb an outside staircase, at the top of which waits the bony figure of Choni Dorje. He's 82, and has lived here all his life. He's that happy combination, a yak herder and poet, and a few years back wrote a song extolling the virtues of his favourite yak, called something like 'Jewel of the Mountains'. Describing the beast from horn to tail in loving terms, it struck a national chord and he was asked to Thimpu to sing his song to the King. He doesn't look strong. He has a cataract in one eye, turning it milky blue, white hair tight around a prominent skull, sunken cheeks and a wispy Fu-Manchu beard.

But he seems cheered to see us and happy to give us a tear-jerking rendition of his big hit. Just to bring the tone down, I reply with a verse of the Lumberjack Song, which, sadly, I can never fully remember.

Choni Dorje's granddaughter invites us inside to the big, open, timber-floored room, where four generations live together. Bed-rolls are neatly stowed at one side of the room, along with the woven rugs and blankets to keep out what must be bitter cold. A little marmalade cat peers at us from a dark corner. As befits the house of a man who wrote a love song to the animal, there are bits of yak all over the place; haunches of dried yak meat and coiled entrails hang from roof beams and a pile of yak dung is stacked by the cast-iron stove. A small shrine with a Buddha lies behind a curtain off to one side.

As we drink our butter tea, I have to remind myself that Choni Dorje, his family, his yaks and his marmalade cat have lived their entire lives higher than the summit of the Eiger.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 108: Jangothang
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Jangothang
  • Book page no: 250

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