WIND HORSE FLAGS: ORIGIN AND MEANING

Most people who have gone to Nepal have come back home with a few strips of those five-coloured flags, perhaps best known as prayer flags, which we then put in a place we think that they look nice or maybe they remain in a drawer. But have we ever wondered about their origin and meaning? I must admit, no.

A few days ago, during a blessing ceremony and the subsequent placement of these flags on a ridge, I had the opportunity to discover the origin and meaning of such symbolic elements. I must admit, it was one of the most interesting experiences I have had so far, in this project. That is why I want to share it with everyone who follows my blog.

These flags, called lungpar in the Sherpa language, are made up of a series of small square or rectangular flags, joined by a string or thread, with printed prayers or mantras, and with the simple idea that wind and water will be charged to widespread them to all beings in the universe, and not, as is often mistakenly believed, to bring them to the gods.

They place them mainly on ridges, cliffs or mountain passes, but also on the roofs of houses. The flags, blue, white, red, green and yellow, are placed in this order, either from top to bottom or from left to right. These colours mean the sky, clouds, stone, water and earth, or the five elements: air, water, fire, earth and space.

Sherpas believe that once these banners are blessed by a lama and placed in one of the mentioned places, they will bring luck, happiness, health and longevity to their families. That is why, to coincide with the beginning of the Tibetan year, they bless the flags and place them, on the days marked as auspicious within the first 20 days of the first month of the year. The number of flags in the set hanging by each family must be greater than the sum of the ages of the people who make it up.

They are usually renewed once a year. The placement must be done without touching the existing ones and the remains of the old ones cannot be thrown away. They must be burned or left in one of the many sacred caves near the monasteries.

Last Sunday, March the 1st, which was the 7th day of the first month of the year 2147 in the Tibetan calendar, with my friend Pasang we had gone to the village of Thame and he wanted to take the opportunity to go to the Buddhist monastery above the village to bless the flags he brought from his home in Namche.

Early in the morning we went up to the monastery to go to the house of one of the lamas living there. An 88-year-old man who has lived in this monastery all his life, received us with great kindness. There, in the small room where he lives, we put the four rolls of flags on a tray and he started reciting mantras in Tibetan for a good while. While chanting these mantras and burning incense, he would play small instruments and scatter large rice grains over the flags and across the room. The ritual, and the atmosphere of the small room where it took place, had a captivating effect on me, despite not fully understanding the meaning.

After the blessing ceremony, we headed up the hill above the monastery, to the place my friend had chosen to hang the flags. Then he, with great care, lit a small bonfire with juniper twigs and for a few moments passed the flags over the juniper smoke. He then climbed further up and spliced ​​and extended them out until they had formed a large and colourful arch with the flags flying, then he tied them carefully so that they did not touch the ones already in the same place.

When it was done, he returned to the bonfire to pray and throw a handful of rice mixed with cereal seeds, which the lama had prepared during the blessing ceremony.

Once all this was done, and after having covered with some stones what was left of the little bonfire just to avoid the bonfire remains spread with the wind, we only had to undo the way down to the monastery. We made it light and silent. A silence, that of my friend, which I still interpreted as spiritual gathering, lasted until we arrived again at the monastery.

Once there, we set off on our way home to Namche, very happy. He for having fulfilled a ritual in which he believes, and I for having learned what these flags mean by the Sherpas. And the truth is that I couldn’t find a more sublime way to symbolise the desires of luck, happiness, health and long life for all of us.

LIFE WHERE TOURISM DOES NOT ARRIVE

Nepal is a country that depends quite of tourism and especially some mountainous areas where the economy depends almost solely for tourism.

In the municipality of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality (KPLRM), the two areas of Lukla on top, Pharak and Khumbu, are those that benefit from tourism. Instead the Shorong zone (or Solu) between Lukla and Kharikhola reality is completely different. For this reason, last December, I wanted to take the downhill trip from Namche to Kathmandu, to make a good part of what is usually done by plane and know what life is like in where tourism has almost no presence.

Map of Namche to Phakding and Kharikhola

THE CURRENT SITUATION

With this aim, my friend and guide Pasang and I went down walking from Namche to the village of Kharikhola so I could know first hand the only area where I had never been. In the village of Phakding we left the path that goes straight to Lukla, to cross the Dudh Koshi River by an old Hung bridge and we followed the old path used by both the local people and the first expeditionary groups and the treks, before the small airport of Lukla was built in the year 1964. A very recommendable romantic tour.

This road brought us first to the villages of Nyerse, Sengma and Rongdingma, where I could see the difference with the tourist towns. Here people live in an agriculture that is not very varied and quite rudimentary, with little cattle, basically for self-consumption and for doing the field work. There is no trade or services. Until 10 years ago, Rongdingma had a small school, but now it’s closed. Therefore, the inhabitants of these villages, for anything must go to Chaurikharka or Lukla by crossing the deep valley of the Dudh Koshi River.

We did the same and a Arrived to Chaurikharka we continued our way down, following the Course of the river, but with enough climbs and descents. For 3 days we went through By the peoples of Surke, Paiya, Burpa and finally we arrived in Kharikhola, Which is the village located below (2,100 m) and further south of the Territory (the KPLRM) Where I develop my project.

Unlike the first three villages, these four are located on the path that is currently used to move to the upper areas of the Khumbu. These villages, initially agricultural, during the years 1950 and the first half of the 60 benefited from the passage of the first expeditions and Trekkings, built lodges and camping sites, and began offering services. All this represented a significant improvement in the life and economy of this area.

It was thus until the year 1964 when it was built the Lukla airport and tourism ceased to go through these villages with the consequent loss of income of its inhabitants. It is true that the hosting infrastructure that had been created was maintained, but reoriented to local customers and therefore adapted to lower demands and economic possibilities.

Given that the orography of this area is smoother and allows for good use of the land by organizing it on terraces and many varieties of fruit, vegetables and cereals can be cultivated, we might think that agriculture and livestock would have been able to become the economic engine, although smaller than tourism in this area. But this has not been the case. The main reason is the change that has taken place in the market for agricultural and livestock farming products in the last decades. The construction of roads, nor that they were of land, that increasingly arrived closer to this area, facilitated that they arrived products from other places with what their natural market broke.

The result is that today Local primary sector has no market and only small family farms For self-consumption and a local trade. Many farms were abandoned And their owners migrated to Kathmandu or abroad.

In spite of this situation there is a significant positive aspect to point out. It is a commitment to education, which I already explained that existed in the areas above, which has remained here. On our tour we found two small schools, one at Surke and the other at the top of Kharikhola, two more stockings in Paiya and Burpa and a large one with all levels of primary and secondary in Kharikhola. All this for a population that does not reach 2,000 people, but dispersed in a very large area.

In contrast, the infrastructure Can not say the same as it is almost nonexistent. The only Infrastructure, the Kharikhola hospital disappeared with the Earthquake of 2015 and the construction works of a new hospital long ago are stops. There is a small provisional hospital where there is not always a doctor. Therefore the people here, if they have a health problem a bit important, have From going to Kathmandu that the road now reaches to Kharikhola “Only” to 17 hours in Jeep by roads largely of land And those who are asphalted are in a deplorable state.

So far the reality of a life I’ve been able to observe on my way down from Namche to Kharikhola.

A VERY HOPELESS FUTURE

Some will remember that in the post No. 7 He spoke of building a road from Kharikhola up to Chaurikharka. They are well working. I could see great machines Unresolved through an impossible terrain, very steep, with a lot of rock but Also with parts prone to landslides. The forecasts are that it is For the unpaved moment, the next month of July. I do not think it is So few days ago I could see how far they had advanced in two months and I doubt that in July you can finish. But if it’s not July it will be a little Forward.

The tourism sector, by Chaurikharka upwards, is happy with this road, as it will greatly facilitate the access of tourists who now depend on the small Lukla airport severely punished for the climate of the area.

But Chaurikharka is down, Although they recognise that having a road is an improvement and unquestionable for their daily life, people in general are not very Negative impact that they believe will have on the Minso business of the Tourism. The people with whom I spoke coincided in that the few people That now stops in the places of food and sleep, with the new road will go Up to Chaurikharka in a single day, no need to stop or To stay anywhere. In other words, after the negative impact Had Lukla airport, the road will surely have a negative effect Even bigger.

As you have seen, the areas with And those that do not have them, coexist next to each other but are Two completely different worlds and my conclusion is that in these areas, Everybody looks at tourism as the most accessible outlet for a better future.

And as the Xerpes, however, are People with a great ability to adapt to changes, as they have already demonstrated Times, those in this area will have to reinvent themselves, as is now called, Seeking proposals for alternative tourism to the expeditions and long- Height trekkings. And I’m sure they will leave.

Festivals of the Sherpa community, spirituality and social life 

Many cultures around the world celebrate community festivals and the Sherpa one is no exception. These celebrations are especially important for communities that live in remote places, as there are occasions for families and friends to meet each other.

Most of the people’s jobs in these valleys are hard, often dangerous, jobs that leave them little time to meet each other and socialise That’s why festivals and annual celebrations, in monasteries and villages, are the occasions they have for spiritual life, fun, social life and rest.

Many Sherpa festivals are religious, such as Mani Rindup, Dumchi, Nyungne, or Chirim Lhabsang, but all have also lay components. Others are lay such as Losar, Yarchang or Phagnyi.

Almost all these festivals have organizers-sponsors, who change every year and take care of the organization and take charge of the expenses.

Since there are many festivals that celebrate during the year, I thought it would be good to describe what I’ve seen so far. And next year, at the end of my stay here, I will talk about the others.

NYUNGNE

Twice a year, in many monasteries, the Nyungne is organized, which is a retreat for spiritual development, through the practice of renunciation of fasting, prayer and silence. It lasts for 3 days, during which the participants live in the monastery. It is organised by the monasteries and sponsored by the participants.           

The first day, Lhabsang, they pray, cook and eat normally. The second day, khungsang, participants fast and maintain silence. They pray and recite mantras in silence circumambulating monasteries. The last day, chowa, the fasting ends and eating and drinking begins.           

The first days of August, I could attend this retreat in the monastery of Namche. They organised two shifts of 3 days each, with about 25 people, all wearing traditional Sherpa dresses. During the two nights of retreat they sleep in the porches of the monastery courtyard.

PHAGNYI

At the beginning of August, most villages celebrate the Phagnyi party, which in Sherpa means the day of the pig. It is a totally lay party with a group that takes care of organizing it and the participants pay the costs.       

Namche’s party lasts 3 days, but in this case everyone goes to sleep at home. It’s a party to have fun. They are 3 days during which they have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the premises where the party is held, sing and dance and, above all, play. They spend the 3 days playing cards. In every room where the party is held, there are tables, with stacks of money, with groups of men or women playing cards. This is because it is the only occasion of the year when it is allowed to play with money, in public places. And they really take benefit of it!                    

In the evening, it’s time to dance. Some dance with modern Nepalese music and others dance their traditional dances and sing their songs. In the case of Namche, which is where I participated, accompanied by a man with a dramnyang, a traditional 3 strings instrument.           

Formerly this festival was to celebrate that the toughest season of agricultural work had already ended. Nowadays they celebrate also that the spring tourist season has also ended, and people have time to rest and to make fun.

LOSAR PULU

It is a lay festival that is celebrated on the full moon of November, to celebrate the harvests of the year, although it is currently also held in places that are not agricultural, such as Namche.

During the whole day and until late at the evening, groups of men and women, who in the afternoon are joined by children when they