More importantly, the Dairy Development Corporation in Kathmandu which earlier did not listen to us small people from the mountains, finally agreed to our demand and doubled the selling price for milk to Rs120 per litre. Suddenly, it became quite feasible for the farmers to go back to yak herding. Many took out loans to buy yaks and increase the size of their herds. A herder with 17 yaks, for example, could now sell the cheese factory 45 litres of milk a day and earn Rs5,400 daily. These were unheard of sums. We are now collecting 300 litres of milk a day, and in the monsoon it can go up to 600 litres a day.
There are 63 farmers registered at the factory supplying milk to us daily. During this lockdown, with schools closed, I am glad to see that among them are younger Langtangpa. There are many 10+2 students who are learning to milk yaks and help their parents and grandparents. Some have found that the earnings are quite good, and have changed their mind about migrating abroad for work. Even if we can keep a dozen of our younger Langtangpa in our valley home, all the investment that has been made by the Swiss and Nepal government in making cheese here over the past many decades will have been worth it.
Today, the Langtang cheese centre is making 14 tons of cheese a year, in addition we churn out another 2,000kg of butter used for local consumption to make Tibetan tea and for the lamps in our gumba. It took a lot of effort to get the factory going again, but I think we have come out stronger than before the disaster. We have found new meaning in our work, and have seen that it gives us self-sufficiency and helps raise our living standards.
Every morning, I wake up at 4AM just like my father used to. I put on my white gown that makes me look a bit like a doctor, and starting heating water in the big vat, the herders start coming in a few hours later, and we weigh their milk, measure the fat content, add the cheese culture and begin the usual process. The cheese wheels have to be immersed in salt water for up to 48 hours so the rind becomes salty. It is then left in store to mature for up to three months.
Because of the lockdown the store is now brimming with 8kg cheese wheels, waiting to be taken down to Kathmandu. I have written to headquarters in Kathmandu to send transport to Syabru to take the cheese, but there has been no response so far. If it is stored for too long the cheese will start to dry and the quality will go down.
There is now so much milk we have added new cheese facilities in Langsisha at 5,050m and at Naya Kanga at 4,100m. I often travel to those stations to inspect and do quality control. This is very important, because if the cheese does not meet quality standards, it will not be sold. With some Italians we are trying to build another cheese station on Kyangjin Ri at 5,500m. If it goes ahead, it will be in the Guinness Book as the highest cheese making plant in the world.
Among the many changes I have seen in Langtang, most are for the better. But one worrying trend is that in the past 5-6 years, most springs have gone dry across the Valley. Even the ones that had water all year round do not have water. Some scientists from ICIMOD had come here, and they told me this is happening across the Himalaya. The reason, it seems, is that the ice in the glaciers is melting because of climate change and there is no more water seeping down to the springs. There are also years when there is no winter snow, or there are freak storms.
This directly affects dairy production. With less water, the nature of the grass in the high pastures have also changed. I have noticed that the quality of the yak milk is also going down. The fat content is lower, and the milk is not as tasty. Climate change is caused by burning petroleum, but even though we have no cars in Langtang, we are feeling its effect.