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A wild life in Tibet.

Nick Foxton has spent almost a year tracking wildlife in some of Tibet's most isolated corners

I may be out on the plateau for weeks or even months at a time, so it's impractical to take much food from the UK. I stay away from towns as much as possible, but since nearly half of Tibetans are nomadic you can be well away from any roads but still camping in a mobile tented village. I tend to live on anything I can find locally, which is basically Chinese noodles. They're cheap, quick to cook -- a major advantage at altitude -- and quite unpleasant after three months! I cover mine in a Caribbean hot sauce that I buy from my favourite delicatessen in London. I also eat lots of porridge and sugary tea. I find that I lose a lot of weight on trips but I always eat yak cheese and yak meat when I'm given the opportunity. I've even eaten raw yak meat on a couple of occasions. It's almost impossible to be vegetarian in Tibet; even the Dalai Lama eats meat on his doctor's advice.

I'm not too worried about filtering water. I carry iodine and use it occasionally but otherwise I just fill my bottle from a stream and drink it. I also drink butter tea which settles your stomach and fills you up. It's easy to see why Tibetans drink 50 to 60 cups a day. I'm a 30-a-day man myself. It's the snack you can drink between meals, especially when the next meal is yet another packet of noodles. I cook on a MSR Dragonfly stove; I've never had a problem with it.

My sleeping bag is a ten-year-old Rab 800 model that's rated to about -10 [degrees] C. Temperatures on the plateau drop as low as -30 [degrees] C in winter so it gets pretty cold! My four-season Westwind tunnel tent has stood up to snowfall at 5,900 metres.

Looking out for signs of wildlife is painstaking work so I wear lots of layers to stay warm. I wear expedition thermals, fleece tights, fleece trousers and Triplepoint salopettes on my legs. On my top-half I layer up with a fleece shirt, a couple of homemade Polartec 300 sweaters and an ancient Rab Andes duvet jacket that looks about 100 years old because it's covered in candle wax, butter tea and gaffer tape. When I take it out of the cupboard at the start of a trip it gives off an evocative smell of yak dung. My friends at Urban Rock in North London persuaded me to buy a Marmot Alpine Gore-Tex Jacket and I've been very impressed. It sits very well when I'm carrying a heavy pack; it doesn't ride up and expose the small of my back. I have a very grotty army surplus headsock for my head and Dachstein mitts and gloves for my hands.

Boot boy

I wear Timberland Bucks on my feet. They're not really warm enough, but in Tibet you can be crossing a glacier or walking around in muggy weather so they're a good all-round boot. My Tibetan friends wear Chinese army sneakers or traditional felt Tibetan boots which look like something the Spice Girls might wear. On their bodies they wear a chuba, which is a robe made of yak skin with a sheepskin on the inside. Headwear consists of either `Chicago Bulls' baseball caps -- which are currently the height of fashion among Khampa nomads -- or goatskin caps. A friend bought a goatskin cap and found bits of putrefied brain stuck to the lining!

I use a Nikon F4S camera to record my discoveries and I carry a 24mm, 180mm and 35-70mm zoom. In an ideal world I would buy a 300mm lens for photographing animals. I don't have many pictures of wildlife though because most of it has been shot at by soldiers, and is extermely shy.

GEO FACTS

Its geographical remoteness and inaccessibility makes Tibet one of the last great uncharted territories on Earth. The mountainous terrain of the Tibetan plateau has long been an ultimate challenge for explorers and climbers. In 1993, the world's second largest nature reserve was set up in the Jangtang region of the north. However, many species are endangered due to unrestricted hunting in the earlier decades of Chinese rule. Nearly all the rain falls in July and August, causing flash floods and high rivers. Winters are tough, especially in the north, and passes may be hidden by snow.

Favourite piece of kit

My Lonely Planet phrasebook. I can't imagine being in Tibet without it, not only because it makes you feel you can pick up a bit of the language, but also to see the expression of joy on the faces of the Tibetans when they realise that somebody somewhere cares enough to produce a book with their language in it.

Most useless

My camera tripod, although it did save my life once when I used it to defend myself from a nomad's mastiff!

Top tip

When things get hairy I chant a Tibetan mantra. It probably doesn't work but the Tibetans use it, and it seems to keep them fairly cheerful.
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Article Details
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Author:Deegan, Paul
Publication:Geographical
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:862
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