The Saltmen of Tibet

Director: Ulrike Koch
Screenwriters: Ulrike Koch

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


The cowardly dare not go to the salt lake,
Only the brave set out on the journey with joy.
I climb steep rocky cliffs like ladders,
Take mountain tops and ravines in my stride.
I cross the steppes lightly, as if singing the sutra.
Swirling snowflakes invite me to dance
And the whistling wind is my music.

—Song of the Salt Caravans

Shot under extreme conditions in one of the world’s most remote locations, The Saltmen of Tibet is a work of sublime beauty and epic proportion. Documenting the ancient traditions and day-to-day rituals of a Tibetan nomadic community, the film transports us into a realm of endless mystery untainted by the tides of foreign invasion or encroaching modernity. Step by step, we follow the three-month pilgrimage to the holy salt lake of the Chantang. Observing age-old taboos and steadfast homage to the deities of nature, four men meticulously plan their yak caravan to fetch “the tears of Tara,” the precious salt from the holy lakes of northern Tibet. It is said that the salt lakes are the underground’s eyes on the universe and only by maintaining goodwill with their powerful goddess may one be guaranteed a bountiful
supply of salt.

Journeying to the rooftop of the world, the film overwhelms us with its evocation of the saltmen’s herculean endurance and spirit. The result is a breathtaking collage of image and sound, a majestic tribute to the purity of a landscape, people, and tradition facing extinction.

Ulrike Koch, Director
Ulrike Koch was born in Germany and studied sinology, japanology, and ethnology at Zurich and Beijing universities. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, she has over ten years of work experience in the Chinese film industry. Koch worked as Bernardo Bertolucci’s casting director on The Last Emporor and Little Buddah. Her first film, Qi-Gong: The Art of Silence as Elixir of Life, is a documentary on traditional Chinese medicine. The Saltmen of Tibet won the Cariddi d’Oro for best film at the Taormina Film Festival.

— Rebecca Yeldham

Screening Details


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