"Dropa" is the name for the Tibetan nomads who live in the mountains herding yaks (brog - uncultivated land, pa - person) .
The Drogpa-Project, founded by Rosula Blanc and Sonja Mathis, aims at a deeper understanding of the yak and to research and integrate the knowledge of the Dropas who live with and through the yaks. Hardly anything is known in Europe about yak ethology and the way of training these animals. Through different projects we want to expand our knowledge and make it available.
As a first step in this research we thought it essential to become “Drogpas” ourselves for some time, to travel through the mountains alone with our yaks and cover a long distance with them, in order to experience the mountains and the rhythm of the yaks with our own body. We did it in autumn 2011 travelling from Evolène (CH) to Menton (F) with our three yaks Lufang, Julong and Manduk:
600km, 36 mountain passes, one glacier, eight weeks journey on foot: Rosula Blanc and Sonja Mathis crossed the Alps with their yaks from september 12th to november 6th 2011.
Inspired by the yak caravans which cross the Himalaya carrying salt from the Tibetan plateau to the southern valleys, we wanted to cross the chain of the Alps with our yaks to reach the Mediterranean from our Swiss mountain homes. Although there have been yaks in Europe for about a hundred years now, they have never proven their high endurance and ability to work as pack animals here in Europe. Europeans also never took on the challenge of training and travelling with their own yaks without a native from the Himalaya. With three yaks who carried our tent, sleeping bags and food we traveled through the alpine valleys staying high up on the pastures far from the villages.
Rosula and Sonja left their farms in the Swiss mountains in September and walked South at the same time as autumn progressed. As yaks can’t endure high temperatures, the last Indian summer days will were hard for them, while the first autumn snow storms challenged the two women, but the adventure united them.
With this “transalpine-marathon” we wanted to demonstrate the yaks capacity for endurance and work as pack animals.
The journey was also meant a tribute to the people in the Himalayas who lived for centuries like this travelling with their yaks. That’s why we created a partnership with two humanitarian organisations who work with yak farming communities in the Himalaya and collected around CHF 8000.- for their projects with our journey.
Rigzen-Zanskar Association (ARZ)
The Rigzen Zanskar Association is a Swiss NGO operating in the Zanskar Valley (Indian Himalaya) since 1998 and initiating, supporting and managing projects in the field of education, healthcare, renewable energy, environment and cultural preservation. Its objective lies in providing the required competencies and knowledge to the local population facing a fast development of its region while respecting and integrating its traditions and culture.
ARZ’s main project is the Marpaling Lamdon Model School located in Stongday, where more than 220 children are studying up to class 8. The Marpaling Lamdon Model School is a registered society and ARZ’s main partner in India. Both management committees are working for free, hand in hand, on projects initiated on local people’s request to fulfil a pressing need. ARZ supports agricultural research and yak husbandry, initiating yak trekking and the developpemnt of products out of yak wool.
Tapriza Association Social Help in Dolpa (Tashi-D)
Tapriza Association Social Help in Dolpa, founded by the local community of Phoksumdo in 1997, is a non-profit organization (NGO) officially registered at the District Administration Office in Dolpa and at the Social Welfare Council in Kathmandu.
TASHI-D NGO is in charge of various cultural and educational projects. The central project is the establishment of Tapriza Secondary School, which has been providing education to the people of Dolpo. Dolpo district is one of the most remote areas of Nepal bordering Tibet, most of it is situated above 3000m altitudes and is very sparsely populated. The people in this area depend on farming, agriculture, animal husbandry and trade with Tibet for their livelihood. They are exposed to great natural risks, due to some frequent natural disasters, like for example major avalanches in 2010 or a major disease that killed a number of animals in 2010. This causes existential threats to their life.
TASHI-D wants to support the preservation and promotion of domestic animals and start a system to support families with big animal losses due to natural influences or poor families or single mothers to gain their livelihood. We also would like to sponsor a professional animal doctor to visit and support the health of the animals. We are opening a “Yak-fund” (kind of agricultural insurance) where all the villagers who have animals and want to join the project enter a certain amount of money and then the board will decide on who is most in need to get support or if a yak veterinary should come. If further support from outside is added we will be more successful in supporting the needy. A further aim is to research and support the complicated traditional system of breed in order to get healthy animals for different tasks (milk and butter, field-work, caravan, etc).
More details on the journey in our blog!
The Yak-Transalpine is equiped by: