National Geographic : 2010 May
• Lhasa. Built in 1416, it has a cavernous tea kitchen, or gyakhang. Seven iron cauldrons from six to ten feet in diameter are imbedded in a gargantuan, wood- red, stone hearth. Standing above a cauldron, Phuntsok Drak- pa cleaves off tome-size slabs of yak butter into the steaming tea. " ere were once 7,700 monks here who drank tea twice a day," he says. "More than a hundred monks worked in this tea kitchen." Swathed in a sleeveless maroon robe, Drakpa has been the tea master in the monas- tery for 14 years. "To Tibetan monks," he says, "tea is life." Today only 400 monks reside in the monas- tery, and only two small cauldrons are in use. "For one little cauldron, 25 bricks of tea, 70 ki- los of yak butter, 3 kilos of salt," says Drakpa, stirring this recipe for 200 with a wooden spoon tall as a human. "For the biggest cauldron, we used seven times that much." From the monastery, Sue and I set out for the city of Nagqu, a five-hour drive north from Lhasa, to attend the annual horse festival. We want to see the legendary horses that gave their name to the Tea Horse Road. The weeklong event used to be held on the open plains, but ten years ago a concrete stadium was built so Chi- nese o cials would have someplace to sit. When we arrive the next morning, Tibetans pack the stands: women with high cheekbones, high heels, and long braids heavy with silver and am- ber; men in felt cowboy hats and the long- sleeved coats they call chubas; sockless kids in cheap sneakers. Hawkers sell spicy boiled potatoes and cans of Budweiser. Blaring speak- ers announce each event in Tibetan and Chi- nese. It's a rodeo atmosphere, except for the Chinese policemen stationed every ten yards along the bleachers, marching in squadrons around the eld, and lurking in plainclothes.