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Yak Butter and Black Tea: A Journey into Tibet

Yak Butter and Black Tea: A Journey into Tibet

by Wade Brackenbury

Wade Brackenbury wanted an adventure, and he got the journey of a lifetime. Along with a charismatic photographer named Pascal, Wade went seeking the Drung people, a dwindling minority in the vast empire of China, said to live in an obsure valley in Southern Tibet. No Westerner had been to the Drung valley in over a century. Yak Butter & Black Tea is a story of


Wade Brackenbury wanted an adventure, and he got the journey of a lifetime. Along with a charismatic photographer named Pascal, Wade went seeking the Drung people, a dwindling minority in the vast empire of China, said to live in an obsure valley in Southern Tibet. No Westerner had been to the Drung valley in over a century. Yak Butter & Black Tea is a story of daring and adventure, offering a fascinating glimpse into a hidden corner of contemporary China. And it is the account of a young man, driven by a compulsion he doesn't understand, as he tests himself in this dangerous, exotic land. "A remarkable account of exploration and adventure in forbidden lands. Travel writing of the old school at its best."—Joe Simpson, author of Dark Shadows Falling and Touch of the Void.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Before settling down to the relatively unadventurous life of a chiropractor, 29-year-old Brackenbury wanted a last fling. During his Utah boyhood, he'd become a skilled mountain climber, so it was serendipitous when, in a cafe, he met a French photographer who was looking for a mountaineer to join his expedition to photograph the Drung people. The Drung, an ethnic Chinese minority, live in a valley accessible only over 20,000-foot-high Tibetan mountains-a territory forbidden to foreigners by the Chinese authorities. With a young Chinese-speaking Frenchwoman as their translator, the trio set out from Chengdu on the Tibetan border. For two months, they climbed into the interior, often for 15 hours a day, always fearful of being stopped by police. Brackenbury's chiropractic skills won gratitude and hospitality from ailing yak herders and villagers. In the end, only 20 miles from their destination, they were apprehended by police and forced to abort their expedition. The author's account lacks insight into the people he met, but the hardships, terrain, the surfaces of Tibetan lives and his own daring are vividly depicted. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The Dulong Valley in the remote upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River where the borders of China, Tibet, and Burma (Myanmar) converge is seldom visited by outsiders. Its inhabitants are the minority Drung (sometimes spelled Dulong) people. Wade is a mountaineer and chiropractor from Idaho who teamed up with a French photographer and a French Chinese interpreter to visit this area, which is off-limits to foreigners. Much of the book concerns their arrests and quarrels with the authorities, as well as quarrels among themselves, so readers wanting to know more about the Drung will only have their appetites whetted here. Although Brackenbury is a skillful and introspective writer who captures well the experiences of foreigners who illegally leave the beaten track in southwestern China and Tibet, this kind of travel book, in which one of the main purposes seems to be breaking the laws of the country visited, is of questional value. After all, Brackenbury's adventure endangered the local people who befriended and assisted the groups. For that reason, this book is recommended with reservations.-Harold M. Otness, Southern Oregon State Coll. Lib., Ashland
School Library Journal
YAAn exciting story of a young man's trek into forbidden and forbidding China in 1993. Impulsive and constantly haunted by his father's enthusiasm for prowess, Wade Brackenbury, about 30, looked for adventure wherever he could. A chance encounter in China's Yunnan Province with Pascal Szapu, a freelance French photographer, led to this trip of a lifetime. Szapu's desire was to photograph a minority people called the Drung; Brackenbury's goal was to climb the 15,000 feet peaks into the Drung Valley, which was closed territory to foreigners. A Chinese-French woman accompanied them as a translator. The intrepid travelers evaded the Chinese police, lied, and bluffed their way out of impossible situations. It took three separate attempts, three years, and many hair-raising experiences before Brackenbury, alone, succeeded. The trip allowed him to come to terms with his relationship with his father and taught him to appreciate his own unique talents and abilities. YAs will enjoy reading about this unique experience.Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A mountain-climbing chiropractor becomes perhaps the first westerner ever to reach a remote Tibetan valley, in the hope of making contact with a little-known tribe called the Drung.

Brackenbury, an experienced mountaineer and survival expert, intrepidly pushes both the physical and bureaucratic envelope in his mission. Existing principally on a diet of assorted yak recipes, the trio of explorers composed of the author, a French photographer named Pascal, and Sophi, a beautiful French-Chinese translator, journey into a region of western China and southeastern Tibet officially off-limits to tourists. They are frequently detained and searched by Chinese policemen; in one harrowing episode, having been assured of their freedom yet held captive on a military base, they effect an escape, only to be hunted down and nearly shot. Thereafter, they are widely known among the Tibetans as those "three bad people." At one time or another, all three suffer gravely from the elements, from the food, and, for the first two-thirds of the narrative, from one another. Pascal, it turns out, is a coward who blames Sophi for his reluctance to proceed over the remote high mountain passes without guides or official permission. Brackenbury finally cuts loose from his companions and treks on alone. His skills as a chiropractor are called on frequently as he "adjusts" the joints of various Tibetan pilgrims, and on the whole he gets on tolerably well with a suspicious and poorly fed people, who grudgingly offer him shelter and, less frequently, food. Finally, Brackenbury reaches his goal, but only after arduously hiking over snow-covered passes and clambering down steep cliffs, and the Drung turn out to be less isolated than the author had imagined.

Occasionally self-indulgent and slow, Brackenbury's memoir is best read for the local color and some chilling, death-defying moments.

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.02(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.78(d)

Meet the Author

Wade Brackenbury was born in Idaho and lives in Springville, Utah. He has traveled and climbed widely, worked as a mountain guide, taught wilderness survival courses, and worked as a chiropractor. Recently, he served as expedition doctor on a photographic mission up a tributary of the Congo River in Africa.

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