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Two New Years in Tibet

February 2, 2009

By Lu Yi, China Daily

BEIJING, Feb. 1 -- 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.

(Source: China Daily)
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