A Taste for Yak Butter Tea

Posted on January 12, 2013

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Yakbutter

(Courtesy of Expedition Tours)

A Taste for Yak Butter Tea
by AnneLise Sorensen

The bowl is placed gently in my hands. I look down at the thick, yellow liquid and sniff. It smells oily and rancid: yak butter tea. Three Tibetan women with browned, etched faces are sitting, like me, cross-legged on the floor. It’s quiet except for their deep slurps – this is the equivalent of their morning coffee. The Himalayas loom all around us here in Dharamsala, the mountain home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. The sun climbs in the sky, and I look out the window as the snowy peaks slowly come in to focus. My Tibetan friends smile at me encouragingly. I close my eyes and gulp the tea: Congealed fat catches in my throat and salt puckers my lips. I force a few more sips, then cradle the bowl in my lap. Everyone was right – it’s an acquired taste.

Yak butter tea, they say, was made for life in the mountains – fat to insulate you against the chill, salt for rehydration, and black tea to keep you going. Our days in Dharamsala start at dawn: We gather on the rooftop, facing in the four sacred directions, the colorful prayer flags whipping over our heads. It’s winter, and from here we can see the white mist swirling through the shivering pines, and down the village’s steep stone streets. The wind sweeps past maroon-clad monks circling the Buddhist temple, and around the spinning gold-and-red-prayer wheels. It chills us as we later trek the mountain trails, the altitude leaving us breathless. Not until the sun sets do we return home, where we stretch out our tired legs and warm up near the stove. A cup of yak butter tea, I think, would hit the spot.

Need to know: Dharamsala is in Himachal Pradesh, in northern India. Regular buses travel here from Shimla, Manali, Mandi, Pathankot, Kangra, and Dehli.

This feature originally appeared in Rough Guides Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

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Prayer flags in the Himalayas (courtesy of SightSavers)

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Monk and prayer wheels in Dharamsala (courtesy of Schlenker)

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Yak butter in the Himalayas

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