Sitting in Tibetan grasslands and eating yogurt

Visited: June 2011


Sometimes things don’t quite work out as planned and sometimes that isn’t all bad either. It was on one of these occasions that we ended up on a four-day trip in Qinghai, or Amdo in Tibetan.

O, it get’s complicated right here: Tibet isn’t the same as the Tibetan Plateau, Amdo doesn’t have the exact same geographical area as Qinghai, and many Tibetans don’t live on the Tibetan Plateau.

Let’s start with the Tibetan Plateau. It covers most of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai in China, as well as parts of India. The total area is 2,500,000 km2 (970,000 sq mi).

The Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) with its capital Lhasa has an area of 1,228,400 km2 (474,300 sq mi), so that’s only half of the Tibetan Plateau.

Amdo is one of the three traditional regions of Tibet, the other two being Ü-Tsang (part of TAR) and Kham (covering parts of Sichuan, TAR, and even Yunnan and Gansu). This “Cultural Tibet” (I’m borrowing this term from Lobsang’s outstanding site The Land of Snows) covers an area of 2,255,000 km2 (870,000 sq mi). This graphic from Wikipedia makes it more visual:

Tibet provinces

Now, you tell me: Where is Tibet?


Our trip was organized by Snow Lion Tours, a great Tibetan tour company operating out of Xining and Lhasa. We were five people, two friends from Campbell River, tour guide Andy (Gunchen Tseren), driver Mr. He, and I. We visited many famous sites in the area; another post will tell more about them. Between destinations we hardly saw any people. Sheep, yaks, and donkeys roamed the endless grasslands; a few farmsteads were sprinkled here and there.

Always curious, we asked Andy and Mr. He to decide and order our lunch and they were happy to do so. We ended up with a rice dish, flatbread, yogurt, and butter tea, a simple but delicious meal!
Have you ever eaten something that tasted just like a delicacy long long forgotten? About 35 years ago, I last had a bowl of yogurt like this in Turkey. I’ve always missed it, eventually forgot the taste but never lost the memory of that out-of-this-world treat. And here in this small Tibetan restaurant I finally found it again!

The next day we stopped at one of these simple, unassuming village buildings and Andy came back with a bucket of yak milk yogurt. We stopped the car in the middle of nowhere, picked a spot in the grassland, and made it a feast!


Update: Just like at home I often buy yogurt in China. Whenever I was in an area with Tibetan population I asked for the real yak milk yogurt to no avail. In 2016 I finally found a yogurt bar at Xining airport. It was outrageously expensive ($10 or $12 for a small cup) but I bought it anyways. It tasted OK, just OK 🙁


  1. I’m always obsessed with Tibetan culture, the landscape, the people, their music, and even the simple and honest message you can see from their eyes! Shall we start planning another trip there?!!;)

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