27 June - 3 July 2014 #713

Climate refugees

Until a decade ago, more than half of the twenty households in Dhe herded yaks for a living. Today, the village which lies at an altitude of 3,900m in Upper Mustang has only one.

Thirty-six-year old Kungshan Rinzin (pic, above) who lives with his brother is Dhe’s last remaining yak herder. Rinzin’s story has been made into a documentary The Last Yak Herder of Dhe, produced by WWF and Care, the film was released this year on World Environment Day.

The 33-minute long documentary begins with Rinzin’s personal narrative. Rinzin tells the interviewer he is conflicted whether to continue his profession or follow in his fellow villagers’ footsteps. “I have to live by myself in high pastures. There’s always the danger of being buried in a heavy snowfall,” he says.

This is only part of the challenges faced by Rinzin in raising yaks in an area that is one of the worst affected by climate change. For the past decade, Dhe has been plagued by an acute shortage of water, and irrigated land size has decreased by half. The once green village now resembles a ghost town.

There is little food for the people, and even less for the livestock. Rinzin spends his year moving from one pasture to another, and says the pastures are drying up. Erratic rainfall also brings with it its own set of problems. “When the rain is unexpected, it does more harm than good,” he says grimly.

The harsh life in Dhe has forced many to migrate down the valley. Ten households have already moved, their deserted buildings leave a gap in the community. Those who stayed back are also in the process of moving and rejoining earlier migrants to form a new settlement in Thangchung in lower Mustang.

However, this won’t be the first time that residents of Dhe will be moving. Originally from Ghayul Valley, the group has moved twice in its history.

The Last Yak Herder of Dhe is more than just a personal account of a lone yak herder. It brings to light the extreme challenges of living in high altitude areas that are the most prone to climate change. But the use of a narrator’s voice throughout most of the documentary adds an impersonal tone, and detached this viewer from the subject. The most effective scenes were when Rinzin was in the frame and speaking.

Summer Pasture, a 2010 film by Lynn True Nelson Walker and Tsering Perlo, was a similar and better made film chronicling a young nomad family one summer amidst changing times and uncertainty even about their future as nomads.

Tsering Dolker Gurung

The Last Yak Herder of Dhe

Director of Photography Samir Jung Thapa

Research and Direction: Fidel Devkota

Teaser Music: Sangam Panta

Watch The Last Yak Herder of Dhe


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