Lhamo and Dorjee knew a great deal about the nomads. Their winter camp lay across the river on the other side of the valley from the village. One of Lhamo’s first memories was watching the whole tribe making yak-dung walls to protect their tents from the winter winds. To begin with, she had been frightened by their dark, sunburned faces, and the long, sharp swords which were piled outside the tents. And when her mother unpacked their lunch of spinach and potatoes, the nomad children laughed. ‘Why do you eat grass?’ they cried, for they had never seen anyone eating vegetables before. But they soon became friends. Lhamo had a special friend called Dolma. Together they would sit outside her tent, and Dolma would tell of the clear dawns in the mountains and the pastures carpeted with spring flowers. Lhamo hoped she might go with her friend one day. As soon as they saw the nomads arrive, she and Dorjee would cross the valley and help them set up camp. Little Dorjee grew so excited about building yak-dung walls, that when he got home he tried to build one around their house. It was pulled down hurriedly after one of their ‘grandmothers’ had fallen over it twice.
The coming of the nomads was the beginning of one of the busiest and most enjoyable times for the villagers. Everyone – farmers, nomads, traders, would set out for the great market – two days journey down the valley. Lhamo’s father would load his two mules with the barley from the year’s crop. If it was a good year, he might even hire a third mule to carry the extra barley. The market was a place of great excitement. All day the men bargained and haggled over their goods. The nomads arrived with butter, cheese, meat and wool to sell. In exchange they bought barley, rice and fruit and everyday things that they could not get in the mountains, like needles and cooking pots. The nomad’s wool was eagerly bought up by the traders. The richer ones had great caravans of mules which they would load up with wool to take over the high Himalayas to India. In the market the Tibetans could buy everything that they needed – for Tibet did not need to import many goods from other countries. The only exceptions were tea, sugar and cotton cloth for making prayer flags.
The market was also a place for meeting old friends. The days were taken by business, but in the evenings there was feasting and merry making. And when all the goods had been bought and sold, there were sports to watch or join in. The nomads would perform amazing acrobatic feats on the backs of their sturdy hill ponies. Then there was a horse race to the top of the nearest peak and back. One year, Lhamo’s father lost a whole mule-load of barley by betting it on the wrong horse!