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Two New Years in Tibet
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13:45, February 01, 2009

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I arrived in Nyingchi prefecture of eastern Tibet autonomous region last November. The Dongbitang village is near the town of Menri but is rarely visited and has kept the traditions of the Kongpo people, a branch of the Tibetans.

Village chief Nima Tsering told me the locals would celebrate New Year the next day. The Kongpo people have maintained their cultural traditions well. They wear cubic furry hats and a "waistcoat" that goes all the way down to the knee.

But the most striking difference is that the Kongpo New Year is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month in the Tibetan calendar, which is two months ahead of the traditional Tibetan New Year, which is Feb 25 this year.

"The Kongpo people are very happy - we enjoy two New Years," says Nima Tsering.

Legends say that invaders came to the area centuries ago and that the King of Kongpo led them in battle. It was close to the New Year and many soldiers were depressed that they might not make it home for the festival. A sage advised the king to celebrate the New Year ahead of time, which boosted morale and eventually won the war. To commemorate the warriors who died, Kongpo people offered sacrifices and kept vigils. In time, this tradition became the Kongpo New Year.

Real life is always more wonderful than legends. When I followed Nima Tsering home, I almost tripped on the floor. His wife had rubbed the floor with butter to make every inch shine and smell pleasant. With a small basin of zamba (roasted qingke barley flour), she put white dots on columns, the stove, door, wall and cupboards while chanting "tashi dele" - a Tibetan phrase for good luck.

As the family head, Nima Tsering busied himself with redecorating the Qema box, which is a perennial offering to the deities. He emptied the box and refilled it with newly ground qingke flour and butter shaped into flowers and other auspicious symbols. He also changed the peach branches and wheat straws for blessings of a bumper harvest.

As the sun set, the whole family gathered in the sitting room for the grand meal on the Eve of the New Year. The diligent housewife had spent the whole day preparing a pot of milky white soup with yak bones.

But I was more impressed with the cheese-like gyeta, which is highly valued, as a big pot of yak milk can only turn out a small piece of gyeta. In the past, locals only enjoyed the delicacy at New Year.

It's interesting how the gyeta is eaten. The hostess put a thin wooden stick through the hard cheese and showed me how to roast it over the fire. As the exterior melted, I could lick it and savor the mellow taste. It was the first time I had learned that cheese could be eaten this way.

Exhausted after my long trip, I couldn't stay up long enough to see the New Year's first event, a sort of competition between the local women. With a water pail on her back, each woman leaves home at about 3 am to fetch the year's first bucket of spring water before the cock crows. They believe the woman who gets ahead of others will bring greatest fortune to the family.

I slept soundly and didn't wake up until the sitting room became boisterous with throngs of villagers coming to offer greetings.

Before I could find out if my hostess had succeeded in her adventure, I was offered bowls of qingke wine and became light-headed. I felt as if I were walking on cotton clouds as I joined the crowd to visit other families. Strong young men carried a big jar of wine and shared it with everyone to exchange good wishes.

A light snow during the night had turned the village into a silver fairyland. Compared to the quiet roads, each family's sitting room became full of merriment. People joined hands to form a circle, dancing and singing from dawn till late into the night.

The village's proximity to forests has enabled locals to use plenty of wood and build themselves two-story houses. As dozens of people stamp their feet and leap in uproarious joy, the entire building shakes and joins in the frenzy.

I found it hard to stand upright and caught glimpses of the cups, plates, pots and pans also dancing merrily with us.

"Tashi dele!" another bowl of wine appeared. There was no excuse for opting out of the New Year's greetings and I gulped down the fuel.

Feeling my brain running like an overheated engine, I threw myself into the chorus of throaty songs and foot-stomping ... and left behind concerns about the building collapsing.

By Lu Yi
Source: China Daily

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