Tseba, his Tea, and the Walk(s)
One of the most purpose-driven of walkers, Tseba, would prepare a kettle of butter tea every morning before leaving to circumambulate around Litang’s Chode monastery. No less than three rotations would ever be done and afternoons would often see Tseba back out with his mala beads in hand doing another three rounds. Not rain, hail, blasting sun, nor heaps of snow would ever prevent Tseba from his ritual rotations (nor his pre-ritual taking of tea) in this town of over 4,000 metres.
Litang was, for over a decade, one of the zones that I would inevitably find myself navigating to, and remaining in. A community of friends, relentless mountain forces, and a vital conduit point along the Sichuan-Tibet portion of the Tea Horse Road were all draws. To arrive, whether by foot or vehicle, was always an entire 'body feel', as the altitude began to tighten its grip on the body. A heightening of all senses was influenced by a particular type of air current and temperature drop, as though this set of elements were prerequisites to acknowledge where one was arriving to.
Tseba embodied much of what made the area compelling and unambiguous, and his butter tea offerings were no different. They were powerful, rich, stimulant liquids, that were as much a meal as they were anything else. Barley, salt, yak butter, desiccated tea leaves from Sichuan gardens leagues away, and even at times the addition of dried yak yoghurt balls, called chura could all, depending on his mood or the availability of these items, be found within a bowl.
Proudly Khampa, he remembered the region’s contributions to the Ancient Tea Horse Road. Caravans would pass through these vast nomadic spaces in western Sichuan, sometimes needing the assistance of ’traveling protection’ - nomads payed to accompany and protect both caravans and their participants from attack and thieves.
Many a time, we'd share a butter tea before heading out where I'd do a version of a scurry to keep up with Tseba as it has been years since I've been in his spaces.
He often said that both his preferred teas and people had the same qualities: direct and having an impact. Whether he knew it or not, he perfectly personified both of those qualities...and I hope he does still.