Beards, Brews & Bovines: Entry #2

Yaks along the trail

One of my favourite aspects of this part of the trip was the opportunity to get up close and personal with Bos grunniens – the domesticated yak. Heading from Dingboche to Dughla we made our way past some abandoned houses and pastures with crumbling stone walls – former yak farms. These former homesteads were something we came across a few times along the trail. We learned that as tourism had greatly increased, the economic opportunities afforded by this had unsurprisingly also drawn many former local herders to focus instead on this burgeoning new industry. We first encountered yaks, or rather Dzo, which is a cross between domesticated cattle and domesticated yak, when we were in Namche Bazaar. They had been brought down the trail from above to carry supplies back up. Lower on the trail pack mules were more popular, and although we did see an occasional horse at higher elevations, yaks are the primary domesticated animal found at high altitude in Nepal.

They have always been mixed-use animals, with females primarily used for milk production, and the males as pack animals to help locals commuting from village to village. They have evolved unusually large lungs and thicker coats to survive conditions at higher elevations, up to ~6000m, and are typically not found below 3000m above sea level. Nak (the female of the species, yak = male, nak = female) cheese is a prized aspect of Tibetan/Nepali cuisine, although it was always advertised as ‘Yak Cheese’ so English-speaking foreigners would have some semblance of a clue as to what was being referred to! Compared to European dairy breeds however, their milk production levels are limited, hence the cross breeding to create the Dzomo (female cross-breeds). Given that agriculture at these high elevations is limited to largely potato farming and yak herding, the traditional cuisine reflects this. Almost every dish contains potatoes and/or a dairy product of some sort. The yaks themselves were always very calm and docile, whether slowly making their way up or down the trail, or just happily grazing either openly or in a walled pasture. We quickly noticed that they would often have a vibrantly decorated headdress, or colourful patches of cloth tied around their horns or sewn in their coats, which we were told were used to identify who they belonged to. They were often free-grazing along the trail or casually wandering through town at higher elevations, so this seemed like a simple and logical way to deal with ownership. With very limited remaining natural predators, and large numbers of people constantly around, they seem to have become very comfortable around humans, especially considering it was calving season, and there were newborns about as well.

One of the free grazing herds we came across

Up until this point in my life, my primary experience with bovines, outside of a few encounters with Bison, has been with domesticated cattle (Bos taurus) on my family’s dairy farm. There are two subspecies of Bos taurus, Bos taurus taurus, also referred to as European cattle, which includes all the dairy and beef breeds that I am most familiar with (Holsteins, Jerseys, Angus, Hereford, etc), and Bos taurus indicus, also known as humped cattle or zebu cattle. This second subspecies, which include breeds such as Brahman, are originally native to south Asia and are known for having droopy ears, a fatty hump above their shoulders and a large dewlap (loose skin hanging down from their neck). These breeds have greater heat and disease resistance and are much better suited to the hotter and more tropical climates of southern Asia, Africa, and South America. Dairy farmers in areas such as Brazil often cross-breed these zebu cattle with European dairy breeds to produce cows that can handle the tropical environment but also have higher milk production abilities. Given their nature as warm weather cattle, they are rarely seen back home in Canada, and it was cattle of this variety that we primarily found in India. I had been very excited to see this other subspecies when we got to India, but I was especially excited to encounter an entirely new bovid species in Nepal!

Bos taurus taurus Holsteins in our new free-stall robotic milking barn
Bos taurus indicus (Complete with droopy ears, hump, and large dewlap)

(I should also quickly note that while taking the train through northern India, it became quickly apparent that their dairies primarily utilize water buffalo, which I found extremely interesting, and would qualify as another new-to-me bovid species, but we were never afforded the opportunity to actually get up close and personal with any).

As far as beer is concerned, Nepal is primarily dominated by Tuborg (available literally everywhere), San Miguel, and Carlsberg, which also owns the popular and locally produced Gorkha beer, a light lager marketed around the famous image of the Gorkha (Gurkha) military units in the British, Indian, and Nepalese armies. Soldiers in these units are recruited primarily from rural Nepalese villages and are renowned for their strength, endurance, and bravery. As with every other marketable item in Nepal, there is also an Everest brand of beer, again, an unremarkable light lager, but it is owned and brewed domestically. Most surprising, however, was the presence of a true craft brewery in Nepal. Not only did this catch me off guard, but I was also surprised by their distribution. Available almost everywhere in Kathmandu, as well as most lodges along the EBC trek, the very wisely named Sherpa Brewing Co, produces two beers; Khumbu Kolsch and Himalayan Red. Although neither of these beers was terribly exciting, they were half decent examples of their respective styles and seemed quite popular among both foreigners and locals alike. They have definitely played to their market well.

As for beards, aside from some other trekkers and a few climbers with outstanding viking/wizard level beards, there remains limited local updates.


  1. Rae

    I’m learning so much about cows but not enough about beards. Forget the mountains, we need more beard photos! But seriously, you guys are taking gorgeous photos and I’m loving all the updates 🙂

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