It’s 5am, the altitude is 12,000ft, and the temperate is -8°C. Sounds like the perfect time to go for a brisk 8km walk! Yep – this is how the people of Lhasa celebrate Lhabab Duchen (ལྷ་བབས་དུས་ཆེན), the festival commemorating Buddha’s return to earth the from Heaven of Thirty-Three, where he’d been teaching his mother, Maya.
It’s said that on this day, the result of every tiny positive thing we do is multiplied hundreds of millions of times (while the bad shit is too, so watch out!), and so Tibetans will be extra careful to avoid eating meat and doing naughty things, and spend a lot of time prostrating, reciting mantras, giving to the poor, and being all-round amazing people.
One of the things that the people of Lhasa love to do on these holy days is to walk the lingkor, an 8km route that takes you around all of the holy sites of the city. It used to lead through marshes and small lakes brimming with wildlife, but is now situated well within the city limits, forcing us to navigate busy roads, traffic lights, and bridges. But whatevs, it's all about our own minds, right?
It takes me a couple of hours to complete the route. Some people speed a long quickly, many momo-las (grandmothers) stop every half an hour along the way for copious cups of butter tea, while a good number of pilgrims prostrate the whole way - and that can take several days.
One of the main points along the lingkor is Chakpori, a sacred hill situated on the left-hand side of the Potala Palace. There you'll find hundreds of people prostrating, making light offerings, and spinning prayer wheels.
Lhabab Duchen is pretty low-key in comparison to some of the other Buddhist festivals. There are no fireworks and it's a bit too chilly for picnics, but it's a good time to reflect on how we've been repaying the kindness of those around us, and especially our mothers. I know that this festival makes me think of my own mum, and how I should spend more time with her while we're both still around...
Wishing everyone a very happy and virtuous Lhabab Duchen 2015!