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Yak Butter & Black Tea: A Journey into Tibet

3.52  ·  Rating Details ·  154 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published January 3rd 1998 by Algonquin Books (first published 1997)
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Jul 14, 2009 Chuck rated it it was ok
I saw this book on the shelf at Mckay’s, and because of the title (I am an unrepentant tea nerd) I had to get it. It tells the story of Wade Brackenbury, who in the early 1990’s tried to hike into the Drung Valley, a forbidden part of China that probably had never been visited by westerners. Along with him on his quest is a French photographer named Pascal and a half-French, half-Chinese interpreter named Sophie. Their mission is the brain child of this Pascal, who wants to photograph the rarely ...more
Scott Reid
Feb 25, 2015 Scott Reid rated it really liked it
I found "Yak Butter and Black Tea" on the shelf near a Paul Thoreux book I was looking for in the library. Luckily, I grabbed both. I read two chapters of each and tossed Theroux's book aside and continued reading Yak Butter and Black Tea. Wade Brackenbury is not a well known travel writer like Theroux, however he tells a story you want to continue reading. Like other reviewers, I found myself thinking, "where did you get the money for these excursions?" I figured right away that he probably had ...more
I love being transported to faraway places and cultures by good writers, but intrepid explorers don�t often make good writers and this is my judgment in this case. This author targets an attractive goal of experiencing the Drung people in a valley between mountain ranges in western China near the border with Tibet and Burma (Myanmar), people who had not been visited by Westerners for many decades. This area of the Yunnan Province, forbidden to foreigners, is cut off 6 months of the year by ...more
Feb 19, 2012 Lela rated it did not like it
The writing in this book isn't very good, which often makes it a little confusing, but I was finding it entertaining enough to keep reading. Then Wade describes how he, eager for a hiking adventure, but nervous about running low on food, decides to buy the last of the food from a poor, drunk man, the only person in the village who would still take his money, as food was hard to come by here. Wade pays the man what Wade decides is a fair price, and lifts the bags of flour to carry them away. That ...more
Jan 10, 2008 Caitlin rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Wade Brackenbury's story of discovering the remote Drung valley. This is a story of adventure and discovery with a modern spin. Brackenbury's story is one of the last first person narratives that documents a Westerner's impression of a remote and isolated place and the people who live there. I found his impression of the people he encountered very heartwarming and his story was simple and straight forward. His writing style lends nicely to the story he is telling: this was a ...more
Sep 28, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adventure-travel
One of my favorite books ever. This is a great true story about a young mormon adventurer and his quest to be the first westerner to visit the Drung Valley deep into China. You will not believe what he went through to get there. I ran into a guy at the Climbers Ranch in the Teton's a few years ago and after hearing a few of his adventure tales I connected the dots and realized it was Wade Brackenbury the author of this book (by then I had read it 3 times). He was pretty impressed that I knew who ...more
Jun 02, 2016 Phil rated it liked it
Wade Brackenbury used his journals and his memory to compose this book, published in 1998. Its strength isn't his writing style, but the thrill of risky ventures in remote parts of China and Tibet. Once I let go of criticizing his writing and simply settled into the narrative, the book held my attention. Brackenbury portrays himself as headstrong. However, he reaches into his upbringing to help the reader sympathize with his stubbornness. The journey into forbidden and foreboding territory, ...more
Nov 12, 2007 Susie rated it it was ok
This is a travelogue of a man hiking through the forbidden areas of China. Not the best written of books but it reminded me of the Jon Krakauer books without all the detail that Krakauer gives. It was a straightforward story without too many flashbacks into the past. At one point in the story it is mentioned that he might be hiking for his father and too me this felt like an afterthought. Perhaps added to try to make the story more meaningful. Aside all that, I enjoyed the book and found the ...more
Sep 27, 2009 Dannie rated it really liked it
Very interesting travelogue about remote southern China in 1992 by a climber attempting to reach the Drung valley and photograph the indiginous people. I learned a lot about the geography and historical background of the area.
This guy had no understanding of Chinese culture, however, and I think his behavior gives Westerners a bad name. Lost his temper a lot, embarrassed officials, and used aggression to intimidate others.
Still, it was easy to read and it was fun to be an armchair adventurer al
Rachel Blanchard
Apr 11, 2008 Rachel Blanchard rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves to learn about foreign people and their cultures
Recommended to Rachel by: My dad
If you dream of traveling the world -- and discovering places no one has been to --you'll love this book. Through the journal of a man who journeyed into the forbidden Drung valley, you'll discover a place, people, and culture you never knew existed. Feel the author's frustrations as he gets arrested by hostile soldiers again and again. Blister your feet in his hiking shoes. And eat "yak butter and black tea" with the new friends and strangers he meets. After reading this book, you'll be saving ...more
Nov 01, 2007 Aimee rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: adventure minded folks
Shelves: adventure
To a degree, I admired Brackenbury's (and his travel companions') determination to get way off the beaten track to meet the Drung people, who live in a remote part of Yunnan near the southeastern part of Tibet. The usual hardships and outrunning the cops are well documented in this travelogue. What stayed with me, though, was Brackenbury's epiphany that in his lust for adventure in "forbidden" places, other people, like innocent villagers upon whose hospitality and daily routine he imposed, are ...more
Feb 02, 2016 caroline rated it really liked it
I picked this book up in the travel section of the library not knowing what it was going to be about. The term yak butter intrigued me like Wade was attracted to the Drung Valley! I was able to feel his frustration at the many failed attempts and then finally reaching his destination with little expectations of what awaited him. His ending revelation really resinated with me. "Somewhere you have never been before but you desperately need to go.." I can relate.
Jacob Mclaws
Jan 14, 2013 Jacob Mclaws rated it liked it
I wasn't blown away by his writing, but this guy is an adventurer. I liked his story of travelling deep into Tibet through snowy passes and staying with Tibetans who had never seen foreigners before. He did things I wouldn't have done and I think that made the story surprising and interesting.

Also showed me how much China has opened up to Western visitors in the last 20 years. And how much has changed because of it.

Got me excited to visit Tibet. :)
Some pictures would've been nice. The author mentions several times that he quite probably was the first Westerner in a century to make it into this forbidden (and forbidding) area of China. He also obsessively recalls the various steps he took to hide his exposed rolls of film from the numerous Chinese authorities he dealt with (nothing too extreme, don't worry) to prevent them from being confiscated. And yet, no pictures, other than the cover photo. A missed opportunity, I think.
May 06, 2013 Cathy rated it liked it
A Mormon boy from Fairfield, Idaho adventuring into forbidden areas into Tibet? Couldn't resist trying it though it was far from the best adventure or travel writing I've ever read. However, worth reading for a peek into this unknown area.
Nov 06, 2008 Nicole rated it it was amazing
amazing story of adventure and pushing yourself to the edge. Very colorfully written and detailed. Relates how to dodge authorities, pack for a crazy adventure, and deal with traveling companions that may not have the same agenda. Lots of details about local culture and life. Loved this book!
Feb 02, 2012 Jenny added it
Picked it up at the library to go along with all the documentaries about the Dali lama I've been watching of late. Not only is it really interesting and well written, but the author just happens to by LDS and from Springville to boot.
May 19, 2010 Hillary rated it liked it
There were parts of the this book that grabbed my attention but for the most part I was disappointed. I thought that this would be a book that was mostly about finding out more about the Drung people but it was mostly about dodging authorities to get into an untraveled area ruled by China.
Sep 01, 2007 Cherie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in Tibet
B The guy is a Mormon and there's this long boring struggle with his traveling partner, but some quite interesting things happen
Sep 24, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It was travel in a far away land and told of a culture I have not had the pleasure to experience. Loved it!
Nov 19, 2015 Jen rated it it was ok
Excellent storytelling of what seems to be a fairly exploitative, very intrusive, completely selfish journey into a culture that didn't seem to want him there in the first place.
Rachel Wagner
Aug 11, 2007 Rachel Wagner rated it it was amazing
If you like travel narratives that take you to new and exciting places this is a great one. The authors are honestly crazy to attempt this trip, but it sure makes for a great read afterwards!
Jan 29, 2012 Gary rated it liked it
A fun read. For anyone who enjoyed "The Heart of the World" or "Spy on the Roof of the World", you likely will enjoy this too.
Aug 20, 2008 Carson rated it really liked it
This Tibetan journey was one of the first I read that made me want to travel to dangerous places and write about it. Non fiction and well written.
Jul 01, 2010 Marybla rated it liked it
Made me recall the joys of hiking with Tibetans in the Himalayas and drinking bothay chia (yak butter, tea and red oat porridge).
Matthew Wright
Jul 18, 2010 Matthew Wright rated it really liked it
A really good read for the adventurous. You feel the atmosphere emotionally and physically throughout!
an american climber and french photographer try to reach the off limits valley in sw china near tibet. they are on the run from the police a lot in this entertaining true adventure.
Tyson Titensor
An Idaho boy treks around in some big mountains with a bunch of climbing gear that, for various reasons, he never gets to deploy. Pretty entertaining.
Dec 29, 2009 Jay rated it it was ok
Shelves: travel
a fun, short read of travel in China in restricted zones. i can appreciate some of the writer's experiences of Chinese bureaucratic and cultural oddities.
Megan Titensor
Dec 25, 2015 Megan Titensor rated it liked it
This was a fun, fast read. I took it with me on a backpacking trip and enjoyed relating to the high mountain exploration in a real way.
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