Feature: Barley beer, pilgrimages mark first day of Tibetan New Year

09:44, March 06, 2011      

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On the first day of the Tibetan New Year, it is not uncommon to see groups of drunk men, with a pink flush on their faces, teetering on the bustling streets in daylight in Lhasa City, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

The start of the Year of the Iron Rabbit in the Tibetan calendar began on Saturday. For Tibetans, it is the day to drink to their hearts' content.

Dressed in traditional costumes, residents in Ngogyetang Community in Lhasa City began toasting to each other as soon as they were seated for a grand banquet to celebrate the New Year.

Every family brought homemade beer in jugs, which was produced from highland barley from the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

Although people can easily purchase bottled barley beer in markets, it has been a long-established tradition for Tibetans to brew their own beer during the two-week New Year celebrations as a gesture to show friendliness and respect to neighbors and guests.

"Just drink freely! You should drink like this at least once a year," Tubdain, a resident, told a Xinhua reporter.

Similar to the way the Han people celebrate New Year, Tibetans visit friends and relatives on the first day of New Year. The only difference is, they bring barley beer and goblets.

Whenever they meet someone who says "Tashi Delek (Good Luck)," they will offer the person a cup of beer and ask him to drink it in three large gulps.

Besides free drinks, pilgrimages are also an indispensable part of Tibetan life during the first day of the New Year.

Unsurprisingly, numerous Lhasa residents queued at dawn for the long-awaited pilgrimage to the Potala Palace or the Jokhang temple, the first one for the New Year.

In front of the Potala Palace in the heart of Lhasa, the steps were crowded with pilgrims, with the queue stretching for several kilometers.

The Potala Palace, first built during the 7th century, was the winter palace of Dalai Lamas and is today a World Cultural Heritage site.

"No matter how long we have to wait, we are really happy. It's our holy tradition to make a pilgrimage to the Potala Palace on this day," said pilgrim Zhaxi Cering.

The Tibetan New Year is a carnival for China's 5 million Tibetans, not only for residents of the five major Tibetan communities in Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, but also to those scattered in other parts of the country.

In some schools that teach Tibetan classes in Shanxi, Shandong and Jiangxi provinces, Tibetan students celebrated the New Year with their Han classmates.

They performed Tibetan dances and songs and ate Guthuk, which is a dumpling-like traditional Tibetan barley crumb snack.

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