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Pilgrims gather for annual festival

Palden Nyima/ Da Qiong/ Luo Wangshu
Updated: Aug 15,2015 9:53 AM     China Daily

Tourists and pilgrims admire a giant thangka at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet autonomous region, on Aug 14.[Photo/China Daily]

Thousands of Tibetan pilgrims and tourists gathered for the ritual of unrolling of the thangkas-giant religious silk embroideries-in Lhasa’s monasteries of Sera and Drepung on Aug 14 at the start of the annual Shoton Festival.

The festival is held every year on the 30th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar.

Wang Mei, 22, a tourist from Shandong province, said it was her first visit to the giant Buddha images in Tibet.

“I got up at 1 am and came to see the event. I am excited to be here, and I am impressed by the profound Tibetan Buddhism culture,” she said.

The festival dates to the 17th century as a religious occasion in which residents offered yogurt to monks who had finished their meditation retreats, said Tashi Palden, deputy editor of Tibet Daily.

“The Shoton Festival lasts a week. Shoton refers to yogurt banquet, since locals customarily eat Tibetan yogurt during the gala,” Palden said.

The celebration, which combines traditional and modern elements, has helped boost Lhasa’s tourism in recent years as it has shifted its focus to cultural performances, while integrating sports competitions, trade and investment solicitations.

The unfurling of the thangkas on the first day is followed by a variety of activities, including a Tibetan opera competition, traditional dance, songs, music, hiking and a soccer game.

Tamtrin Kyi, 22, a Tibetan woman from Gansu province, said she came to Lhasa during her summer vacation to attend the festival and make some money selling chips at the Drepung monastery.

“I feel quite excited today as the festival kicked off, and I got up at 3 am this morning to get ready for my business today,” said Tamtrin, who attends Zaozhuang Science and Technology Vocational School of China in Shandong province. “Many Tibetans, especially Tibetan girls, love chips.”

She said she doesn’t worry about selling her stock, as thousands of people paying homage to the Buddha will pass her stall.

The woman’s parents, restaurant managers Chosum Shung and Drukyi, sold Tibetan dishes and drinks. “We swamped the market three days ahead of the festival to get ready for our business,” Chosum Shung, 43, said.

Last year, he sold about 700 bowls of noodles. With the number of tourists increasing, he expected to sell more than 1,000 bowls this year.