BlogA day in the life of Phurbu Dolma in Mustang, Nepal

A day in the life of Phurbu Dolma in Mustang, Nepal

Phurbu Dolma, 43 wakes up at the crack of dawn, the wind has not yet picked up outside the family tent. She puts the kettle on the stove as she hurries to the animal shed outside. No sooner is she done feeding the 200 odd yaks, sheep and goats, she gets started with the breakfast – a simple but nutritious fare of tsampa[i] and chhurpi[ii], occasionally supplemented with yak or goat meat from animals that have been killed by snow leopards or the Himalayan Red fox. The nomads do not cull animals solely for consumption which goes against their spiritual beliefs.


Phurbu's family tent made of yak hair. Photo credit: Jampa Phunchok

Phurbu’s family of five (husbands Lhakpa and Yongdung[iii] and two daughters) are nomads of Chuzung and shift between four campsites year-round – spring in Diplay; summer in Sabzi; winter in Ninla Karchung; and autumn in Yarcha for pasture and water for their animals. The family is part of the rapidly changing physical and cultural environment brought on by actions across the globe far removed from their own[iv].

Gendered roles determine household chores within the family – her husbands take the animals to pasture, trim the yak hair or tsipa during the summer etc. Phurbu stays home cleaning up, tending to pregnant animals and their young, making chhurpi, and sorting and weaving yak hair for the large yak hair tents, blankets, rugs and other items for use and to sell. She is one of the many local women Thunlam plans to support by contemporizing these skills into sustainable and ethical consumables with a good rate of return.


Phurbu’s family and other nomadic tribes have the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first climate change migrants of Nepal[v]. Phurbu shared how grazing land and water is precious resource, but over the years many areas have been drying up with less vegetation. Winters are especially hard as good pastures located at higher altitudes have harsher and unpredictable weather. Though the yak are hardy animals, they still need sustenance and also have great cultural and economic value – a female yak is valued at 80,000 NPR (680 USD) to 100,000 NPR (850 USD) and a male one is valued upwards of 150,000 NPR (1280 USD).



A baby yak (Yuru in Loba language) takes a stretch. Photo credit: Jampa Phunchok

Besides climate, geopolitics and strict borders between Upper Mustang and the Tibetan plateau have restricted ancient pastures and campsites of the tribes across the region. Large shifts in geopolitics have created microcosms of culture and habitat loss for the nomads, mostly ignored by ‘mainstream’ governance.[vi]  These groups have been historically marginalized due to the centralized government structure. It remains to be seen if the transition to a federal structure will bring about real voice and participatory agency for the people. 



Phurbu has another thing to worry about – her children’s future. Tucked away in urban Pokhara[vii], they are gaining an education and have become disenchanted with nomadic life. She worries that they will be the last generation to live this lifestyle. Intricately connected to the nomads are the yaks and the weaving skills and knowledge of tsipa. Her daughters are disinterested and instead dream of moving to the West to work and study. 



A yak with a colorful tag to identify them as belonging to one family. Photo credit: Jampa Phunchok

Our brand, Thunlam, at its heart is also about preserving and documenting fast-disappearing skills and knowledge in a visual repository through our website and social media. Our long-term aim for sustainability is to create renewed interest, especially amongst the youth of the region, in the possibilities of using tsipa to create traditional as well as contemporary products. We hope to help keep these traditions alive while simultaneously adapting them to the changing needs and desires of the community.



As dusk falls, Phurbu’s husbands return. Phurbu helps in putting away the animals for the night and gets started with dinner. When asked about climate change and the effects on their way of life, Phurbu has a spiritual take – she believes that people need to change according to the time and era and that if things change in her lifetime, so be it, it is but the passage of time and circumstances.

[i] Roasted barley or wheat flour mixed with salty Tibetan butter tea which is nutritious and filling. 


[ii] Traditional soft or hard cheese make of yak or sheep milk. 


[iii] Nomads are traditionally polyandrous. Phurbu was married at the age of 23 to the two brothers. 


[iv] Such as big corporations emitting the majority of carbon emissions (


[v] Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to adverse impacts of climate change with increasing floods, droughts and landslides seen every year. 


[vi] The Government of Nepal’s transition to Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID) for Sustainable Recovery, Growth, and Jobs Economic growth backed by human capital investment growth and jobs is a positive sign.


[vii] A second cosmopolitan city in Kaski district, also a domestic and international tourist destination known for its beautiful lakes and natural beauty.

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