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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 and a 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 and adventure, offering a fascinating glimpse into a hidden corner of contemporary China. And it is the account of a young man, driven by a compulsion he doesn't understand, as he tests himself in this dangerous, exotic land. "A remarkable account of exploration and adventure in forbidden lands. Travel writing of the old school at its best." —Joe Simpson, author of Dark Shadows Falling and Touch of the Void.


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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 and a 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 and adventure, offering a fascinating glimpse into a hidden corner of contemporary China. And it is the account of a young man, driven by a compulsion he doesn't understand, as he tests himself in this dangerous, exotic land. "A remarkable account of exploration and adventure in forbidden lands. Travel writing of the old school at its best." —Joe Simpson, author of Dark Shadows Falling and Touch of the Void.

30 review for Yak Butter & Black Tea: A Journey into Tibet

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    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. 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    This is written by and is about an American named Wade Brackenbury who backpacked into Tibet in search of an area never before visited by foreigners called the Drung Valley. His first trip with a French man named Pasqual failed before reaching the destination due to arrest and deportation. In the late 1990's the Chinese government were attempting to expand their influence and territory promising that those areas would be self ruled as before but aided and influenced by China. China instead becam This is written by and is about an American named Wade Brackenbury who backpacked into Tibet in search of an area never before visited by foreigners called the Drung Valley. His first trip with a French man named Pasqual failed before reaching the destination due to arrest and deportation. In the late 1990's the Chinese government were attempting to expand their influence and territory promising that those areas would be self ruled as before but aided and influenced by China. China instead became an occupying, authoritarian regime whose abuses were meant to remain unknown to the world. Foreign travelers were not allowed. Their second attempt was with a woman named Sophie who was along to help with translating. They got further this time by evading authorities and being good liars and charmers but Pasqual lacked the ability to take risks with solo traveling so they failed again. Finally, Wade was successful by traveling by himself. This adventure story was interesting in that it was about indigenous people living simple isolated lives in a part of the world I will probably never see.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    It's important to realize that this book was written in 1997. Westerners traveling into remote regions, being the first to explore areas in China closed since the time of the Cultural Revolution was a thing. Wade Brackenbury tells his story, and it's a fine one. The young reader today probably won't understand such a journey, and perhaps more sadly, would never be able to attempt such. This is a good story of one man's adventure to reach the Drung people by crossing through Tibet. He was introsp It's important to realize that this book was written in 1997. Westerners traveling into remote regions, being the first to explore areas in China closed since the time of the Cultural Revolution was a thing. Wade Brackenbury tells his story, and it's a fine one. The young reader today probably won't understand such a journey, and perhaps more sadly, would never be able to attempt such. This is a good story of one man's adventure to reach the Drung people by crossing through Tibet. He was introspective enough to have some internal struggles with the adventure itself. For anyone who loves a travel story, and loves Tibet and Yunnan, this book is worth a read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I really enjoyed this read, especially since I randomly picked it up from a donation pile in Morocco and I discovered it mentions a good friend from the States inside. How random! The book reads quickly and provides lovely detail. I skimmed the few football parts, which I think the book could really do without.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Klein

    An adventurer from the American West recounts his story of accessing SE Tibet--the Drumpa Valley--from NW China and down through Tibet. Provides some details of life in Tibet as seen through the eyes of an American backpacker. A quick, fun read, but doesn't get into political issues beyond the Chinese police presence in monitoring Wade and his friend. More of a personal journey by the end. An adventurer from the American West recounts his story of accessing SE Tibet--the Drumpa Valley--from NW China and down through Tibet. Provides some details of life in Tibet as seen through the eyes of an American backpacker. A quick, fun read, but doesn't get into political issues beyond the Chinese police presence in monitoring Wade and his friend. More of a personal journey by the end.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    While the adventure is good, it’s hard not to be put off by how he forced very poor people to offer him hospitality while also jeopardizing their safety. He seemed to realize this to some extent but his own desires and adventures took precedence.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cathy of the clan Ambrose

    Wow. Mr. Brackenbury’s adventures took me on a journey that I would be too timid to embark on, exposed the oppression of a people, revealed the beauty of a culture, and is probably one of the luckiest men alive. Very enjoyable.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Janice Allen

    I'm really enjoying this book. Very descriptive, making the mountains and countryside of Tibet and China come alive. Quite an adventure this author had.... I'm really enjoying this book. Very descriptive, making the mountains and countryside of Tibet and China come alive. Quite an adventure this author had....

  9. 5 out of 5

    keith koenigsberg

    Very good account of an adventure into a forbidden and remote section of China. Not as introspective or philosophical as some, or as descriptive as others, but altogether a good adventure.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    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 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 seen Drung minority who live in this isolated valley south of Tibet near the Burmese border. The book resided in the section called literary travel, but if you are looking for great literature I would advise going elsewhere. Brackenbury’s book is a very straight forward, almost simplistic account with nary a metaphor or a passage of deep descriptive prose to be found. To describe sliding down a hill or crossing a cable bridge he actually types out the word “wheee.” Not once, not twice, but several times throughout the whole book. There is also many inherent contractions in the author’s intent. He tells us that he is a practicing Mormon, so he never partakes in the alcohol that is offered to him by the various people along his journey who take them into their homes and feed him with their meager stores of food. He touts himself to be a very moral person in this respect. However, he has no qualms about lying to police and blatantly breaking Chinese law by trying to enter the Drung Valley not once, not twice, but three times. These two things alone should have made me put the book down, but I kept reading just to see if he actually accomplished his mission. I was also fascinated by this little known part of the world, and Brackenbury's simplistic language often does give insight into the living conditions of the people he encounters. However, he still ruins this basic travelogue by trying to tack on some sort of psychobabble about how he made this trip to prove something to himself and his father.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scott Allen Reid

    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 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 "professional" type parents who say, "here is 10k, go find yourself." The author only once mentions money or difficulty getting funds to continue his adventures (he mentions being paid as a guide, which forms the basis of the 1st part of the book, but this after he was already in country for an excursion). He describes having to convince his parents of the need for additional trips. I paid for my college and could have announced I was joining a religious cult and my parents would not have blinked. Nonetheless, Wade tells a story worth reading if you are at all an adventure seeker. Not wanting to commit the fallacy of discounting his experiences merely because he appears to be a spoiled college student, I continued to read and am glad that I did. As for the Theroux book (hint, it's him on a train), I get the sense that he cannot tell a story worth reading and Brakenbury can. He does well describing the Tibetan people he and his traveling partners meet along the way. You get the feeling of actually being there. I was fortunate to have found this gem sitting on the shelf near something I was looking for and ended up tossing aside. The book makes me wish the Tibetan restaurant in Boulder, Colorado was still open. Tibetan food contains spices that westerners seldom experience, at least this westerner. The book also makes me want to try Tibetan butter tea. Someday...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    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 15,00 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 15,000 foot passes in the Himalayas and river gorges crossable only by sliding along a cable. The author teams up with a French photojournalist, Pascal, to carry out two attempts via a route through Tibet, both cases ending in arrests and deportation. In a final push by himself, the author succeeds in his goal. The second attempt includes a half-French, half-Chinese woman, Sophi, to help with interpretation. The story provides some nice coverage of their experience with villagers they meet along the way, whom they have to depend on due to lack of provision stores in most places. The author�s chiropractic and first-aid skills provides for an effective entry into many homes. However, most of the focus in on the personal challenges and disagreements among the travelers and problems in eluding the police and military. There is not enough rendering of the sense of place and experiences of nature for my pleasure. The internal transformations of self such a journey engenders were also not covered enough for my taste. I keep searching for an account that approaches that of Peter Matthiessen�s masterful �Snow Leopard�, but that is a tall order.�

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lela

    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 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 was when the man's rail-thin, four year old son grabs onto the bags to keep Wade from taking them. The boy is pulled away by his father, and starts to cry. Wade describes walking away from the house, still hearing the boy wailing, and feeling like he might have done something wrong. In this book, Wade continually calls himself a practicing Mormon, but appears to feel little remorse about stealing food from a little, hungry child. After reading this chapter, I'd had enough of Wade and his "exciting adventure".

  14. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    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 sto 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 story of Brackenbury's journey and his discovery and not a story about Wade Brackenbury. This book is profound and I think its significance is going to be admired as our world becomes more globalized.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    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 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 he was and left an autographed hard back for me. I'm not really into autographs but the chatting with him about his adventures was unforgetable.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    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, wher 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, where he is an unexpected alien, results in personal growth. If you like hiking, mountain climbing, or inter-cultural encounters, you'll enjoy this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    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 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 left to pay the price with the authorities. Not a new concept, but nice to see that he got it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Blanchard

    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 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 your money and packing your bags for Tibet.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susie

    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 acc 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 accounts of the people and places very interesting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dannie

    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 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 along for the ride.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    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. 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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    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. :) 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. :)

  23. 5 out of 5

    caroline

    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. 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.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    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!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hillary

    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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jey

    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. 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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    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. 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.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jrobertus

    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.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Wagner

    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!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cherie

    B The guy is a Mormon and there's this long boring struggle with his traveling partner, but some quite interesting things happen B The guy is a Mormon and there's this long boring struggle with his traveling partner, but some quite interesting things happen

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