National Geographic : 2000 Jan
of Lhasa at Tsurphu monastery, I watched black hatted monks spin on the soles of their yak hide boots in a ceremony that has remained unchanged for centuries. As cymbals clashed and horns droned, the monks danced to dispel the accumulated negativity of the past 12 months and to open the way for the year to come. Pressed against the walls of the court yard, pilgrims in fur-lined robes and richly colored brocades witnessed this timeless drama about the transformation of turbulent psychic forces into the energies of compassion. As the sun disappeared behind a rock ridge, the ceremony concluded with the burning of a menacing effigy, freeing the days ahead from bondage to the past. "This last year was tricky," said Gyaltsen, a Tibetan trader. "It was the Year of the Tiger, and at its tail end the best laid plans might be brushed aside." He swept his hand through the air as if it were the tail of a great cat. Outside Lhasa on the final day of Losar, along with hundreds of other pilgrims, we were climbing the steep slope of a pyramidal peak called Bumpari-"vase mountain"-to raise prayer flags and offer fragrant herbs pleasing to the spirits of land and sky. The mountain was of course here long before the temples of Lhasa, Gyaltsen said. Here offerings can reach the gods. At the summit we threw bundles of juniper twigs into a smoldering fire and strung our prayer flags between two granite spires. In the strong wind, one end of the string broke free from its anchor and ascended into the sky. Far below, the last rays of the old year gilded the roofs of the Potala-home to the 14th Dalai Lama before his flight into exile in 1959. Lhasa, literally "land of the gods," has changed much in the 50 years since China imposed its rule on this Buddhist kingdom. At that moment, however, with prayer flags and the songs of pilgrims rising in the windy light, Tibet seemed a place where the human spirit had triumphed. Gyaltsen flashed his gold tooth. It was late, and Lhasa was thousands of feet below us. With a final invocation, "Lha gyal lo!-May the gods be victorious!" we plunged through the deepening shadows, weaving our way with the last of the pilgrims down scree-filled gullies and frozen slopes of grass. Another year and another world were waiting below.  ancingaway the old year's negative forces, monks at Tsurphu monastery in central Tibet usher in the New Year. Dressed as sorcerers in black hats and splendid robes, the monks dramatize the defeat of ignorance, greed, and aggression, while pilgrims bundled against winter winds look on, enthralledby this annual rite of renewal.