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Entries in Losar (1)


Losar, Tibetan New Year


Losar New Year in Lhasa

(an excerpt from A Century is Nothing)

Fireworks blasted over Lhasa - streaks of red, yellow, blue light - bottle rockets as extensive celebrations see old year out. I take tea with Hala and friends and then a bike taxi home. We run a gauntlet of fireworks. People in groups crowd sidewalks and streets blasting projectiles from one side to the other.

We duck our head to avoid taking one in the face. Intersections are filled of burning piles of trash, paper, bamboo, explosions, laughter, spinning emergency lights as cops patrol strategic streets and corners. Friends say the 8th and 9th includes fireworks but most people will clean homes, prepare new offerings, clean out old spirits, and lock doors to keep evil spirits out before attending monastery ceremonies. The next day will be spent visiting friends and relaxing in community. Hot morning sun.

We’re losing weight here.

We feel our small self becoming thinner day by day. It’s a combination feeling the real Lhasa, slowing down, old boots pace the circuit energies, simplifying the essence into direct, immediate deep experience. It’s the realization of returning on a daily basis to the chorten and small temple - lining up with pilgrims - young and old from far away; climbing stone steps to the 2nd floor where we push forward to receive a blessing from the monk ringing his bell, chanting, tapping bowed heads with the diamond vajra and pouring holy water on our heads.

An old woman in her heavy sheepskin chuba sits down next to us on a bench. We share a smile, she says something and we wish her a long life. She unbraided a long elaborate red woven yarn piece layered with large blue turquoise stones. She fingers her long black hair loosening the connecting fibers so she can reattach her hair to the yarn and stones. Her fingers are black, long nails deftly manipulating endless knots to secure material. She chats with her old friend. Babbling tongues sing as the bell rings and pilgrims arrive in the small room, passing Past, Present and Future Buddha statues. We spin prayer wheels and enter another intimate temple.

“Tashi delek,” greeting pilgrim mothers nestling infants in cold shade near the entrance hoping someone will give them money. A burgundy wrapped monk chops at ice in shadows. Women wash clothes in the community courtyard basin. An old woman sells juniper and butter. We climb stone steps and spin a large prayer wheel while passing Wheel of Life murals. We dance into generosity accepting this delightful dance. Sitting down watching quiet streets and last minute shoppers find bread, sweets, sides of yak slung over backs, boxes of oranges and apples. Materials for home altars - barley, butter flower sculptures on a stick, thin red and yellow flowers, butter goat heads, tsampa, and hard chunks of white yak cheese on strings.

Crowds gather at the base of the Jokhang near the smoking chortens and furnace room flickering with 1,000 butter lamps. Red Chinese flags have appeared on the roofs of many buildings. Looking for wind. New Year. Lines of pilgrims circle the Jokhang in early freezing light. They wait to get inside, pray and make offerings. In front and around Barkhor is a splendid procession of everyone dressed in their finest clothing and jewelry, except for poor ragged beggars. Families rise early, put on their new clothes jewelry, make offerings of barley flour mixed with butter and sugar at the family shrine then go to monasteries after breakfast.

Tens of thousands of Tibetans swarm into the Jokhang, Drepung Sera monasteries and Potala Palace to worship Buddha. People toss bags of juniper and cedar into roaring fires. This is the day. Western photographers using long lenses work the crowd shooting fire, smoke, portraits of “nobles” in their finest. Kids in ornate gold robes, fur caps for girls, cowboy hats for boys. Hats, mostly wide brimmed are a popular here for Tibetan men and women. The walking area facing the Jokhang is a mass of people. Muslims set up their picnic tables, roasting meat on grills. Chinese women have “beep, beep” machines so people can read their weight.

It’s a job. Women with bags of juniper and cedar line sidewalks near khata and prayer flag sellers doing brisk business. Carneys have spread out blue tarps and scattered boxed toys, plastic pistols and rifles at a game of chance. Buy a ticket, get an old bike tire, roll it out there and if it circles something you’re a BIG winner. People buy large red balloons, attach a string of prayer flags and release them into the blue sky. The wind carries them up into nearby trees, east and into the unknown. Smoke from chortens at Jokhang is intense, thick with offerings. Tree branches with new prayer flags have been replaced on all the roofs. New colors across the skyline of 2-3 story buildings.

Our intuition is high today. Strong sturdy ponies led by nomads clip clop through alleys offering kids a ride. Recapture the feeling of freedom and open space in the city. Remember your ancestors. Toy guns are popular with kids here. They fire a small BB. Kids roam the Barkhor and alleys firing at store signs. A father in his worn suit removes an empty clip, handing it to his son who reloads. A man leads a red tasseled tailed yak with red horn ribbons into the square selling rides and pictures. We are an old wild shaggy beast of burden. Bus to Drepung, get off early and trek through crowded dusty paths past stone walled homes in lower valley east of main monastery. Packed with pilgrims climbing to a small monastery to make offerings.

Crowds of prayer flag and juniper sellers line the paths, plying their goods. Everyone is in festive holiday mood. Spinning prayer wheels, chorten smoke. A mountain blooming streams of prayer flags calls us. “Climb.”

We cross streams singing down brown mountain valleys. Ice as cool white frozen sharp spikes lies near dry brown scrub. Gorgeous levels of views under blue sky. We climb with lucky paper money and a string of prayer flags in a pocket weaving steep broken trails heading up. Our old boots celebrate the terrain with steady sturdy footing. Bliss! Three-quarters of the way up we stop to absorb the valley panorama - western mountains, white Drepung nestled in foothills, rising brown hills, long lines of red, yellow, blue, white and green flags flying, singing in the wind. We meet Jue, a Tibetan photographer and a published freelancer from Namtso and his 11-year old daughter.

We join company. We scribble our names on a yellow prayer flag and give flags to his daughter. She puts them together and scampers up, up toward the summit and disappears into the sky and clouds. Images of everything. Glorious sun on mountain - lovely inspiration. Wind - sun, rocks, blue sky, white clouds and thousands of singing prayer flags streaming past us to the peak. We are in the center of the light and color. We eventually go down, passing teams of yellow uniformed fireman on emergency standby in the shadow of a monastery in case a butter lamp renews it’s vows. They are bored to tears.

Jue’s Chinese wife, a painter from Chongquing, meets us in their jeep and we drive to their house in western Lhasa. We enter a large compound of 2-3 story cinder block Tibetan designed homes. Everything is interconnected with small alleys. We park and pass through double green steel doors. There are rooms off a dry winter sunny garden, climbing stairs in a modern home to a sitting room decorated with plants, art, shaded against strong southern sun.

Enjoying tea, oranges and tasty dry yak meat sliced off with a blade. She shows me her studio with easel and walls filled with her oil paintings. Excellent strong vibrant Tibetan portraits, landscapes, isolated villages. Colors explode off canvas. She’s a fine painter and very professional. I am happy to meet them and share their kind hospitality. Jue shows me his published work in a high quality magazine. He’s very good. Twenty years of experience and making his living following his passion. Two artists doing their creative dream.

They invite me to stay with them when we return to Lhasa. A wonderful encounter - joy. Afternoon/evening spent meditating near Jokhang. Up early to attend a mountain ceremony overlooking Lhasa river on a clear and cold morning. Took a taxi to a drop off point manned by Chinese police. Joined the endless parade of people heading across a long bridge. Lines of humans snake up the far mountain joining others connecting their flags to peaks. A freezing cold wind whips down the valley, across the water as dawn light teases rolling brown hills. Exquisite light and cold brisk feeling. Keep moving.

Everyone carries prayer flags and bags of juniper and cedar. In biting wind we savor visions of rising smoke as long strands of flags stretch from one mountain to the next. The path is a series of switch backs dotted with figures moving up or coming down. We cross the bridge and join the faithful, joyful procession on a rocky dirt path. Up we go - focused on old footprints, gravel. We pass men carving steps with picks. They ask for money. We climb, stop, rest and turn around. Lhasa and the Potala are bathed in dawn light. The valley is clear. Throngs of people crowd the bridge and snake up the trail.

The chorten at the peak is surrounded by silent, yelling, laughing, screaming happy people. They empty old grain sacks, bags, satchels, plastic bags of juniper into roaring fires. They tie small, medium and large strings of prayer flags to steel supports and connected flags. Their friends hold one end while clamoring down rocks across a small ravine stretching out extended strings of flags. People throw stacks of green, yellow and purple lucky money into the wind. There are 50-100 people on the small peak. People push and shove with a gentle urgency to burn, pray and establish a base for their flags.

There are another 100+ people gathered in the saddle below the peak, talking, stringing flags, standing, climbing over rocks, arriving, leaving. It’s a mix of devotional fashion. Ragged beggars in torn green sheepskin robes and broken tennis shoes, high styled Tibetan women in fur-lined chubas, elaborate stone headdresses, 3/4 inch heels, men in black polished dress shoes, kids hawking flags.

Three robed monks sit chanting, beating a drum, ringing a bell creating a magical, soft clear rhythm to the peak experience. We climb to the top, inhale vapors, toss paper money into the sky like colorful leaves, smile, throw juniper twigs into the fire, hand flags to an old man who ties them on a strand, greet people, “tashi delek” and descend to stand between the monks absorbing their music and energy.

We are surrounded by blessings and blue sky filled with multicolored prayer flags as the sun breaks over the mountain. This is the place to be and we stay for a long time. We reflect on the wisdom to come here to witness the devotion, celebration, friendliness and gentle nature way of the Tibetan people. Being.