National Geographic : 2010 May
Down on the eld, horse and rider seem to defy gravity. A contestant gallops almost out of control, dangling like an acrobat o the side to pluck a white silk scarf from the ground. Clods of mud propel into the sharp blue sky. Holding the scarf alo , the Tibetan cowboy wheels his rearing horse to the roar of the crowd. e Nagqu Horse Festival is one of the few surviving events celebrating Tibet's equestrian heritage. rough centuries of selective breed- ing, Tibetans created a premium horse called the Nangchen. Standing only 13.5 hands high (about 4.5 feet---smaller than most American breeds), ne-limbed and handsome-faced, with enlarged lungs adapted to life on the 15,000-foot-high, oxygen-star ved Tibetan Plateau, Nangchen steeds were bred to be inexhaustible and sure- footed on snowy passes. ese were the horses coveted by the Chinese centuries ago. Today Nagqu sits on modern Highway 317, the northern branch of the Tea Horse Road. All signs of the former trade route have vanished, but just a day's drive southeast, temptingly close, are the Nyainqentanglha Mountains, where the original trail once passed. I am captivated by the possibility that back in the deep valleys Tibetans might still ride their indefatigable hors- es along the original trail. Perhaps, hidden in the vast hinterland, there is even still trade along the road. en again, maybe the trail has vanished e smoky whi of black tea mixed with the aroma of yak butter candles pervades Tibetan monasteries, where monks for centuries have consumed the beverage to stay awake for meditation. At the Ganze monastery (le ), the morning ritual involves cooking and ladling tea for 370. In Garthar, guests bring their bowls to the prayer hall (above) for a welcoming pour.