Rid­ing on top of the world: Ti­betans gather for horse fes­ti­val

The horses storm down the plains, decked out in tra­di­tional cos­tumes that match their rid­ers and the au­di­ence above. It’s fes­ti­val time in China’s mys­te­ri­ous high­lands

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

THUN­DER­ING across the vast Hi­malayan plateau in their tra­di­tional fin­ery, Ti­betan horse­men gather for an an­nual rid­ing fes­ti­val that is a colour­ful feast for the eyes.

Mul­ti­coloured prayer flags in­scribed with re­li­gious texts flut­ter in the breeze and tents line the green hills sur­round­ing the rac­ing ground in Yushu, in the north­west­ern Chi­nese prov­ince of Qing­hai.

The area is home to many of China’s 8 mil­lion strong Ti­betan mi­nor­ity, some of whom chafe against Chi­nese rule.

Spec­ta­tors at the event – in­clud­ing lo­cal Ti­betan women in tra­di­tional dresses known as chuba, and monks in red robes – filed past state se­cu­rity per­son­nel in green uni­forms to en­ter a sta­dium built by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment. But the at­mos­phere was re­laxed and jovial. One woman in a blue and orange dress stood in front of a pyra­mid of prayer flags, bran­dish­ing an um­brella to pro­tect her­self from the harsh sun­light of the high­alti­tude plateau.

The real draw are the horses – brown steeds be­decked in yel­low and green rib­bons, mounted by rid­ers whose long hair flows in the wind be­neath azure skies.

The fes­ti­val, held since the 1990s, lasts for around five days. It was sus­pended for sev­eral years fol­low­ing a 2010 earth­quake in Yushu which killed some 2700 peo­ple.

The Ti­betan peo­ple of the area – known as Kham – are famed for their equine skills.

Shows of horse­man­ship and archery are the fes­ti­val’s main events, draw­ing hun­dreds of spec­ta­tors.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials say that they hope to use the fes­ti­val to show­case Ti­betan cul­ture and bring tourism to the re­mote re­gion.

“You can see the Ti­betan fash­ion show, the jew­ellery, the nice clothes and danc­ing,” said one Ti­betan spec­ta­tor. “A lot of Chi­nese tourists and for­eign­ers come to watch.”

But en­try to the sta­dium for the open­ing cer­e­mony was by ticket only even for lo­cals, with a cor­don and metal gates keep­ing out some would-be at­ten­dees – in con­trast to the free ac­cess of times past, when the event was held on open grass­land.

Bei­jing says its troops “peace­fully lib­er­ated” Ti­bet in 1951 and in­sists it has since brought de­vel­op­ment to a pre­vi­ously back­ward re­gion, where serfs were ex­ploited.

But many Ti­betans ac­cuse of­fi­cials of re­press­ing their re­li­gion and erod­ing their cul­ture, adding that nat­u­ral re­sources are ex­ploited to ben­e­fit China’s eth­nic Han ma­jor­ity at the ex­pense of the en­vi­ron­ment. –

Pho­tos: AFP

The fes­ti­val fea­tures var­i­ous dances, equine sports and archery.

Bud­dhist prayer flags flut­ter in the wind on top of a hill dur­ing the horse show­case.

Pho­tos: AFP

Eth­nic Ti­betans in tra­di­tional dress ride horses while hold­ing flags at a lo­cal gov­ern­ment-spon­sored fes­ti­val in Yushu, in the north­west­ern Chi­nese prov­ince of Qing­hai.

Eth­nic Ti­betans ride horses in tra­di­tional dress.

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