Dharamsala, February 9 - With snow-clad mountains and decorated, freshly painted homes, the look is perfect and so is the mood as excitement builds up for the three-day Tibetan New Year festivities.
The intermittent rain and snow have failed to keep shoppers out of the main Tibetan market in McLeodganj, in uptown Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
The atmosphere is one of jubilation in the main Tibetan settlement and abode of the Dalai Lama on day one of Losar, the traditional name of the festival.
The Losar (Lo-Gsar) heralds the first day of the first month of the New Year, which usually falls in February-March every year. And D-Day is Feb 9, Wednesday, this year.
But, as in every other festival, the spadework begins earlier. The rituals for purging evil thoughts from the community before ushering in the New Year starts on the 29th day of a year's last month.
The rituals are unique and hold enormous significance for the local people.
Much store is laid by the gutuk, for instance. The special dish, consisting of nine ingredients, is prepared at home and all Tibetan families assemble to take their share.
It is a sort of stuffed dumpling containing things like charcoal, cotton, salt or chilly pepper, each of which indicates one's future in the coming new year.
Accordingly, a person who gets a charcoal-stuffed dumpling is condemned as black-hearted. A salt dumpling will win you wide acclaim. The chilly pepper one indicates a bad temper and the cotton a soft-hearted person. And so a Tibetan's future in the New Year is determined.
Then there is the ritual of the 'zor tarma', which exorcises the ills of the past year.
In this, a 'torma', a sacrificial cake, and an effigy made of kneaded dough known as 'lu' is carried to a lonely place, maybe a crossroad, along with other leftovers and offered to the spirits by throwing them in a bonfire.
The ritual of communal cleansing over, people return home and make it a point not to look back in case the evil returns with them! And so vanish the misfortunes and negative vibes of the previous year.
All ready to usher in the New Year, people paint their kitchen walls with flour solution and draw images of the eight deities symbolising good fortune. Doorsteps are painted with the auspicious swastika symbol.
And when festivities are the order of the day, can food be far behind? Special food and articles meant for prayer on the first day of Losar are usually placed on the altar of the chapel the previous evening. Delicacies like khu-khu, gachen, nayahok, mokdung, khab-se and, of course, the famous Tibetan beer chaang are hot favourites.
Though Losar is officially celebrated for three days, typical Tibetan households celebrate for 10 days.
Day one is called Lama Losar (the day of the guru) and is dedicated to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetans.
Tradition dictates that the day begins with long prayers in the main temple at McLeodganj. Officials, ministers of the Tibetan government-in-exile and other dignitaries assemble in the congregation hall of the temple to pray for the well- being and long life of the Dalai Lama, who in turn blesses them all.
As a mark of respect to the king of Tibet, the second day is observed as the King's Losar (the day of the king). It is said that before 1959 the King's Losar would give an opportunity to the king and monks from Ladakh, Nepal, China, India and Bhutan to greet the Dalai Lama.
The third and last day is officially observed in the temple in the presence of the Dalai Lama. All local deities of the Tibetan community are kept together and worshipped amid burning incense and Yak butter lamps accompanied by drumbeats.
During Losar, all Lamas and Tibet government officials wear the sacred white scarf 'khatag' to show their respect to His Holiness. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama through his oracle makes a forecast on this day.
The disastrous earthquake of Gujarat, on Jan 26, 2001, had been predicted a year earlier by the Dalai Lama on the third day of the February 2000 Losar.
Losar is said to have its inception in the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet. Legend has it that before Buddhism, Tibetans practised the Bon religion.
According to some, Losar was first celebrated in the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region of Tibet coinciding with the blossoming of apricot trees, which is why it is known as a farmers' festival.