Great Prayer Festival 2019

In February this year I visited the Tibetan New Year (Losar) celebrations in Eastern Tibet. After an approach route via Shanghai I went on to Labrang, the largest monastery in this region. Together with 2 friends and a Romanian photographer, we were able to visit the celebrations in Rebkong, Gomar, Sokdzong, Luqu and the closing festivities in Labrang in a 12 days period. For Tibetans this is the most important period of the year with many family visits and joint celebrations for a prosperous New Year. The photos below are a small impression of this trip.

Monks walking in Labrang Monastery

Experiences cannot always be captured in photos, but the real highlights for me were the small moments with local people, which often arose spontaneously, thanks in part to our small group and my traveling companions Emmy and Dennis, who have been visiting this place for a long time, know many locals and speak fluently Chinese. After fleeing the crowds in Labrang, we attended an intimate Shaman ceremonies in Rebgong and Sokzong, with only a handful of tourists present.

Thangka display in Sokdzong

Striking to me were the busloads of Chinese photographers, who clearly had different manners than us. “Armed” with at least 2 impressive cameras with large and expensive lenses, they often dive on the locals in large groups, which seemed quite aggressive to me. In addition, they hardly make contact to just take that one picture. I am curious what they will do with it back home. Unsolicited photography also affected us and even after objectioning they continued as usual, which often led to frustration with us. All this did not affect my journey, but it made me think how to act as a photographer.

Chinese photographers in Luqu

The best moment of this trip was at the Nomads Restaurant in Labrang, having breakfast when suddenly a large Tibetan family entered. There was not enough room for everyone and so the youngest daughter decided to come sit at our table, looking at us with big questioning eyes. After sharing our pancake, the ice was broken and the whole family was introduced and grandmother decided to knead a bowl of Tsampa for us. Everything was so spontaneous and natural that I will never forget this scene.

Tibetan girl in Nomads restaurant in Labrang

After returning to Shanghai, I was very surprised about the prices of cameras here, which are considerably lower than at home in Europe, sometimes with up to 1,000 euros discount. You can also buy modern Xiaomi smartphones here for just € 200, with a functionality that Apple still can not deliver (multiple cameras, dualSim and external memory). Also everything in China is handled by WeChat, with everyone arranging their transactions and contacts, despite being monitored.

Young monk during Great Prayer Ceremony in Labrang Monastery

Back in the Netherlands, I have lots of great memories and also some wake-up calls. Thank you Emmy, Dennis, Horii-San, Corneliu, Dondup and all the special people we met. Traveling this way is an enrichment of your life and gives you many new insights and special encounters.

For more photos and stories, check out my Instagram account: www.instagram.com/wout.dejong