Nomad tents are usually made from yak wool that has been hand spun into yarn. It takes about a year to make a mid-sized tent. When going to a nomad home, it is common to see the women spinning yak wool into yarn. Mongolian gers (nomad tents) are often very thick and well insulated. Tibetan tents are very thin. From inside the tent you can see the blue Tibetan sky through the hand spun yarn. Nomad tents are held up using hand spun yak wool rope and 8 to 12 wooden poles. The top of the tent has a large opening that is used to let smoke out and to let the warm sunshine in. Prayer flags will always be flying outside across the top.
The inside of nomad tents are very simple. Nomads are very poor and own few belongings. Inside there will be some sleeping mats and blankets, a stove, a table or two, a few extra clothes and a little food. Nearly all tents will have a picture of a local lama and often will have a picture of the 14th Dalai Lama. A thangka (Tibetan buddhist painting) will also be found hanging inside.
Yaks are kept tied up outside of the tent using lines of rope that are made secure by two wooden stakes driven into the ground. Each line of rope will have 8 to 10 small loops which are put around one of the yaks feet at night (or tied through the yak's nose). A few dogs will also be kept tied up outside the tent. Large piles of dried yak dung are stored close to the tent. Since many nomadic areas of Tibet have no trees, yak dung is often the only source of fuel. It is common to see Tibetan buddhist sculptures made in the yak dung.
Hand woven yak wool tents are quickly disappearing. Many nomads now only live in these tents in the summer months. They live in mud-brick homes the rest of the year. Others are moving into towns to live in traditional style Tibetan homes or are being relocated into cities (such as Xining) where the government gives them a modern style apartment. I visited a remote monastery last December and came across several dozen yak wool tents in a storage area. I was told that these tents had be sold to the monastery over the past 6 months by nomads who were moving into mud-brick homes.
Though there are fewer and fewer yak wool tents each year in Tibet, there are still a few areas that have them. The northern regions of Nagchu and Ngari prefectures in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Yushu prefecture in southern Qinghai and northern Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province all have nomads still living in yak wool tents. For more information about nomads, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.