Happy Losar! Tibetan New Year

Happy 2140, the year of the snake! Though Losar, like Chinese New Year, is generally an occasion for festivities, things for Tibetans are a little different this year. For the fifth year in a row, Lobsang Sangay, the exiled prime minister of Tibet, has asked Tibetans to tone down celebrations for the new year, in memory of those who have self-immolated in recent years (up to 99) in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

“No one feels like dancing and singing anymore,” says Kunga Tashi, the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Americas. In lieu of parties and feasting, he is appealing to Tibetans to mark the passage of the year with silence, candle-lighting and burning incense in memory of those who have lost their lives in protest.

Lha Gyal Lo. Bhod Gyal Lo. May all beings be happy and well, as we celebrate Tibetan New Year.

Here are some scenes from a Losar past in Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu Province.

©Michael Yamashita
Monks of all ages wait for morning prayers and the only meal of the day.

©Michael Yamashita
The trapa (novices), enter the monastery around the age of six and become gelong (monks) when they reach adulthood.

©Michael Yamashita
Tibetan monks in Labrang, Gansu, China.

©Michael Yamashita
The ciak is probably the most demanding form of pilgrimage in the world. Prostrating themselves fully,
worshippers cover tens, sometimes hundreds, of miles. Labrang, China.

©Michael Yamashita
Tibetan worshippers crowd the entrance to the main temple.

©Michael Yamashita
In busy Xiahe, close to Labrang, teens in their finery prepare to celebrate Losar, the Buddhist New Year.

©Michael YamashitaOutside the Labrang monastery, many food stands sell sunflower seed, soya beans and noodles.

©Michael Yamashita
Once the Tangka is unfurled, the colorful image of Buddha is admired by hundreds
of people in the square at Labrang monastery, Gansu, China.

About the author

Mike Yamashita has combined his dual passions of photography and travel for over 25 years as a shooter for The National Geographic. Specializing in Asia, he has covered Vietnam and the Mekong River, Marco Polo's journey to China, the Great Wall, the DMZ between North and South Korea, as well as almost every aspect of Japanese culture from samurai to fish markets.

Among many of his published books, Yamashita's best-selling Marco Polo: A Photographer's Journey sold over 200,000 copies worldwide in its initial printing and was re-released by Rizzoli in the fall of 2004. Marco Polo is also the subject of his award-winning National Geographic Channel documentary, Marco Polo: The China Mystery Revealed, in which Yamashita retraces the 13th-century Venetian's epic excursion to China.

A frequent lecturer and teacher at workshops around the world, Yamashita has received numerous industry awards, including those from the National Press Photographers Association's Pictures of the Year, the New York Art Directors Club, and the Asian-American Journalists Association. Major exhibits of his work have opened throughout Asia, in Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as in Rome, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. His images of Korea's DMZ were featured in an exhibit at the Visa Pour L'Images photojournalism festival at Perpignan, France.

When not traveling, Michael Yamashita lives with his family in rural NJ, where he maintains a studio and an extensive stock library, and is an active volunteer fireman.