Chanting, yak butter and chhaang

Elderly pilgrim in Tibet

Tibetan New Year, or Losar, is the most significant festival on the Tibetan calendar.

Starting on 11 February in 2013, it’s a celebration of ancient traditions and rituals, accompanied by a sense of fun, and Megan Hassett loved being swept away on her tour of Tibet

“Hundreds of the oldest pilgrims imaginable were dressed in their annual best to circumambulate Jokhang Monastery. Smelling of years-old yak butter, they intently spin prayer wheels, some with tea cosy-like covers, some silver, some as ornate as the 5th Dalai Lama’s quarters, all at a constant steady spin speed, not for just one minute, not for just an hour, but some all day and days on end.

Wandering off the holy Barkhor circuit for a break, after my third lap I decided to backstreet it and stumbled upon what I can only describe as a Tibetan fairy tale. The smiles of the Tibetan faces were the most delightful and happy grins that I could ever hope to reproduce myself, even after years of practice in the mirror! I can’t better describe the ambience that captured me that day, only to say that I was uplifted by the whole experience and swept away with the smoke of incense.

The waft of yak-butter permeates the air year-round, but to celebrate the Buddhist New Year in Tibet monks create elaborate yak-butter sculptures, depicting a different story or fable each year.

On the first day of the new year, Lamas hold religious celebrations and chant the Buddhist scriptures. Households cherish the first bucket of water collected from the well and place offerings made out of dough in the shapes of animals on their shrines, to signify healthy livestock and abundant harvests.

It’s a time when families exchange gifts and their best jewellery and clothes are worn. The festival continues for 2 weeks, but the main celebrations take place in the first 3 days and for many, it kicks off with copious amounts of Chhaang (Tibetan beer).

When you get home from Tibet and open your backpack, precious memories of the warm people, their extraordinary dedication, the harsh landscapes and awesome monasteries will come flooding back…along with the stench of yak butter. Then you will hold onto those memories (while you hold your nose), and rush to throw all your clothes the washing machine!”

Photo: Tibetan woman by Jay Pettifer.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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