Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis

The Himalayan Mountains have posed as a colossal barrier for travelers over the centuries. Even today with high-tech cars, trucks and ATVs it is difficult to reach the most isolated region. Except, by yak. That’s right, for years, the local people of northeast India have been scaling the treacherous mountains on the back of a scruffy, woolen yak. It's not likely what you would picture as the best animal for traversing Earth’s tallest peaks, but these hearty creatures can go for days hauling heavy loads in the dead of winter without food and are often referred to as Himalayan camels.

Photo Credit: Alberto Bertotto

What the What?

Most people have heard of 4x4 excursions, horseback riding, and even camel tours. But in the strange world of Asia, there are also opportunities for travelers to embark upon yak safaris. Such tours take patrons to exceptionally beautiful regions often inaccessible by other means of transportation. The yaks are dressed in colorful garb with bells strung between their sweeping horns making the experience feel a bit like a processional or parade.

You'll ride around alpine lakes, through glacial valleys, and even up mountains on the back of these strangely adapted, hairy, high-altitude beasts. One thing's for sure, it's an experience you'll never forget.

Photo Credit: Snap Snap

Dzongri Trek

The Dzongri area is an extremely popular spot for trekkers and yak safaris alike. The trail takes about five days for hikers to complete (shorter from the back of a yak) with a loop that starts and ends in Yuksom. The region offers some of the most incredible mountain scenery in the area with views of Mt. Kanchenjunga (the third tallest peak in the world), Mt. Kabur, Mt. Kokthang, Mt. Rathong, Mt. Kumbhakarna and many other areas of impressive Himalayan wilderness.

"Yaks at the Tsomgo Lake" by Sandro Lacarbona via Flickr Creative Commons

Lake Tsomgo

A highlight of many yak safaris is a visit to Lake Tsomgo. This glacial lake rests high in the alpine mountains at 12,313 above sea level, and is revered by the local people for it’s unique color-changing properties. While the water remains frozen over the winter (few travelers choose to venture to this region in the cold months anyway), throughout the rest of the year, the surface reflects the changing colors of the seasons. The lake is considered sacred to Buddhists, and is an utterly spectacular sight to behold - bright white in winter, sapphire blue in spring, dark navy in summer, and turquoise in the fall. While few stick around long enough to witness the changing colors of Tsomgo, everyone who looks upon it can appreciate its unchanging natural beauty.

"IMG_0426" by Jocelyn Saurini via Flickr Creative Commons

How to Do It

There is no shortage of locally run tour groups in India that can take you through the Himalayan territory. Depending on which region you want to explore, you can choose from a single day yak safari, or a more immersive experience lasting up to four days. In the Sikkim region, we recommend Bharat Online, Himalayan Planet Tours & Travels, Spiti Valley Tours, or Sikkim Adventure. In Ladakh, Ladakh Travel offers a yak safari, as does India Travel Agents.