… Let’s Celebrate, It’s Alright (Part Two)

Is anyone out there getting my Kool & The Gang reference with these titles? (Celebrate Good Times, Come on!, …It’s a Celebration (Part One), …Let’s Celebrate, It’s Alright (Part Two)). I sure hope so. Otherwise, you might think I’m not so great at creating original titles for my blog posts. Points for you if you DID get it without having to read this paragraph. But anyway, I digress…

Losar!

Our second celebration of the week was for Tibetan Losar (Tibetan New Year)… or… well… one of them anyway. I’m starting to think that there may be more than one New Year on the Tibetan calendar, but I’m not too sure. Regardless, I DO know that the Losar which took place this week is celebrated by the Tamang/Hyolmo people of Nepal. Our good friends, Sunil Tamang and his family, are – you guessed it – of the Tamang ethnic group, and we were invited to spend the New Year with them and their friends from their home village who live in the same building here in Kathmandu.

We arrived on Wednesday evening, ‘New Year’s Eve’ so to speak, when preparations were underway. Sunil’s mother spent a good deal of time frying up sel roti – a fried dough that is simply divine when warm out of the frying pan. Meto chha! (It’s tasty!)

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She also prepared ‘butter tea’ (or ‘salt tea’), that we drank just about every time we sat down for our (many) meals the following day. It’s made with tea leaves, butter, water, and salt. Think of it less as a tea and more like a broth…

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Meanwhile in the apartment upstairs, Sunil’s family friend, Karma, was preparing shyalsey – statues of ceremonial significance made with dough and something that looks a lot like marzipan, but isn’t…

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Karma is a Tamang Buddhist lama – a spiritual/community leader, and household ‘priest,’ for lack of a better word. The statues he made were used in the Losar ceremonial altar in the room dedicated to worship in his home (And again, please forgive the blurry photographs – stupid back-up camera)…

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The towers of twisted dough shapes that you may have noticed on either side of the altar are created with khapsey and sero – sweet and salty varieties of crispy fried ‘bread sticks’ of sorts that are eaten as well as used for decoration and offering during the New Year celebrations…

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They are tucked away in non-lama households as well, like in Sunil’s place…

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Khapsey (sweet variety) on the left and sero (salty variety) on the right

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Residents of the building (and others) gathered to make this bread a week in advance – Sunil’s family made 30 kilos and Karma’s family made 60 kilos!

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I was invited to join them, but sadly, wasn’t able to make it. After looking at Sunil’s photos and this great VIDEO that he made about Losar a few years ago, I will definitely make a point to be there for khapsey/sero-making next year. (I still can’t get over the fact that I have more than one chance to participate in annual holidays – it’s surreal to think about being here that long!)

But I digress. Back to our celebrations…

We went to bed early on Wednesday night because we had to be on the rooftop for the prayer flag-hoisting ceremony at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. The auspicious time for this ceremony is different every year, and unluckily for us, it was before the dawn this year. Of course, this means that I have no pictures of the ceremony to share with you (using a flash would have been disruptive and inappropriate), but I do have this VIDEO so you can at least hear some of the ceremony’s sounds – chimes and chanting. And I really do urge you to watch Sunil’s short VIDEO from 2013, as it shows this flag-hoisting ceremony in glorious daylight.

Here are this year’s new prayer flags, raised and blessed, after the sun had come up…

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…as well as the flags of surrounding houses – many people from Sunil’s home village live in the same neighborhood as he and his family…

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After the ceremony, we drank butter tea over (sleepy) conversation, and watched a bit of an Indian TV show with Karma’s youngest daughters. (Funny what you can gather from facial expression, body language, and context without knowing a lick of Hindi). And then it was time for our first meal of the day – (more) butter tea, khapsey and sero, curried potatoes with dried buff meat ‘jerky,’ and a spongy flat-bread (I didn’t catch its name)…

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After that, Karma invited us back to his ceremonial room for a mantra…

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This included incense burning, chanting and reading from sacred texts, the use of various ceremonial tools and materials, as well as drum, cymbal, and horn playing, and more.

Karma and his youngest child (and only son) -the “lama in training,” they joked- prepared for the mantra…

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Incense filled the room…

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(And was then put outside when it got just a bit too smokey inside)…

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And Karma began performing the mantra…

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Watch a video HERE to get a better idea of what this ceremony was like.

One thing that struck me during this (maybe 40 minute-long?) proceeding was how seamlessly it blended with the tasks and postures of daily life. Karma’s son snuggled and chatted with his grandfather, people popped in and out as they pleased, Karma’s wife came in and out of the room gathering khapsey, Karma responding to her various questions mid-chant…

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And the kids even got a little bored, as kids do…

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Boredom so often leads to eating - sneaking a little snack of khapsey...

Boredom so often leads to eating – sneaking a little snack of khapsey

It was a truly lovely and relaxing experience, indeed. And I couldn’t keep my eyes off all the wonderful things to look at in this ceremonial room, all ‘dressed-up’ for the holiday…

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Flour and butter are large part of the ceremonial proceedings on Losar, although I'm not exactly sure why...

Flour and butter are a large part of the ceremonial proceedings on Losar, although I’m not exactly sure why…

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A ceremonial yak-hair 'fan' on the altar...

A ceremonial yak-hair ‘fan’ on the altar…

And speaking of dressing up, all of the woman and girls were wearing the most beautiful traditional dresses, made from gorgeous fabrics – I loved them so much! (And yes, I’m thinking of getting one made)…

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This is Preti, Sunil's young cousin. She almost always gives me the stink-eye, but I'm winning her over (more about her later)...

This is Preti, Sunil’s young cousin. She almost always gives me the stink-eye, but I’m slowly winning her over (more about her in a future post)…

Drew and I got to take part in the fun as well – Karma and Sunil’s mother provided us with some (slightly too small) traditional garb to wear for a little while during the day…

Drew's outfit gets adjusted by Sunil's mother...

Drew’s outfit gets adjusted by Sunil’s mother…

A dapper young gentleman, indeed!

A dapper young gentleman, indeed!

Here we are, all ready to go...

Here we are, all ready to go…

And our 'Nepali style' photograph - stand up straight, no body contact, and no smiles!

And our ‘Nepali style’ photograph – stand up straight, no body contact, and no smiles!

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Once we were dressed and ready to go, we headed over to another (seemingly more senior?) lama’s house in the neighborhood for more Losar festivities…

You could tell how many people were already there by the shoes outside (shoes are not worn inside the home here)...

You could tell how many people were already there by the shoes outside (shoes are not worn inside the home here)…

It was crowded and festive – people eating and talking together, and getting blessed by the lama…

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And of course, all the ceremonial Losar decorations and offerings were in place…

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As with many households in the States during holidays, the children crowded around the television…

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…while the adults sang traditional songs in a good-spirited competition of sorts, men vs. women…

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Note the beautiful belts these women are wearing - made with real silver and gold! They cost a pretty penny, apparently...

Note the beautiful belts these women are wearing – made with real silver and gold! They cost a pretty penny, apparently…

At first, I was sitting with Drew and the other men, but decided it would be more fun to join the ladies. I didn’t know the songs, but they welcomed me with open arms anyway…

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Check out videos HERE and HERE of the singing…

Although I have little idea how to explain the various rituals and events of the day, I really enjoyed the experience of being there. Everyone was so open and welcoming towards us, allowing me to take pictures as I pleased, and including us in every aspect of this special holiday. It’s quite different than being a tourist on the outskirts – we got to see the holiday just as it is, no special ‘performance’ for outsiders, and I am very grateful for their honesty and authenticity.

But of course, we are tourists (kind of), so after leaving all of our friends in Sunil’s neighborhood, we made a point to stop by Boudhanath, as we’d heard it would be busy on Losar. Surprisingly, it was much like a regular day there – the only noticeable difference for me was seeing the woman and girls in their traditional dresses. Other than that, Nepalis and tourists were there, circumambulating the stupa (clockwise – always clockwise), taking pictures, eating, talking, buying souvenirs, conducting business.. you know, the usual….

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We went inside a monastery there, which I had somehow never visited before on my many other trips to Boudha…

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An ENORMOUS prayer wheel inside the monastery gates...

An ENORMOUS prayer wheel inside the monastery gates…

And inside the main chamber of the monastery...

And inside the main chamber of the monastery…

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The views of the stupa and surrounding area are great from the monastery balconies and windows…

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And on the roof, we found a small chamber for worship and study, the manufacturing of butter lamps (used in several Buddhist rituals), prayer flags, and more great views of the stupa…

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Down below, a large vat of incense burned as believers walked by and used their hands to shower their faces in the (holy?) smoke…

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And so, we ended our Losar celebrations -tired but happy- with a cool drink on a rooftop balcony in Boudha, enjoying the view… IMG_3219

5 thoughts on “… Let’s Celebrate, It’s Alright (Part Two)

  1. Pingback: … It’s a Celebration! (Part One) | Home is Where the Hair Is

  2. I just can’t get over all of the beautiful COLOR! Everywhere! It looks like you both had a wonderful time and I am so happy you have the opportunity to be immersed in the culture through your friends.

  3. Pingback: Nepal Earthquake 2015 – Relief Fund Update #6 and New Call for Donations | Home is Where the Hair Is

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