A few hours into a mountain bike trip outside Shangri-La, China (formerly Zhongdian), my group ran into a change of weather that is typical of the area. It became overcast and chilly, threatening rain. Our guide had misjudged how long the ride would take (it was her first time to bike the route) and, by mid-afternoon, we were hungry, tired, cold, and far from town.
We were near a small Tibetan village, and our guide went to try to find food. Minutes later, she returned with an invitation for us to stay awhile in a Tibetan home.
Entering through a gate, we found a huge courtyard full of animals and a two-story house with an intricately carved woodwork facade. The first floor was for the animals and the top floor for the humans. We climbed the stairs into a large, dark, open room without separating walls. In one corner was the kitchen, where an old Tibetan woman prepared food on an old-fashioned stovepipe.
Sitting on low, wooden benches around the warm stove, we were so grateful for the simple-but-nourishing Tibetan fare. Along with salty, earthy yak butter tea, we were given yak cheese topped with sugar to take the edge off the sharpest, strongest cheese any of us had ever tasted. A flatbread similar to nan also helped damper the bite. The Tibetan women also taught us to make tsampa, a doughy blend of buckwheat flour and yak butter tea, which is shaped into balls and eaten with tea.
It was all incredibly filling, refreshing, and gracious. And we could have stayed all day.