Great Tibet Tour Logo GREAT TIBET TOUR ®
Big News: Tibet has Opened to Expats Living in China Now!

Tibetan Yaks

  • Last Updated: 2022-08-07

Tibetan yak is a symbol of the traditional Tibetan lifestyle. The reason why Tibetans call yaks "treasure" is that the yaks provide the basic guarantee for people's survival in the traditional Tibetan society. It is full of treasures, and every treasure is selflessly bestowed on mankind.  Its gifts benefit the people on Tibetan Plateau in terms of clothing, food, shelter, transportation, as well as burning, farming, medical treatment, recreation, and so on. It can be said that yaks contributed everything from birth to death. As the intimate companions of the Tibetans, the herders call the yak “Noor”, which means “wealth” or “treasure”.

What is Tibetan Yak?

Tibetan Yak is mainly living on the Tibetan Plateau, which is used to be the main livestock species of herders. Its main characteristics are a large head, wide forehead, thick horns and long hair. In Tibetan areas, yaks are known as "boats of the plateau" and worshiped as a totem by Tibetans. It is not only an indispensable partner on the plateau but also the protector of the clans in Tibetan myths and legends. Living in the alpine regions with an altitude of 3,000m to 5,000m, yaks can withstand the severe cold of minus 30°C to 40°C. In the snowstorm, the yak looks bold and powerful, mighty and firmly. Undoubtedly, the yak is a symbol of the strongest vitality on the plateau. It has also become a unique cultural icon of the Tibetans.

Tibetan yak
A Tibetan woman pulling a yak is waiting for tourists' riding at Namtso Lakeside.

Significance of Yaks in Tibet

Living in alpine regions, resisting cold and supplying food are the basic needs for survival. For the nomadic Tibetan people on the grassland, the yak acts as an intermediary between men and nature, so that people don't have a direct relationship with land and plants.

Clothes: The soft and smooth Tibetan yak hair, combined with fine wool, can be used to weave high-quality woolen and pulu after washing and spinning. The Tibetan herders can twist the yak hairs by hand and weave them into beautiful blankets and cloaks, and sew winter tents and food storage pockets, which are cold-proof, moisture-proof, and durable. When grazing on a rainy and snowy day, herders can wear a yak-hair cloak, which is warm and comfortable without dripping water. The cowhide has been processed, showing red and purple, so it can be used to make high-end leather shoes in addition to Tibetan boots. It not only has a good gloss but also has elasticity. Its pressure resistance and corrosion resistance are comparable to any leather so yak leather shoes are quite popular among urban Tibetans.

Food: Milk is the first contribution of the yak in Tibet. A female yak can produce three to four catties of milk per day, which is three times that of the local cattle. The milk is thick and nutritious. Tibetan herders have milk every day by boiling it or fermenting it into yogurt. Besides, they extract ghee and milk residue from the milk. Tibetan yak milk has a high-fat content, and a hundred catties of milk can be extracted about ten catties of precious ghee. Especially herders, they rarely eat vegetables and fruits but meat so their daily calories come from butter tea as soup and milk residue as vegetables. Not only can't they drink tea without ghee, but also they use ghee to light lamps, fry dough balls, and reconcile tsampa to eat. Ghee is also an offering to the gods and gifts to relatives and friends.

Butter tea
Butter tea is made from ghee extracted from yak milk.

Shelter: A black tent on the grassland is hard in texture, warm in winter and cool in summer, easy to load and unload, and easy to transport. It is made of yak wool by herders. The rope twisted by yak hair is elastic, strong and durable, and the tent made of it is strong against the cold.

Daily Supplies: In the Tibetan language, yak dung has no meaning of dung or urine but is called “Jiuwa”, which means “fuel”. Instead of thinking it is sordid, Tibetans even feel it very amiable. Cow dung used to be the main fuel on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. For thousands of years, nomadic Tibetans have used this fuel to make tea, cook meat, heat, light, and treat... In Tibetan medicine, there is a unique sniffing therapy for tranquilizing the mind, called “Longdu” in Tibetan. That is to sprinkle cow dung on fire ash and make it smoke and let the patient sniff it. When the patient smells the smoke, it can calm the mind and has a significant effect.

Transportation: Yak is the main tool for herdsmen to carry goods and ride. Herdsmen move several times throughout the year for their nomadic lifestyle, relying on the yak to carry their family properties. In agricultural areas, yaks undertake heavy tasks such as pulling plows, transporting highland barley, transporting fertilizers, etc. No matter how steep the road,  how heavy the work, it always lifts its feet firmly, steadily and freely, silently leaving rows of deep hoof prints, allowing the lifeline of the plateau to flow unimpeded. Research shows that the yak has a strong cardiorespiratory function. It carries more than one hundred catties of materials and climbs up to 6000 meters above sea level in one go. The air there is thin, which is difficult for people to adapt to. But yaks rarely worry about lack of oxygen, and there is no need to worry about their blood pressure and heart pulse as they are born on the plateau.

Yaks in Tibet
Yak is the main transportation tool for herdsmen and it's also used in Trekking tours to carry luggage.

Use of Yaks for Trekking

When you are trekking in Tibet, the yak is a powerful assistant. The daily necessities, tents, photographic equipment, luggage can all be put on its back. The yak can take all the materials and cross over mountains on the plateau, as easily as walking through upon plain. No wonder, the yak deserves the compliment of “boats on the plateau”.

Every year tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists come to the sacred mountain Mount Kailash and holy Lake Manasarovar for pilgrimage. As the altitude here is close to 5000 meters, it is very hard for pilgrims to carry their luggage and circuit around the mountain/lake. Therefore, the nearby Tibetans set up yak transportation teams, which provides great convenience for the pilgrims.

Related Articles

  • Tibet Trekking Map
    Tibet Trekking Maps show you the most popular hiking routes in Tibet, including Mt. Kailash trek, Ganden to Samye trek, Tsurphu to Yangpachen trek, Old Tingri to EBC, etc. to meet your adventure in Tibet.

  • Travel to Tibet from India
    There're two ways to travel from India to Tibet. The recommended way is to reach Tibet via Kathmandu as the cost is relatively cheaper. Another option is via China. For Indian pilgrims, you need a special visa to Mt.Kailash. We can provide a free consultation for you.

  • Best Time To Visit Everest Base Camp
    What is the best time to visit Everest Base Camp in Tibet? Late April to early June and mid-September to early October of year is the best time for a better climate, oxygen content, and visibility. The best time to trek EBC is April-June and September-October each year. And the best time to climb Mount Everest is during late April and May.

  • The 10 Greatest Trekking in Tibet
    Trekking in Tibet provides a unique and closer encounter with the culture and spirituality of Tibet. On Tibetan Plateau, you will feel the charm of Tibetan Buddhism, explore its natural beauty, and see the north face of the Himalayans. Check below the greatest hikes that await you in Tibet.

  • Tibet Travel Restrictions You Should Know
    Tibet is a special destination so there're many travel restrictions in Tibet. And foreign tourists should obtain Tibet travel permits before visiting Tibet.

  • Tibetan Mastiff
    Tibetan Mastiff, belonging to the mastiffs, is a large-sized dog with a fierce personality. Its coat color is mostly iron-clad gold, yellow, black, etc. Tibetan Mastiff originates in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. It's loyal, brave and dedicated so it's the best protector for nomads.

  • Why Visit Tibet in Winter?
    Check the list of the best winter travel destinations in Tibet. The temperature there is not cold for intensive sunlight and the cost is much lower.

  • 7 Useful Things to Know Before Going to Tibet
    Tibet is a pilgrimage site for countless travels. However, Tibet is a plateau area with an average altitude of more than 4000 meters. There are 7 useful things you need to know before going to Tibet. The biggest concern is about altitude sickness.

  • Tibet Geography
    Tibet is the main part of the Tibetan Plateau, which is the highest plateau in the world and is known as the "Roof of the World". The landform can be roughly divided into the Himalayas Alpine Region, the South Tibetan Valley, the North Tibetan Plateau and the East Tibetan Alpine Valley.

  • How to Plan a Tibet Tour on a Budget?
    If you are looking for Tibet tours on a budget, you are suggested to join a Tibet group tour, which is much cheaper than the standard Tibet travel cost. Besides, there're more ways to save cost for your Tibet trip.

Ask a Quick Question Below? Or Call 0086-891-6679450
or Email Us