The sprawling black tent, or bagu, is the home of pastors for about eight months of the year. A big bagu, more common in the past when large families were more prevalent, measured about 15 metres across and was very heavy when folded up. It was made from strips of woven tsipa, the long, rough yak hair that hangs down the sides of the animal. Each year, part of the tent is replaced, in a cycle of about twelve years, so that the bagu is never really old, or new either, and always in good condition. The bagu rests on a set of wooden poles, and is held down by yak hair rope, with pegs stuck into the ground.At the centre of the bagu is the hearth, which consists of an earthen stove, rebuilt at every move. It is always kept burning and the dried dung that serves as fuel is neatly piled to one side. The tent is divided into two areas, known as the Yaru, the higher and the Maru, the lower. This refers not to the position of one in respect to the other, but rather to the side they occupy and to their height from the ground, a feature which would depend on the site. The men sleep in the Yaru while the Maru is reserved for the female members of the family. When the men return from herding and the animals are penned outside, the women would prepare the evening meal, and the evening would be spent gathered around the hearth telling stories or exchanging the events of the day. Newly married couples were generally provided with a small tent that they pitch behind the big one.The family possessions, stored in bags of leather or woven sheep wool, line the sides of the tent, piled high. They contain food supplies, dried cheese and meat, flour and tsampa. Butter is kept in wooden boxes. A portable wooden altar, perched on neatly piled sacs, usually dominates the tent.
When they tire of stories told around the hearth, people settle down to sleep. Mattresses were made of the soft hides of young yaks, which had died in their first or second year, laid over heaps of a long grass called pema, which was also used for fuel. This sleeping area was distinct from the part of the tent we used during the day, the floor of which consisted of the thick green grass of the pasture, which we took care not to spoil.
Today, canvas army tents often replace the traditional bagu, lighter and easier to transport. Families are smaller, and the sense of communal living has taken a toll. Plastic is replacing cloth and leather, and television and smart phones make up a great part of evening entertainment. Life on the pasture, as it is everywhere else, is changing.