So we’re visiting friends in Parys and for some reason, we’re talking about beanies. I say something like “I’ve always wanted one of those real beanies that you can tie around your chin. Normal beanies always move around when I’m photographing things on icy winter mornings and eventually they fall off when you need them most and your hands are too full to put them back on and then they fall in the Vaal River (true story).”
There and then our friends Charles and Leida decide, this is just unacceptable we’ll have to find Deon a “real” beanie! After all, he is the best photographer in Africa, he cannot be subjected to working in such tough conditions! (their words, not mine.) After extensive research, they book a flight to Katmandu (another true story.) A week later they fly there and hire 6 sherpas to carry the food required to get them to their destination. The next morning, as the first light hit the Katmandu mountain peaks they hit the trail. They travel by foot for 14 days, crossing rivers, mountains, ancient temples and dark eerie forests. Eventually, they reach an ancient village, so small that it doesn’t even have a name, not even Google knows it exists! The sherpas whisper something like “Garmankatshu Gorge” which means something along the lines of “the hidden secret.” Anyway, it’s roughly on the Tibetan border and a few days walk past the Everest base camp. The magical thing about the village is that it’s the only place in the whole of Nepal where wild yaks are still found and ‘that’ was their reason for being there! Wild Yak hair is the best fabric on earth to make a “real” beanie from. Leida tracked down the only lady in the village that could still make beanies by hand, an ancient skill passed on for over 50 000 years. She had already retired, but after some serious negotiation (no one says no to Leida) she eventually agrees to make one last beanie. She scribbles instructions on a small paper and gives it to Leida, you find me ‘that’ and I’ll make your beanie. “That” entailed Leida and Charles having to hire a gang of wild Yak catchers. Yak catching (or Yakking as it’s known) is a delicate business and only 2 of 10 trainees survive the training. As such, it offers a substantial reward and good Yak catchers are some of the most wealthy men in all of Nepal. Since the beginning of time, it has been tradition to mark the craziest, wildest, man-killing Yaks with red earrings, one red earring means it’s highly unstable – stay far away, but if it has two red earrings I have one word for you… RUN! (see the photo’s attached) But I digress… the scribbled note stipulated three colours of Yak hair was required and thus the Yak Catchers would have to find and strip three wild Yaks. Not an easy task to say the least and Charles and Leida had to wait a week for their return. Unfortunately, Leida was not happy with the cream shade they provided and sent them back to find a proper cream coloured Yak, after all, this was a costly exercise and she wouldn’t settle for anything but the best! Eventually, they returned and Leida was happy. The old lady spun the Yak hair non-stop for 2 days and created a thing of beauty – the beanie that I’m sporting in the photo below 🙂 Thank you Charles and Leida for the great lengths you’ve gone to for this much-appreciated gift!
Some awesome Yak facts:
– Yak hair is 40% warmer than Merino wool!
– Yaks can survive -50 °C temperatures and they begin to suffer from heat exhaustion above 15 °C.
– Yaks lack functional sweat glands and are thus odourless, also their hair doesn’t absorb odours! So one can braai in winter and the smoke won’t get caught up in your beanie, ever!! This is rather cool as you can now braai over a weekend and when you see your friends they won’t know you’ve braaied and you won’t get into trouble for not inviting them!
– Yak hair is softer than Cashmere!
– Yak hair is the only textile that will keep you warm even if it’s soaking wet!
– Yak dried droppings are an important fuel, used all over Tibet like briquettes.
– Only one thing makes it hard to use yaks for long journeys in barren regions. They will not eat grain, which could be carried on the journey. They would rather starve unless they can be brought to a place where there is grass. Kind of how I feel about pumpkin!