I carry the MSR Dragonfly stove with me on my travels. It is a multi-fuel stove making it ideal for extended trips in the mountains. I prefer to use petrol with my Drangon fly and have been happy with the combination for a long time.
I usually cook inside the vestibule of my tent, so I never had much problems with the wind. But all that changed in the winter of 2015, when i carried the Bibler Tripod Bivy instead of my regular 2-person tent to Ladakh.
With the Bivy, I had to cook out in the open. And it was horrible experience!
Even a tiniest gust of wind would kill my stove. I tried a lot of things to shelter it from the wind but to no avail. The combination of the low pressure, biting cold (it was winter in Ladakh after all) and the wind made cooking a lottery. I never knew when my stove would sputter and die.
I researched a lot about wind-proof stoves after the trip and there doesn’t seem to be many out there. Sure there are stoves like the MSR Windburner, but it is not a multi-fuel stove and uses isopropyl fuel canisters, making it a no go for my needs.
It is not a big deal though, I can always carry a bigger tent and cook inside the vestibule. But the question remains. Is there any way to reliably cook out in the open when it is cold and windy or when your stove stops working for some reason.
Cooking the Changpa way
Fast forward to August (2015). I was back in Ladakh on a video assignment for Royal Enfield.
During this trip I spent a few days at the beautiful Kyun Tso lake. The grasslands around the lake are locally known as Kyun Ding and theyprovide some of the best grazing grounds in Ladakh. A lot of Changpa nomads from Hanle and Nyoma camp here during the summer months.
I stayed with a group of nomads from Nyoma. They provided me a place to sleep and shared their food with me. Everyday, after breakfast, they would take their herds of sheep out to graze and I would ride my motor-bike to different spots around the lake to shoot my time-lapse videos. In the afternoon we would meet somewhere up on the hill side for tea and chat a while.
They had a wonderfully simple way of making tea up in the hills. A makeshift stove is assembled out of a few pieces of stone. Instead of burning wood, they burn dried goat and horse pellets (droppings) that scattered all over the area. These pellets are basically just undigested grass and they burn really well when lighted with the help of some kerosene.
Once lighted the pellets just keep burning even in high winds. They do burn very quickly though and you need to keep adding more to the fire and a bit of kerosene now and then to keep it fresh. It all looked very easy and fool proof.
Before you ask, this is not new to me. I’am very familiar with people cooking with wood or gobar in their kitchens but I was definitely surprised with how well this makeshift stove worked out in the open windy plains of Ladakh. I definitely want to try it out on my next camping foray in Ladakh.
It is not going to replace my MSR stove. But it is nice to have a backup option when the stove stops working or when fuel is running low.