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THE GREAT ESCAPE words and images by Luke Townsend

WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO MY JOURNEY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE RICH TRADITIONS OF THE TIBETAN NEW YEAR IN A SMALL VILLAGE IN THE HIMALAYAN FOOTHILLS OF INDIA? “The police are coming [for you!] My friend was frantic! "Get to the house, lock the shrine room door, close the curtains, turn off the lights, and wait for my return." How had it come to this?

It was still dark when I was awakened by the sound of luggage rustling throughout the cabin of the bus I had spent the last six hours on. I had arrived. The last stop on the line from Delhi; Dheradun. Fighting exhaustion, I pulled myself up and made my way down the steps of the bus where I was greeted by a line of cabbies eagerly soliciting my business. Spending the next 20 minutes clutching the side of a three-wheeled taxi, we traversed our way through the foothills of the Himalayas on our way to the remote Tibetan settlement of Clement Town.

"May Bodhicitta, precious and sublime, Arise where it has not yet come to be. Where it has arisen, may it never fail but grow and flourish ever more and more!"  Hand drawn over the Tibetan prayer, this map from my notebook shows the state of Uttarakhand in north India and depicts my six hour journey from Delhi to Dehradun.
Clement Town

Clement Town is a quiet and peaceful area located in the Himalayan foothills of North India which borders the Rajaji National Park and the Indian Air Force. Tucked away on 110 acres on the borders of Clement Town lies the Dhondupling Tibetan Settlement. Founded in 1964 by a group of Tibetan refugees this colony is now home to roughly 2000 Tibetans, both refugees and generations of those born in exile. Dhondupling is different from all other Tibetan colonies in that its land is privately owned and doesn't rely on the Central Tibetan Government to provide for its refugees. It felt as if I had stepped back in time to a place that remains heavily rooted in the traditions and customs of Tibetan culture with a youthful flare for idealistic western influences. Greeted by a 103 ft. tall statue of the Buddha, Tibetan life in Clement Town is closely interwoven with the monastic community, supported by Tashi Kyil, Dechen Chokhor Ling and Mindrolling monasteries. Walking through the gates of Mindrolling I was overcome by the world's largest stupa, The Great Stupa, towering 185 feet tall, set within the confines of a 2 acre garden. Providing education and housing to over 300 monks, the monastic complex has become one of the largest Buddhist centers in existence today and attracts Buddhists and scholars from all over India, and tourism grows especially during the new year.

It was Losar, Tibetan New Year, and unlike in America where the new year is celebrated by alcohol induced parties at midnight, Losar is a 15 day community celebration marked by activities that symbolize purification and welcoming in the new. The first three days of Losar are of high importance as they provide a time to visit the monasteries to make offerings and receive blessings. Homes are cleaned and painted, new clothes are bought and worn, and rituals are performed to ward off evil spirits. Composed of two characters: Lo meaning ‘year’ and sar meaning ‘new’, Losar is the Tibetan word for new year. The largest celebration in the Tibetan community, Losar can be traced back to the 7th century in pre-Buddhist Tibet when Tibetans were practicing the Bon religion. Amongst celebrating the harvest, every winter Bon followers would hold large spiritual ceremonies, burning incense and juniper to appease local spirits, deities, and protectors. After the arrival of Buddhism into Tibet this yearly celebration has become a hybrid of Buddhist traditions based on the Tibetan lunar calendar and old world Tibetan folk culture.

I travelled with Tsering, a Tibetan, born in exile in the very home that was, for the next week, to become my home base during the day. I had met Tsering many years before in New York City where he quickly introduced me to an entire under world of Tibetans, of which I was completely unaware. New York has a way of creating mini cities of immigrants which give you, in many cases, a modernized hybrid of a culture. I wanted to dig deeper, spend time in Tibetan communities in India and Nepal and get to know the people, and experience the food. A few years later Tsering invited me come to India for Losar in his home town of Clement Town. It was an invitation I couldn't pass up with Losar being one of the largest celebrations in Tibetan culture. For Tibetans, Losar is a time to proudly assert their Tibetan identity and share their customs. Religious culture is a fascinating topic, we all have our Mecca's, and as a Buddhist I knew Losar would provide not just the heritage of Tibetan culture but the religious traditions would be on full display. As I travelled to Clement Town I realized I was about to enter a entirely new world.

Exhausted from my journey I found a quiet spot to nap, before heading back to Dehradun, on a mat on the floor in a small room which was built on the rooftop platform of Tserings home. Hazy from a cloud of burning incense, butterlamps flickering in the dim light illuminated exquisitely detailed paintings of the Buddhas which hung from the walls. Old wooden China cabinets stored Buddhist texts wrapped in ceremonial white silk scarves called khatas, and statues of the Buddhas towered above, protected behind the cover of a glass display case. It was the shrine room.

Losar

The mountain air was crisp as I made my way to the colony and climbed up to Tsering's roof on my first morning in Clement Town. Prayer flags fluttered in the breeze as rays of golden light awoke a village still quiet from the night before. I sipped a cup of warm, sweet Indian chai while observing the morning rituals of monkeys jumping from rooftop to rooftop in search of food. Such a common sight remains a small moment of amusement coming from a land where monkeys are confined to zoos and television. Downstairs, breakfast was being prepared. My senses were tempted at the scent of curry and spices that lofted up from the kitchen windows below. Hindi television dominated the attention of the room during breakfast, which consisted of steamed bread -or tingmo-, eggs, curried chickpeas and more sweet Indian chai. Tsering and his brothers erupted in conversation as we headed out to the porch following breakfast. The engine of a scooter started up and Tsering along with his brother, Tashi, hopped on and disappeared into the tiny streets. I found myself alone, lounging on the porch in the courtyard of Tsering's house waiting for them to return, and not long after they arrived carrying two quarts of black and silver paint.

Homes in Clement Town are surrounded by cement walls with an iron-rod gate. Every home has one, and each family has their own special design. Today was the beginning of Losar and repainting the family gate remains a proud, town wide tradition of community identity.

Tsering's gate squeaked on its hinges as he pulled it open and chips of rust flaked off as Tashi brushed on a fresh coat of bright, pearl-esque silver paint. The town was coming alive as newly painted gates were being completed throughout the neighborhood and kids on scooters zoomed up and down the streets.

Finishing the gate, Tsering took me aside and led me up to the roof where the shrine room sits, and then up another platform which houses a large water tank. Unlike Western architecture, Tibetan roofs are flat, cement platforms allowing for multiple balconies and extended rooms. Overlooking the town, Tsering, with a tone of urgent importance explained that should I be within the borders at night and the military comes for me I must know how to escape and return to my hotel in Dehradun. I wanted to write this off as a scare tactic used for a prank and yet there I stood, atop that roof in India mentally memorizing a carefully planned escape route.

Clement Town is a cantonment area under control of the Ministry of Defense, and is such restricted to standard multiple-entry visas. Under cantonment regulations tourists can come and go as they please however must vacate the borders after dark, and overnight stay is not permitted unless, of course, one has obtained the proper permits; an important detail I failed to prepare for. Tight night communities certainly have some drawbacks. Everyone knows everyone and consequently word travels fast. Even amongst friends and family confidential informants lie close, relaying information to the military.

(Window): Overlooking Clement Town the water tank, bottom right, is were I learned of a possible escape route. (Top): Brothers Puntsok and Tashi help erect new prayer flags, a common practice during Losar which spreads blessings to all. (Above Left): Jigmey Tsultrim and his son Aki burn last years prayer flags along with juniper branches in a ceremony called a Sang puja. Sang is considered a purification practice and is a powerful way to cleanse the problems and difficulties of the year, purify mistakes and any negative actions. (Above Right): Tibetans of Clement Town, attending a town wide Sang puja hold tsampa, roasted barley flour. The tsampa will be flung into the air for peace and prosperity in the new year.

Making my way through the tiny streets of the colony I set out to meet Tsering and his family for lunch. A fragrant smoke was rising in the still morning air as juniper branches crackled under fires lit to burn the prayer flags of the previous year. Families all over town were hanging new prayer flags and hoisting up massive vertical flag poles with a joyous energy. Tibetan music circulated within the town, pumping out of an old PA system brought from Tibet that hung from the water tower as the streets started to fill with people. Unique to Clement Town this special Tibetan music serves as an indication that Losar has officially begun. Following lunch Tsering and his family donned their finest traditional Tibetan clothing as is custom for the new year to shop for and dress in new clothing before heading to the monasteries to receive blessings from the high lamas. Tsering had brought me a long, grey Chupa to wear which he had to help fit and tie. A Chupa is a traditional dress that, for men, is worn well below the knee, one arm pulled out, sleeves that are two arm lengths too long, and enough fabric above the waist tie which creates a pocket typically used to carry everyday items.

"Losar for the younger generation are happy days of the year where they get to wear new clothes and get pocket money from their relatives."

-Tenzin Tsukputh

Erupting from the Great Stupa of Mindrolling, the chimes of bells ringing echoed through the town as hundreds of monks were performing purification ceremonies. The constant hum of prayer wheels spinning buzzed throughout the 2-acre garden adjacent to Mindrolling and prayer beads rustled together as elders chanted 'Om Mani Padme Hum' [mantra of the Buddha of Compassion]. Lines in the monks quarters grew long as we awaited an audience with the Rinpoches. Coming here, doing it all together provides an opportunity for the Tibetans to celebrate in a spiritual way with their family and pass on the tradition to a new generation. For the young novice monks of Tashi Kyil Monastery, Losar provides an opportunity to take a break from their studies. Just as the lay community repaints their homes and gates fresh for the new year, in the days prior to Losar the novice monks spend their time cleaning the the monasteries and ritual items to be used for ceremonies in the coming days. Losar is also a time for fun and games and the monastery grounds were a scene of chaos as the young monks chased each other, lit firecrackers and threw them in the air. Teenage monks swapped out their sandals for soccer cleats and sneeked out past the border walls to play games of soccer and cricket. Losar was in full swing.

(Top): Monks perform purification pujas at the start of Losar inside The Great Stupa at the Mindrolling Monastery. The interior of the stupa is adorned in elaborate murals and carvings executed in the finest tradition of Tibetan Buddhist art. (Middle Left): Monks from Mindrolling carry mukdung, a type of Tibetan cookie made from four long strands of dough braided together and deep-fried in butter, along with fruits and sweets, to be handed out as offerings to the Rinpoches and other monks. (Middle Right): Novice monks of Tashi Kyil play with firecrackers during Losar in Clement Town. (Above): Nyingma monks laugh and have fun as they leave the town wide Sang puja.
Mise en Place

Across town in a small room on the furthest corner of the parade grounds, 79-year-old Khamtuk repeatedly slams large chunks of dough down on a wooden table. A master of his craft, he pulls the dough into long strands and kneads it by rolling his forearms back and forth vigorously for some time. A funny man with an infectious smile, Khamtuk lives in Rajpur and has been making the trip to Clement Town for 50 years to make this special steamed bread called Tingmo. Even at his age Khamtuk works long hours as he produces over 2000 tingmo per day during Losar.

(Top Left): Khamtuk kneads long strands of dough for tingmo, steamed buns, by rolling his forearms across the dough. (Above Left): The dough is cut into smaller sections, rolled out and twisted into a shape which resembles a cinnamon roll. (Right): Mounds of dough after having been left to rise overnight is ready to be prepared for tingmo, steamed buns.

"KHAMTUK IS A LEGEND. NO ONE CAN MAKE BETTER TINGMO THAN HIM."

-Tenzin Tsukputh

As I've travelled throughout India and Nepal, I've found that there’s no better way to become well-acquainted with the land you’re visiting than the food that's grown there. A countries food can shed light on the socio-economic status of the communities, provide details on climate and the agricultural difficulties of high elevation farming, and give you ensite on the culinary influences of other countries that push the evolution of the regional food culture. Tibetan cuisine today is the direct result of the last 61 years of Tibetans living in exile in India and Nepal. While a traditional Tibetan diet would consist primarily on meat, dairy, and barley, the food today see's influence from the chilis and root vegetables of Nepal, and the variations of spices, curries, and lentils from India. It's not just the food itself that connects you to a culture but in the sharing of that food. Language is the root of all cultures, it's what holds it together. Embedding myself into a culture in which I can't speak the language certainly provides difficulties and in such cases the act of sharing food becomes a language of its own. It brings people together, they open up. Those simple moments of mutual understanding break the boundaries of cultural divides and in that instance the need for spoken language seems few and far between.

In a series of tents outside, kitchens were being constructed and Agu Sherap, dressed in a green camo vest and tilly hat wearing gold aviator sunglasses, hunched over a giant steaming cauldron of boiling tea. Reaching for a large wooden thermos adorned with copper accents Sherap methodically churned the piping hot tea together with salt, butter, and milk resulting in, perhaps, the most essential dish in Tibetan cuisine, butter tea.

"TIBETANS IN EXILE MAKE IT A POINT TO SERVE TIBETAN BUTTER TEA TO REMINISCE ABOUT TIBET AND ITS RICH CULTURE AND TO KEEP THE TRADITION ALIVE"

-Tsering Sangmo, 70

The salty, caloric, and energizing po cha—or butter tea—is a daily ritual, and part of a stable diet in Tibet. It is consumed not just during Losar but throughout the year due to Tibet's cold weather. Tibetans will tell you that the fat from the butter and the milk is supposed to keep you warm and the salt supposedly kills any germs and bacteria that your body may carry.

Agu Sherap pours butter tea he churned by hand into a large cauldron to keep warm

"He is our chef"

-Tenzin Tskputh

Sherap, who sadly passed away in 2018 in his 60's, grew up in Clement Town. Celebrations and events happen year round in Tibetan communities and for the past 25 years Sherap served as the town chef, leading the operation and training younger generations on the unique history of Tibetan food culture.

Tibetan kitchens are traditionally run by women and sitting on the ground, three elderly women were peeling thousands of cloves of garlic while a group of younger women prepared hundreds of chilis, onions, and tomatoes. For the first three days of Losar most of the town refrains from cooking at home and later that evening the parade grounds will be overcrowded with people eating together and preparing for a night of excitement.

For the first three days of Losar, around 400 pounds of meat is prepared daily. Meat has a long history in Tibetan culture and is a staple in their cuisine. It's boiled in soups, stir fried, made into dumplings and meat pies.

Tibetan's are primarily Buddhists, but not necessarily all vegetarian. The Tibetans were around long before Buddhism found its way to Tibet and their food provides a unique look in a struggle between religion and region. Sitting at an elevation of 15,000 feet the Tibetan plateau is limited on what can be produced. High elevation, rocky soil, cold climates, and harsh winters certainly don't provide the best circumstances for successful agriculture. While many dedicated Buddhist practitioners and monks refrain from eating meat, dishes like tukpa [meat soup], sha momo [meat dumplings], tsampa [barley flour], and pocha [butter tea] define the limitations of the place and what was readily accessible to the Tibetan people. Alongside the traditional staples, today, a heavy influence of dishes like Indian dahl, curried vegetables, and Nepali dal bat [rice and lentals] have found their way into Tibetan food culture.

recreation

I met up with Tsukputh, a young Tibetan singer, later that afternoon. Tsukputh [17], wearing a bright blue Tibetan shirt with silver and gold embroidered accents and red trim was headed to a playground where games were being hosted by Kyitsel-Ling Tibetan Children’s Educational Center. Kyitsel-Ling is a boarding educational hostel for Tibetan and needy children. Like Tsukputh and the other kids in Clement Town, the children at Kyistel-Ling attend the Tibtan Nehru Memorial Foundation School where the students were helping to raise money for TNMFS and Kyistel-Ling.

"FOR ME AND ALL OF THE YOUTH WHO HAS BEEN LIVING IN THIS SMALL TOWN [CLEMENT TOWN], IT'S A BLESSING WE GET TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH OUR FAMILY, AND EVERYONE AROUND US IS LIKE A FAMILY ITSELF."

-Tenzin Tsukputh

Children competed with the monks to see who could outscore each other in a game of bottle toss and others teamed up for a game of basketball. Lines to the snack stands grew and crowds gathered to cheer on their favorite teams. Leaving Kyitsel-Ling we met up with Tsukputh's friends and walked back to his home. Dressed in western clothes they gathered together in his room and pretended to sing into microphones made of water bottles and red bull cans. It was their last practice before their performance at the Annual Tibetan Cultural Talent Show later that night.

(Top): Bhuchung, left, Tenzin Tsukputh, center, and Pema Dorje, right, practice singing in Tsukputh's room in Clement Town. (Above Left/Right): Monks and school kids play games hosted by Kyitsel-Ling Tibetan Children’s Educational Center.

The younger generation of Tibetans in exile were born into the era of social media. A generation where the hype and immediacy of fame is constantly at your fingertips, and western/modern influences of Hollywood/Bollywood, pop music, and fashion permeate an already rich cultural heritage. Rooms once adorned by images of religious icons like the Dalai Lama now share the same walls as Michael Jackson and Bollywood stars. A disconnect between two generations that, if not backed by a strong cultural community [Clement Town] could dismantle an entire generational identity. "Clement town is no less than other big cities. It has everything that you need; school, university, bank and stupa!" While some Tibetans leave Clement Town for larger cities or travel to America in search of economic prosperity, Tsukputh is content on staying right here in Clement Town. "I want to have my own show, like a rock star," Tsukputh explained. "I'm about to drop an album soon and then I'll go on tour."

"My goal for music is to make the best love song and I want people to sing along"

-Tenzin Tsukputh

TALENT SHOW

Leaving my extra gear in the shrine room I made my way through the tiny alleys towards the fair.

The night grew dim as crowds gathered into the parade grounds by the hundreds. The entire town seemed to be in attendance. A large stage had been constructed that stood in front of a massive curtain depicting the Potala Palace, the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. Monks from the different monasteries were setting up gambling tables and concessions under long rows of circus tents lit by hanging lights haphazardly strung about. Classrooms adjacent to the grounds had filled with students who donned traditional costumes and rehearsed a lama dance that would headline the talent show in the coming hour. Girls were putting on makeup and braiding each other’s hair while a little boy, waving the Tibetan flag, ran around the room.

The Tashi Sholpa dance being performed by students of the Tibtan Nehru Memorial Foundation School during the Tibetan Annual Cultural Talent Show.

Tsukputh led the first act of the night with a dance called 'Tashi Sholpa.' Performing with other students they adorned white-beard masks, depicting Thangton Gyalpo, and traditional costumes with strings tied to long pieces of fringe that hung off and flew about as they danced. Drums started beating and Tsukputh began to chant and sing. With the drums getting louder the whole group was now dancing, perfectly synchronized. Originally appearing in a dream of the Fifth Dalai Lama this dance is meant to portray Thangtong Gyalpo, a great Tibetan yogi; The Madman of the Empty Valley. Living to 140 years and the founder of Tibet's oldest opera company, Tashi Sholpa, Tangton Gyalpo's opera conveys the teaching of the Buddha in dance. Typically performed by monks during special monastic occasions, to bring good luck and good omens for the new year, the students of Tibetan Nehru Memorial Foundation School perform this dance on Losar to showcase their Tibetan culture and heritage.

With the stage lights focused on a group of children at the corner of the stage the strums of dramyins [Tibetan guitar],and gyumangs [dulcimer], were playing in perfect harmony. Dressed in fur hats with red, white, and blue embroidered chupas, they performed Tibetan music as another act took to the stage and began to sing and dance while their families cheered from the bleachers. Backstage, in a series of tents, kids were tuning instruments, making costume changes, and rehearsing their dances one last time while others watched and cheered their friends on. For them, this was the highlight of the night.

GAMBLING

After dark, the fun began at the gambling tables. Cigarette smoke and laughter permeated the senses as the crowds grew to watch the large sums of money being gambled away. Never staying in one spot for long I had to work quick as I was now out past my legal curfew. I was on high alert. Fighting my nerves under the looming danger of potentially being ratted out I continued to make my way deeper into the gambling arena regardless of the legality of my presence. Happening only during Losar the monks play the part of the carnies, yelling out the names of winners, handing out game prizes, dealing cards which drew the highest bidders, and moderating arguments that erupted over bets. It was a bazarre juxtaposition to everyday life as a monk and yet a brilliantly planned exploitation of worldly affairs under the guise of fundraising. Everyone was having the time of their lives.

Inside the gambling tents at the parade grounds an older monk shows a young novice how to play cards. Every year the monks from the different monasteries in Clement Town host games to help raise money to provide food, shelter, and education at the monasteries.

Life as a monk isn't simply a free ride to escape all worldly activities. It's a lifetime of intense study, early morning meditation, ceremonies, rituals, and helping provide for the lay community. Tibetan colonies have a unique system that's interwoven with the lay and monastic communities, they help each other out. The lay people help support the monasteries financially and the monks support the lay people in spiritual matters. Life as a monk is also expensive and Tibetan monasteries require a great amount of financial support to function. Mindrolling, for example, lodges over 300 monks, provides stupas and great prayer halls, colleges for higher Tibetan studies, retreat centers, and has to clothe and feed the monks and students. Though it might appear strange, for someone not familiar with Tibetan culture to see monks dealing games and having fun, everyone has a part to play, a way to contribute within the monasteries and Losar in Clement Town provides a unique opportunity for the three monasteries to set up games and raise funds from all who attend the fair.

Tenzin Tsukputh performs 'Sempa Shorsa', a love song he wrote. It won best love song among Tibetans in 2015.

With the show still going strong, Tsukputh and his friends were next to perform.

I worked my way over to the stage and found a quiet spot on the edges of the audience. Believing I was adequately hidden, despite the wandering looks of those watching, I continued to work. It was near the end of Tsukputh’s performance that I felt a tap on my shoulder and found myself being escorted behind stage by a friend whose anxious demeanor seemed troubling. His English broken and hurried, explained that people were questioning my presence as he insisted I leave [Clement Town] immediately. The gig was up. It was well past dark and I had overstayed my visa.

Children watch Tenzin Tsukputh perform from behind stage.

Sneaking through the labyrinth of tents backstage I reached a small opening at the far end of the parade grounds and quietly slipped into the shadows. The air was dusty as I made my way through dark alleys avoiding main roads and dodging the occasional headlights of scooters that passed by. I needed to get my gear I had left in the shrine room earlier that day. Close to the house now my phone rang. Ducking behind a wall I answered the call, listening intently to the voice on the phone, whose tone was frantic.

“THE POLICE ARE COMING [FOR YOU!] GET TO THE HOUSE, LOCK THE SHRINE ROOM DOOR, CLOSE THE CURTAINS, TURN OFF THE LIGHTS, AND WAIT FOR MY RETURN.”

Moving quickly through the last few blocks I safely entered the courtyard of the house, ran upstairs and locked myself in the dark, silent shrine room on the roof. Peeking through a slit in the curtains the neighboring houses glowed with flashing red and blue lights as a police car raced up the street towards my location. Trying not to panic, as I heard voices enter the house below, the seriousness of the consequences that could follow became all too real.

(Above:) Selection of items I carried with me daily in Clement Town. (Opposite:) The Great Stupa towers above tents set up outside the monastery gates.

I had to move quick. I hid my hard drives around the room and gathered the memory cards from my cameras stashing them in my tube socks in preparation to escape town. Never did I believe my day would end like it began, however instead of watching monkeys jump from rooftop to rooftop it would be me. I was prepared for this. I had one shot.

My heart raced with a soft knock on the door to the shrine room. “Time to go,” a voice called out just beyond a whispers tone. Cracking the door, I was greeted by a young domestic worker. “You ready to go? We must go now,” he explained, his voice still low. Hurrying across the roof I curiously asked where we were going, hoping for an answer I knew wasn’t coming. Stopping, he turned and replied “dinner, everyone’s waiting.” Startled, confusion flooded my mind. Was this a trick?

Cautiously I followed the kid not entirely trusting of the circumstances before me. The familiar sound of Hindi television grew louder as we made our way down the stairwell and towards the main room of the home. As I caught a glimpse of the flashing lights of a police car, every step I took felt like one step closer to imprisonment. With my anxiety on edge as I slowly stepped into the room, expecting to be greeted by the police, I stopped dead in my tracks, completely shocked. What I found wasn't the police but the entire family enjoying themselves and preparing for dinner. Standing there confused, everyone seemed to be oblivious to the scenario that had just occurred, which led me to being locked up in a room desperately hoping to avoid capture. Quickly I learned that the police were not coming for me, but had been called out for a fight over a gambling bet, making my reality relatively nonexistent. I was handed bowl of Guthuk, a special soup made only on Losar, and as the entire night started to sink in relief overcame me. This was no trick. Safe for the moment luck seemed to be on my side, for this was a special night.

Guthuk

Tonight was a night born out of Tibetan folklore. An important tradition of Losar, eating Guthuk and the rituals that follow signify the safe passage into the new year and symbolize the banishment of all evil and malevolent spirits from the year past. Guthuk is a special meat and noodle soup quite similar to many other common Tibetan dishes however, Guthuk is the first part in this tradition. The rituals started with the soup and adding some light-hearted fun a divination, written on a piece of paper, is put inside a dough ball and placed in each bowl of soup. Similar to Chinese fortune cookies, when read it provides a prediction for your personal characteristics. Pulling out the word 'cotton' from my dough ball represented a prediction of warm heartedness.

(Top Left): My divination hidden within my bowl of Guthuk (meat and noodle soup special to Losar) which reads 'Cotton,' signifying warm heartedness or a gentle heart. (Top Right): Kunsel, left, and Nani rub the Drilue dough over their body in places of pain or injury which is said to remove and hold all of the negative illnesses and obstacles of the past year. (Above): Kunsel places a coin on top of the Lue effigy. A butter lamp, the drilue dough used to remove obstacles from the body, and the fortunes are placed in a box and left outside in an intersection and left behind.

The rituals continued with greater underlying intentions that included fashioning a human doll (Lue) out of tsampa (roasted barley flour) and tea which became an effigy for all negativities. Additional pieces of dough (drilue) are then passed out and pressed into the hand. Watching as everyone rubbed their bodies with the dough in places of pain or injury I began to rub my body as well. This is believed to remove and store all negative illnesses and obstacles from the past year. The dough and the human doll were placed together on a plate next to a small butter lamp, also made from dough, which illuminated a coin gently set on the dolls head. Tsering and his brothers grabbed the plate and stepped outside. Walking to the middle of the nearest intersection they set the plate on the ground, turned around, and didn’t look back. The effigy, used to guide the negativities of the past year away from the home, is thought to get confused by the many paths of the intersection and get lost in trying to return.

The night ended with a feeling of purification. Leaving Clement town, on my way back to Dehradun, relief from the last year’s negative obstacles and spirits brought joy and welcoming to the new year. As I've spent the last few days fearful of a possible escape, those same few days had been preparing me for the greatest escape of all; the freedom from years past.