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Losar is the Tibetan (Wood-horse*) New Year.
In the dark just before dawn, when the blinding mist is in your face and you need several woolen layers to cut the biting cold, I found myself making my way to the school bus – still half an hour away – dressed in all my borrowed Tibetan finery. I hitched up my Tibetan Chuba with one hand, grabbed my umbrella and torch with another, prayed the rain wouldn’t soak right through and the local leopard wasn’t hungry – though not necessarily in that order. I half-stumbled, half-ran down the hill to find I was the first to arrive. The plan was to go down to the Mindrolling Monastery in Dehradun with our students to celebrate Losar. Half an hour later a bus load of sleepy kids and us chaperones headed down the winding road. For the first time, I noticed fresh snow on the sides of the road. Then the sun came out and it was a beautiful day to the end.
The resonant sound of at least a hundred chanting monks welcomed us as we entered the monastery.
Sitting cross-legged, behind a row of novices, I watched monks making offerings and also receiving new year gifts/donations in the form of scarves, robes, cash, treats. Sweet rice and butter tea were served, followed by individual packs of treats which were handed out to our students and unexpectedly, to us chaperones too. I was surprised to be at the receiving end and yes, ridden by a sense of guilt; it should have been the other way around surely?
Like all places of worship, the monastery grounds seemed to be a favourite jaunt for senior denizens.We visited a monastery close by where the young novices were housed. Once again we were treated to sweet rice, butter tea, and snacks. Novices introduced themselves one by one. It was quite an emotional moment. Contemplating on the austerity of their childhood I was aware how ostentatious my own life seems in comparison. I had to remind myself that these boys will be looked after and looked after well here for the rest of their lives. Who’s to say there isn’t another future Dalai Lama amongst them?
We also visited our Tibetan colleagues’ new home where they generously fed the lot of us to a grand Tibetan feast.The Rajaji National Park borders their new home; they have been visited by a wild elephant once. It won’t be the last time I’m sure!
*You could Google wood-horse but I shall always remember it as the year Himalayan winter refused to leave and the rains decided to visit early.