At 14,000 feet, Ladakh’s Maan village shakes off its winter slumber with the Maan Deram Chenmo festival – but things are changing
Story by: Tsewang Dorje
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As little kids, my brothers, sisters and I eagerly awaited the end of the long, cold winter. We live 14,000 feet high in Maan village, on the shores of the famous Pangong Lake. In winter, the lake completely freezes over. Average temperatures often go below -30 degrees Celsius. Everything looks white!
But the month of April brings with it the promise of warmer days – and the biggest annual festival in our village: the Maan Deram Chenmo festival.
Under the warm spring sun, the entire Pangong Lake melts at the same time. The water reflects beautiful shades of blue. Divided by manmade boundaries and united by the Himalayas, the lake is sacred in our community. We do not bathe or wash clothes in it.
As the lake melts, our village wakes up from its winter slumber too.
The Maan Deram Chenmo festival marks the beginning of the farming season and includes sports like archery and horse riding. People from the entire region, right from Merak to Spangmik, came to Maan to witness the beauty of Pangong Lake and welcome summer together.
Unfortunately this year, with the China conflict, only a few could attend the festival as communications lines were stopped and we couldn’t speak to anyone outside.
Back in my childhood, I longed to perfect my archery skills so I could participate in the festival too. My father would teach me and assure me that I’d grow up one day. I would constantly pester him to give me chhang (the local barley beer) but he always refused!
Many years later, when I was old enough, I hit the target in archery during the festival and was honored with the khatak (traditional scarf) and chhang!
During the festival, we also offer butter, barley and flowers to Lhato, the protector of our village. We believe that he protects our people from problems such as famines and enemies such as China. He ensures abundance of food for our livestock. We exhibit thangkas on our monastery walls to remind us of Buddha’s teachings.
As the weather becomes warmer, we dress up in our traditional clothes and feast on snacks and solja – the local tea brewed with butter and salt. At night, under the starry skies on the shores of Pangong, we bid goodbye to winter, drink chhang and dance late into the night.
Sometimes I worry that the youth are losing their excitement for the festival. Only a few know how to ride horses. Only the older people know the traditional festival songs. Only a few understand how Maan Deram Chenmo brings us together.
I hope that this celebration, started by our ancestors nearly 600 years ago, won’t get lost in time.
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