During our amazing adventure in the Himalayas of Nepal, on the Annapurna Circuit, we passed through the small village of Tukuche in Mustang. It was the first day of winter (as we were told) and it was definitely getting colder. Just before we entered the village, we had seen a group of local men escorting a yak. We were instructed not to cycle next to the angry looking animal and we could feel, that the men were not joking.
“Are you going to kill this Yak?” We asked.
“Yes. In one hour. First we have to eat some lunch. You can come with us if you want.” Answered one of the villagers.
We knew that it would be difficult for us to watch. We both do not eat meat and we have never seen an animal being slaughtered in real. If the same thing had happened anywhere else, we would probably stay away from that kind of experience. This time we knew, that it was a special, rare chance for us to witness a ritual that is so normal for the inhabitants of Mustang and all of the Himalayas and Tibet. A part of the local culture. For the Nepali living in the high mountains, yak is the main source of nutrients during the long and cold winter months. And there is only one way to get its meat.
We are fully aware, that for some viewers the pictures that you are just about to see might be too brutal. Therefore we would like you to scroll down only if you really want to see them. They are not easy to watch. It was even harder for us to take them. We had been thinking for a long time whether or not they should be published and at the end we decided, that since we were granted the right to witness such an important part of Himalayan culture, we would like to share it.
The yak had been taken to a backyard belonging to the family, who bought the yak. They paid 1 Lak (a thousand US dollars) to the yak herders from the mountains. The animal was very calm, looking like a hairy sculpture tied to a tree. It did not protest at all, when a group of men approached it and started to bond its legs together. The men were all quiet and a bit nervous, well aware of the power and massive, sharp horns of the seven years old bull. While on the ground, defeated, it did not fight much and just let the people do their job.
Every part of a yak’s body is precious. Unfortunately this also includes the blood, that could not be wasted. We were quite surprised, that they did not stun the animal before killing it. Instead, one of the men made a cut in the creature’s thick, hairy skin and put his fingers into the wound to find the artery. Seconds later the blood started to spill and almost all of it was collected into metal bowls at the end.
The whole process of bleeding the yak out was very slow – it took more than seven minutes for the animal to die. We expected at least some prayer before the killing, but only one of the men was reciting mantras when the bull was giving up its spirit. All of the men were very focused and did not talk much, though.
When the blood stopped flowing, they started to skin the animal straight away.
To take off the fur the men stretched one of the sides of the skin while the others banged it with an axe, taking shifts. It looked like a hard job.
Next, the precious fat tissue was separated and the whole process of butchering started.
When they took the heart out, the remaining blood was poured to a cup and drank by one of them.
The organs inside looked very healthy. This was an animal that grazed all of its life on fresh, high mountain (organic) grass.
All organs were collected, some for eating, some for Amchi – traditional Buddhist medicine. Even the bladder with urine was saved, as it can cure some diseases – as we were told.
After not more than three hours the body was dissembled into pieces and transported home.
Legs and head would be used to cook a traditional soup.
Later, at home, the women would do the rest of the job. They would cut the meat into small pieces and hang it above the kitchen to dry, stuff the guts with blood mixed with barley to make sausages and use the bones for cooking a broth.
We saw a lot of dead animals during our journey: chickens, cows, pigs and even dogs (in China). None of them, however died in front of our eyes. We were mentally exhausted after all of that. On the other hand it was an interesting experience that showed us the necessity of this custom which is an integral part of the life in the Himalayas.