Gore Ngawang on nomadic life in Helambu

Mingur: Tashi delek, Brother!

Nawang: Tashi delek!

Q: Let’s get started.

A: Yes, sure, please!

Q: Your good name please?

A: My name is Ngawang Dorje Lama, but people know me as Gore Nawang.

Q: Why do people call you Gore Nawang?

A: I used to live in a gore before, but about 4 years ago I stopped living there. I lived in a gore since my childhood, therefore people know me as Gore Ngawang. There are also other people called Ngawang, so people identify me by calling me Gore Ngawang.

Q: How long did you live in a gore?

A: Ah, since my childhood with my parents we lived in a gore. I went to India for two-three years and again came back and lived in a gore. Most of my life was spent living in a gore, only about three-four years, when I was not staying in a gore.

Q: Okay, so you lived like a nomad since your childhood and left that lifestyle only three-four years ago, hm… When you lived in a gore, how many animals did you have?

A: There were around 30-35 sheeps, 20-25 goats, there were always less goats then sheeps, and there were 24-25 female yaks.

Q: Did you have also cows to herd?

A: Dzomo (T. mdzo mo, hybrid between the yak and domestic cattle) is better, dzomo beats the cow, so we had no cows. About 15 years ago we sold all the dzomo and replaced them with drimu (T. dri mo, female yak). The drimus were brought from Langtang. I spent 12 years with drimus, but there was not much benefit having drimus. From the drimu herd I sold some yaks to the people of Bethang village. Because yaks had no good price, people didn’t come to buy those drimus. At the end I called the people from Langtang, and sold all 42 animals I had just for one lakh. In the next year people from Khaser told me, that they would have bought those drimus for 45 thousand each.

Q: What was the size of a gore in the old times?

A: There is a measurement of thu nyipa (T. khru gnyis pa, “two cubits”, distance from elbow to tips of fingers) of bartsha (large bamboo or cane mat). One gore is made of six bartshas.

Q: When you moved around with the gore from one place to the other, how long did you stay at one place?

A: It depended on the availability of grass. If there was enough grass for the animals, then we would stay there for one or two months. If there was less grass, then would stay there only for one week or less. And then we would move to another place.

Q: Do you know the name of the places where you shifted with your gore?

A: Yes.

Q: Would you mind telling us the names?

A: There are two seasons for gore: rainy season and winter season. During the rainy season we go to the mountains, first we would go to Kildangu, then to Charchar, then come little bit closer to Badasha, then from Badasha to Khakhare, Khakhare to Duphug. There is a karkha (pasturebetween those places that belongs to someone else. We liked our own karkha, so we would only stop for the night on that karkha. Just like other people are not allowed to use your karkha, you should not use other people’s karkha. The same system is followed today.

Q: But you are still allowed to spend the night there, aren’t you?

A: Yes, you can spend max. two nights in someone else’s karkha. You can spend the night there until you finished transporting your belongings.

Q: Then down from there?

A: From there we would come directly to Jomothang. We would stay there for two months and from there in mid-November we would go near Gangyul. We would stay there for around three month and celebrate Losar there. If there is good quality grass for animals (beli tsa), we would stay there for the whole winter. From mid-April again, we would start climbing up the hills and mountains. Fulungang is up there, then Nalakarkha, and from there we would climb up to Jomothang and stay there for two or three months because there is a big karkha there. There are two Jomothangs, Hyolmo Jomothang and Sherpa Jomothang on the another side. We would stay in both Jomothangs. First, we would stay in Sherpa Jomothang and when the weather slowly becomes warmer, we would shift to Hyolmo Jomothang. Then we would go to Dhasinghang, Midhang, Fidhi and then directly to Kildangu because we cannot use any karkha between those places.

Q: How do you choose the karkhas?

A: We cannot choose karkhas as we wish. We can use only those karkhas our parents and grandparents used. Our grandparents paid tax to the mijar (“local ruler”), and similarly, these day the National Park provides a 6 month permit to stay in a gore in those areas. We are given a permit, which says, that whatever happens with the gore owner in that jungle, it is his responsibility.

Q: How does a karkha look like?

A: Some karkhas are on a slope, and some are flat. Most karkhas on the lower hills are on slopes, but the mountain karkhas are flat, they look like a plane.

Q: How many of your family members used to live in a gore?

A: At the beginning my whole family lived in a gore; my parents had seven children. After we grew up, some of my brothers became monks, some went to India, and the number of children living in the gore decreased. Two of my younger brothers became monks.

Q: Your whole family used to live in a gore when you were small.

A: Yes, most gore people used to have seven-eight children.

Q: What kind of work did you do when living in a gore?

A: The head of the family, my father would be busy managing food for all of us. He would go to sell the mar (butter), the churpi (dry cheese) and then he would come back to the gore. Children would look after the cattle early in the morning and then the cattle had to be gathered at around 11 am for milking. It would be finished by 12 am and we would take the herd again to the jungle for grazing.

Q: You said, that all of your family members would stay in the gore, did you also have a house in the village?

A: Yes, but the house in the village was used only for storing grains.

Q: You did not have anyone staying there, looking after the house?

A: No, there wouldn’t be anyone. The house was only for storing grains. All the family members would stay in the gore, and we wouldn’t grow anything in the village. Gore people have no farmland, only a house in the village.

Q: What about the thal (T. khral, village membership, tax)?

A: Yes, we have to pay the thal. When the time of paying the thal comes, the head of the family, the father must go to the village to pay the thal. The mother has no time to attend such events and chopas (T. mchod pa, offerings given during festivals), because she has to stay to milk the animals.

Q: During your young age the gore was a family business.

A: Yes. The gore was everything we had. When one animal died, we felt the loss, and had to buy another animal to replace it. During that time our expected annual income was about 30-40 thousand. From the money we would spend 15-16 thousand to buy dzomos, to replace those, which died, in order to take care of the children.

Q: Which animal was the most important or most valuable?

A: There were goma (“head yak”, who leads the herd) and goyang animals, dzomo roja was good, dzomo with giant body would be the best one, which we call dzo karmu (T. mdzo dkar mo); it is very expensive. It is completely white, and we consider it to be very precious, we call it dzomo nurpu (T. mdzo mo nor bu). Its horns are also white gleaming in the dark at night. I haven’t seen that, but people used to talk about it. Old men say this kind of story about the dzomo nurpu.

Q: How much does it cost to buy a big dzomo?

A: At the beginning, the first I remember, a dzomo’s wholesale price was four-five thousand NRs. Later the normal price would be double, ten thousand.

Q: When was that?

A: It was about 16-17 years ago. Now a dzomo karpu would cost about 80-90 thousand. That’s the difference between the past and the present, people say that it would cost forty or forty-five thousand in wholesale now, and the small ones would cost about thirty-five.

Q: How long would you stay in one karkha?

A: As I said earlier, in big karkhas we could stay for one or two months, and a place, where there was no grass for animals, we had to leave. Some karkhas are very small, so we would stay there for one or two weeks. In the rainy season we need to shift the gore to a place, where there is grass, that is all. But in winter wherever there is good grass (beli tsa, a particular plant with huge leaves), we can move there. It is a relief to find a place with good grass (beli tsa), if there is no beli tsa, there is nothing to eat.

Q: What would be the distance from one karkha to the next, how long would it take to move?

A: In the lower areas karkhas are two or three hours away from each other, but in the mountains, it can take a whole day to get to the next karkha. We would start at 5 am from one and reach the other at 6 pm.

Q: What would you do with your belongings during that time?

A: We need four or five porters for carrying our belongings. We call these porters keba, or gore keba. We would take 6-7 kebas. A big family having more children can carry a lot; food, clothes, blankets, everything.

Q: People don’t live in a gore without purpose, they probably do it for some income. Could you please tell me, what is the main source of income of gore people?

A: Gore people sell mar (butter), churpi (dry cheese) and some people make sosha (sauer cream). Selling these are the main sources of their income.

Q: Would you go to the village to sell these, or people would come to you?

A: We have to go to the villages to sell them. In the old times, I went to Sermathang, Tapkakharka and Jalsa to sell those things.

Q: I heard that yakpu ngama (T. g.yag po’i rnga ma, yak’s tail) and yakpu rwa (T. g.yag po’i rwa, yak’s horn) are important.

A: I don’t know why yakpu rwa is important, but yakpu ngama is used in festivals like silu cham (dance performed during marriage ceremony).

Q: How did you sell yak tails in the past?

A: That time it was very cheap, five or six hundred. Now it would cost three-four thousand Rupees, and the white one five thousand, which was about three or four thousand before.

Q: How do you take the tail of a yak?

A: We can take it only after the yak died, otherwise it is not possible.

Q: Animals often get lost or disappear. Why does it happen?

A: Animals run off sometimes in search of the old karkha. They disappear sometimes because they are eaten by a leopard or some other wild animal. After they are eaten, only the horn and hair is left. It happens, that we realize by seeing the horn or hair, that “oh, my animal is no more!”

Q: What would you eat when living in a gore?

A: Gore children eat sho lalo (T. zho la lo), tsampa mixed with yoghurt.

Q: What is the difference between living in a gore in the past and now?

A: Hm… It was hard work then and also now; the difference is, that the earning is better now. If we could have earned this much before, then from selling the churpi coming from our twenty dzomos and other products, we could have made eight lakhs annually. That is a very good income now.

Q: Are there less people living in a gore these days?

A: We can say, that gores all disappeared, there is only one or two gores now.

Mingur: Okay, thank you!

Nawang: Thank you, too.