The Norden Blog

An intimate look into life on the Tibetan Plateau around the Norden Camp

Nomad Baskets; Innovation in the Vernacular

Every few years, peasants and nomads weave baskets from the reeds and bushes found in wet areas. They are used by nomad women to collect dung, the basket tied to their backs, the dung flung into it with a backward gesture of the arm. It is an excruciating task that the women performed in the early hours of dawn, walking the areas where the animals had left their droppings, collecting, then dumping the dung into piles. Later, they would shape the dung into patties and leave them to dry, to be used as fuel.

When I looked at those baskets, I thought of all that, and not much else. It took Isabelle Graz to spot them, admire their vernacular beauty and assign them new uses. They started as trash cans scattered in Norden Camp, but didn’t manage to survive the weather. They then moved indoors and held Norlha scarves in the store, and are also carried by the Norlha cleaning team to transport laundry and supplies for the rooms. Yidam and Dechen then ordered smaller versions for other storage uses.

Kim Yeshi

Yak Hair

People often confuse yak hair with yak wool. The first has the consistency of horsehair and is most present in the tail or in the characteristic long hairs that skirt the animal’s abdomen. The wool is the fine down that lies beneath the hair, all over the young yak’s body and in specific areas on the adult. It molts in late spring and is what Norden’s sister company, Norlha, uses for making its shawls, blankets and felts.

Yak hair is a tradition of its own, and was primarily used for making the nomad’s characteristic dark brown tents, ropes, monastery awnings and door curtains. It is hand woven in narrow strips from a back strap loom, into a very dense, heavy, rough and long lasting fabric.

Norden’s founder and owner, Yidam Kyap, when designing the Norden tents, modified the original nomad tent design to a more spacious, high ceiling form, adding canvas awnings and windows to the yak hair panels.

by Kim Yeshi

A Ray of Sunshine

The visit of a holy being into one’s home is considered the blessing of a lifetime. Norden’s landlord received this blessing on May 2nd, when the young incarnate of the celebrated Gonthang Rinpoche from Labrang Monastery visited his home on his way to Norden Camp.

Sankhok nomads have only recently begun to live in houses. Twenty five years ago, the area was divided into large plots of several hectares which were fenced and allocated to the local nomads. Most families built amakeshift house on these plots and live there from January to June, the rest of the time spent in the higher grazing areas. In summer the houses are left empty, in winter they serve as shelter, only a little better than a tent.

The lama came around noon, two large vehicles, from where he and his entourage poured out. While they were offered a generous meal in the two tiny rooms that made up the house, the family busily organized the blessing ceremony for the fifty so relatives and friends who had gathered. A dzomo and a horse, attired in brocade waited impatiently to be offered in the yard. I had seen both of them wandering in the camp several years in a row and the dzomo had a colorful cloth around her neck, identifying her as having had her life extended for some years.

In front of the house, several men were actively trying to upgrade a plastic chair into a throne of sorts from where the lama would dispense the blessing. I knew I was not to take photographs unless asked to do so. Yidam had brought me there, knowing I would love to see this and I waited patiently until I was asked to come into the room and take a formal picture. I decided to restrain myself from taking the blessing scene out of respect, though I did get the crowd.

The animals were offered on the Lama’s way out, and he happily continued to the camp. The next day, I spotted the horse and dzomo wandering in the camp, the horse gallivanting across the center with remnants of his brocade ornament.

By Kim Yeshi

The Tsampa Story

Having lived and worked in Tibetan areas for several years Norden’s Chef Andrew Notte is very familiar with the staples of the plateau diet and with knowledge and creativity, transforms them into a unique form of fusion cuisine, that is both delicious and healthy.

Norden’s menus are based on the three ingredients unique to Tibetan cooking:
--Tsampa: barley flour, the staple of the high plateau
--Yak: the fundamental source of meat and dairy products
--Joma: the high protein root found throughout the grasslands

Tsampa, or barley flour, illustrated here, is the staple of Tibet. The only cereal that grows at a high altitude it is used as a companion to meat and vegetables and as a primary source of nutrition when nomads are on the move. Norden uses it to make crepes, breads, noodle soups and desserts.



The Norden Team

Norden’s staff is local and young. Some have had schooling, others not. Though it is all new to them, they are motivated, eager to learn and value their job.. Meet Norden’s cleaning team. They learned to scrub and tidy from our Swiss friend Isabelle Graz, and are attentive to the expectations of our customers.

Norden gives jobs to those best suited for them. The cleaning team are all high school graduates, and though they are of nomad background, they have lived in houses and have a sense of tidiness. Nomads made good waiters and cooks, and the older generation guard the grounds and share their knowledge of the area, guiding visitors to beautiful spots.

The Tsampa Mill

It stands in a secluded area by the river, close to the Monastery. We found the door locked and Yidam went to find the man who ran the small operation; grinding barley into tsampa flour from a water mill in the traditional way. The mill, still in its original construction, had belonged to Jamyang Shepa, the head lama of Labrang and for several incarnations, had provided his household and others with freshly ground tsampa. The man in charge had taken up the business four years earlier and said that his main customers were monks, mostly from Labrang monastery. We watched him stand over the river and open the latch, and saw the water rush in, activating the horizontal wheel that stood below the grinding stones.

We ordered our tsampa, for Norden Camp and for ourselves, attentive as he poured the barley seeds into the grinder, the smell of freshly ground tsampa filling the small, dark room and a thin layer of white powder escaping from the stones, the rest into the round wooden tray below. He packed it into sacks labeled as pig feed, apologizing for the lack of packaging. This tsampa will be used at Norden not only as a traditional staple, but also by Norden’s Chef for his innovative recipes on local products called “Tsampa Story”

Spiritual Cleansing

Every year, usually at the beginning, we hold an ritual offering, performed by nearby Labrang monks, to rid the coming year of obstacles.



Sharing the Land

Norden camp is located on a nomad's grazing area where yak and sheep wander between February and June. When we open each Spring, the animals are there, wandering freeling through the property and beyond. Yaks are shy and peaceful creatures, and their young, that meander in play groups are especially cute.

Traffic on the Road to Norden Camp

Norden Camp is located on nomadic winter pasture 14 km out of Labrang, in Sankhok area. It is accessed through the Chinghai road, a pothole filled strip of tarmac that takes one deep into the Plateau. It mainly facilitates the local nomads in their various forms or locomotion with their various animals from getting from point to another. Walking or driving along it is full of fun and surprises....

Norden's New Coffeehouse & Bar

A new space, where you can be warm inside but still feel outside, now welcomes you at Norden. Have a selection of local teas, freshly brewed coffee or Andy's signature cocktails; the Muddy Nomad or the Pink Yak

Norden and Nature

Norden Camp is a winter grazing area, and when the camp closes between November and May, nature takes over.