My first "English Alphabet & Words Book" of childhood said, "Y is for Yak". The accompanying picture looked like an odd shaped cow with long hair all over its body. I was curious whether this animal makes smooth moo sound like cow, or is it hoarse like the water buffalo ? I had to wait for the answer till my first night in Gunsang. It was early October 2012.
Yaks are close relative of cows, and are pretty much the de facto cattle of the high Himalayas and Tibbet. The natural habitat stretches across Himalayas, Tibet, Mongolia, and as far north as Russia. Yaks are well adapted to the cold harsh environment of their habitat. Thick hide and long hair providing good insulation against the cold, bulky strong body to tackle the rough terrain, and to cope up with the low oxygen level in high altitudes they have three times more red blood cells compared to cows.
|Like the young of every other animal, yak calves are cute|
The English name "Yak" is from the Tibetan name "Gyag" (གཡག). The Nepali name is "Chamri Gai" (चौंरी गाई) a literal translation for which would be "cow with broom" - imaginative. Yaks are herded by the Tibetan diaspora in Nepal. But other people would also associated / adopt. Partly because of the wonder and amazement that serves as a tourist attraction. Kathmandu valley restaurants serve yak meat, textiles woven from yak wool is sold, many small and medium businesses named after yak is also common. There is even a brand of Nepali cigarette named after the yak.
|Billboard in Bhaktapur, Nepal advertising Yak cigarettes. Credits.|
Coming back to the question of yak call. On my first night in Gunsang, a free roaming yak came to stand right outside my window while it has a chat with its mate who happens graze somewhere beyond my eyesight. The call was guttural, hoarse, elongated and awe inspiring - befitting the large animal that the yak is. It sounded like a hybrid of grant and moo, but more similar to the grunt than moo and much louder. First I thought that the animal is in pain. But there wasn't any sign of discomfort and it seemed to be quite happy. The yak would make long loud calls once every couple of minutes and its mate would call back to it from other side of the valley. The ordeal went on for nearly an hour. It made me nervous. But on the bright side, my childhood curiosity got satisfied well. I got to know a little bit about their social behavior first hand too. The universe has interesting ways of making things work.
Here is a (very) mild version of yak's grunt. It's a mother yak grunting to it's calf.
The wikipedia article on Yak