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Yogurt and dreams

08-18-2010 14:10 BJT Special Report:Tibet Shoton Festival 2010 |

On the roof-top of the world, a celebration of faith and culture attracts both locals and visitors. In the face of advancing changes, Tibetans are still trying to hold on to their traditions.

Drepung Monastery shows devotees the huge Thangka. Thousands of tourists flash their cameras to record the precious moment.
Drepung Monastery shows devotees the huge Thangka. Thousands of tourists flash
their cameras to record the precious moment.

Tibet draws the traveler like few tourist destinations do. Visitors take trains and planes up the mountainous heights to Lhasa with a reverence that borders on the religious, and makes a visit to Tibet come close to being a pilgrimage.

A lama and a foreign tourist share the same wall of Norbulingka to lean against and check electronic equipment. Zhang Tao / China Daily
A lama and a foreign tourist share the same wall of Norbulingka to lean against
and check electronic equipment. Zhang Tao / China Daily

While the visitor skims the surface of both faith and culture during their brief stopovers, the average Tibetan takes these as part of daily life. To them, the various celebrations and ceremonies on their calendar are milestones for their families and children.

It is 5 am on August 10. The darkness of the night has not totally faded, but in the dim light of the street lamps, large crowds are already gathering as people pour out of their homes in Lhasa's crisp morning air.

A few miles away, thousands of devotees have already begun the steep ascent up the narrow, winding mountain paths leading up to Drepung Monastery.

Situated at the foot of the Mount Gambo Utse, 5 km away from Lhasa, Drepung is regarded as the most important monastery of Gelugpa (the "yellow hat" school) in Tibetan Buddhism.

Among the faithful is 39-year-old Yulo, who had got out of bed very early so she is assured of a vantage point for the ceremony that will come a couple of hours later.

But she is not one of the first on the hill. Some have already been there for a while, having set tents the previous day and waited through the night.

The cause of this enthusiasm is the eagerly anticipated ceremony called "Sunning of the Buddha".

As the sky lightens, the mountain begins to take shape. Tens of thousands have already congregated around the giant frame where a Thangka, or large tapestry of a religious icon, will be shown. There will be many perched around the most precarious slopes and boulders, just so to get a panoramic view of the Thangka.

Yulo's early efforts pay off and she secures a good position on the right of the giant frame, avoiding the crowds gathered at the foot of the hill.

Tibetan incense has long been burning and billowing smoke shrouds the mountain in a mystic mist.

Horns begin to blow and the crowd cheers as the huge Thangka with an image of Buddha is brought out from a low-lying building and carried up the ritual path by a hundred lamas and Tibetan devotees.

Many worshippers jostle along the route, trying to touch the blessed Thangka. Yulo waits excitedly while chanting prayers, and the two children with her seem also affected, more by the scene rather than the religious significance.

"There is a practical reason for the ceremony," explains Suonan Hangdan, the deputy curator of Tibetan Museum, "as the giant Thangka may suffer from mildew and damage if stored too long a time".

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