Once above Lukla there are no roads. There is no way of driving into most of the higher valleys in the Solukhumbu district of Nepal. This means that if you want anything taken up there it has to be carried, and if it's a lot of stuff then it has to go by yak train.
|Big, hairy and smells of yak.|
Domesticated yaks come in a variety of colours. The dark brown colour like the one above is pretty standard, but they also come in shades of brown, white, beige, piebald and skewbald.
Lower down, that is from Lukla to the Namche area, your stuff won't be carried by yaks, but by dzopkios. These are a cross between domesticated yaks and cows and are much better suited to the lower altitude. They are a little smaller than yaks, but you still don't want to meet one on a bridge.
|Dzopkios (munching on our sign, under my bedroom window)|
When you do encounter a dzopkio or yak train on the path, you get out of their way. They're pretty docile, but they're very powerful animals with pointy horns that only concentrate on where they're being driven to. People have been knocked down mountain sides and even eviscerated by yaks that have accidentally bumped into them.
|Dzopkios carrying our kit bags up to Namche|
Yaks are driven in groups of about six, usually by one driver. The drivers for our trekking parties were all men. The women I saw driving trains seemed to be connected to their own cottage industries, carrying their produce between villages. The drivers encourage their animals along by whistling as they walk with them. This is almost as constant a sound on the trails as the bells the yaks wear around their necks. Yaks that misbehave are shouted at first, or given a smack on the behind if they don't listen.
It's advisable not to end up following a train as they kick up a lot of dust. The drivers wear scarves or buffs covering their nose and mouth. One of our group leaders pointed out to us that this is why it isn't a good idea to use a hydration bladder with an uncovered bite valve. The main constituent of the dust is dried yak poo. After a couple of days everything I owned was covered with a thin layer of dust, and smelled of yak. Where yaks pass through town though, the poo is collected and dried. It is valuable both as a fertiliser (every house has a veg plot) and as fuel. In Sagarmatha National Park it is forbidden to cut wood for fuel to prevent deforestation. This means that yak poo is now used for heating fuel, rather than fertiliser, leading to problems with the supply of vegetables.