The Saltmen of Tibet

The Saltmen of Tibet

This is an unforgettable film by Ulrike Koch about Tibetan nomads and their seasonal work collecting salt with their yak herd for three months from Lake Tsentso in central Tibet, a work that used to be rewarding, but which is now becoming harder and harder to sustain.

The journey is highly ritualised and the saltmen have to take on personas when they make their arduous quest for salt, one takes the role of margen (mother), another pargen (father), one is Bopsa (novice) and the other zopon (the lord of the animals).

There are other strange customs, which none of the participants know the reason for, but dare not depart from, so for instance women are not allowed even to look in the direction of the Lake, a special salt language has to be used after a certain point, all those involved must maintain a certain purity when close to the Lake, and so on.

The journey they make, with their yaks in tow, is epic indeed, over some of the most spectacular and equally forbidding vistas on earth, so the film has a stunning backdrop to it, and the film moves slow, dwelling on the people on the trip, their preparations, and their amazing fortitude.

At intervals we catch glimpses of the lorries that are now starting to encroach on the work done by the nomads, and although it isn’t emphasised it is clear that this is one more dying tradition in Tibet, where everything possible is being done to bring the nomadic life to an end.

 

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