National Geographic : 2000 Jan
hampa clansmen from east ern Tibet swaggered through the streets of Lhasa, Tibet's ancient capital, in fox-fur hats and robes trimmed with leop ard and otter skin. Bright cheeked nomad girls, their hair braided with turquoise, amber, and coral, walked along side leather-jacketed entrepreneurs with cell phones pressed against their ears. Although I have lived among Tibetans in Nepal for many years, I had never experienced the Tibetan New Year in their homeland, and I was delighted by the energy swirling all around me. For three days Tibetans of all ages and back grounds lighted lamps and offered prayers at shrines and monasteries, feasted and gambled with friends and relatives, and consumed liberal quantities of freshly brewed chang an intoxicating liquor made from fermented barley. From rooftops throughout the city the purifying smoke of juniper, artemisia, and other fragrant herbs streamed into the winter sky as offerings to Buddhist deities. As calculated by astronomers, the 1999 Tibetan lunar year began with the new moon on February 16. Some years, inauspicious conjunctions of planets cause Tibetans to delete entire months from the calendar or to add additional ones. In those cases Losar, as the New Year period is called, may fall as much as a month ear lier or later on the West ern calendar. Whenever it occurs, Tibetans be Slieve that both nega tive and positive actions performed during Losar reverberate through the year to come. It is a time of karmic oppor tunity as well as danger, when many rituals are performed-both secular and religious-to ensure prosperity and well-being in the months ahead. West (Continuedon page 92) Kathmandu-based writer IAN BAKER led an expedition sponsored by the Society into Tibet's Tsangpo River Gorge in 1998. MARIA STENZEL has photographed remote places around the world, from the heights of the Andes to Antarctica's Dry Valleys. or good or ill, actions during Losar are believed to influence the coming year. Pilgrims in Lhasa toss incense and printed prayers into an offering burner in front of the Jokhang, Tibet's most importanttemple. A mother and daugh ter earn spiritual merit by prostrating themselves after every two steps as they circle the old city on a pilgrim's circuit.