Life around Norlha

Ten years ago, Ritoma nomads found the idea of planting vegetables preposterous. We decided not to push it and concentrated on weaving, not vegetables. A few years ago we began to notice that the poles and wire that was meant to separate the summer, fall and spring grazing areas and keep the animals off the bumpy strip of tarmac that people called a road, were disappearing slowly but surely. We also noticed that in their winter villages, many nomad families suddenly had ample supplies of concrete poles and wire and that inside the enclosed spaces were… lettuces.

These lettuces began to appear in our kitchen, gifts of this or that employee, followed by potatoes and bok choi. It seemed the nomads had finally caught the green thumb, incited by the vegetables available in town, then by the clever Hui merchants who began to park their vegetable trucks outside the workshop. “Why buy vegetables when we can plant them ourselves?” became the motto.

Norlha decided to plant vegetables too, though we weren't willing to nick concrete poles off the road, which we found too unsightly anyway. Sheep were our main concern as they wander freely around the guesthouse and would certainly help themselves.

Dechen decided on a fence, one that she had seen in the nearby farmers' villages, and we asked a woman who knew how to make them to come and give us a demonstration. We now have vegetables for six months out of the year, and even though the workshop food is still hopelessly oily, there are plenty of fresh, homegrown vegetables floating around in the noodle soup.

Horses have always been a fundamental part of a nomad’s life; an essential aid while herding, a status symbol, a means of travel. Though still used for herding in the few areas where motorcycles can't go, they rarely serve as transportation. In the last few years, however, they have made a passionate comeback thanks to the popularity of racing, and other ceremonies, and have regained their place as a status symbol.

Horses are close to their owners and want to make them proud. In turn they are loved and protected. On a truck on their way to a race, eating from recycled basketballs as feeding buckets, Norlha horseman Wandey in a Norlha chuba, hat and scarf, at the annual laptse.