Picnics are at the core of the Tibetan concept of leisure. With cities as hubs for commerce, city dwellers seek out nature as a source of enjoyment and relaxation during the summer months. Equally nomads who live a hard life embrace picnics as the ultimate form of leisure, taking a break from their usual chores to spend time with friends and relatives in a beautiful spot.
Summer in Tibet is marked by clusters of tents dotting the pasture, not the nomad’s black, yak hair tents, but canvas ones, decorated with blue or multicolored patterns. There are family picnics, clan picnics, friends picnics and monk picnics, which precede the summer retreat. In Labrang, monks pitch their tents on the Sankhe plain and enjoy themselves for ten days, cooking, eating and playing games.
Sometime at the beginning of the 20th century, someone came up with the picnic tent concept, soon to become the norm, a canvas tent with a white base decorated with appliqued motifs. These tents can be outrageously bright and colorful or a more subdued black or navy on a white base.
A serious picnic has to last at least three days, and the ones following the Zamling Chisang Festival in Central Tibet can go on for two weeks. Families pack their belongings on carts or blue camels, pitch their tents and furnish them with carpets, cushions and tables. Picnic spots are carefully chosen and perfect ones have many attributes: cushy, abundant grass, a commanding view, protection from wind, and proximity to a river or stream. Food is at the top of the agenda, with a whole kitchen tent set up, families outdoing each other with fancy dishes and new culinary creations. For children, it is paradise. They meet all their friends, swim and explore, with adults too engrossed in their own activities to mind what they are doing.
Picnics celebrate the short summer, the warm sun, the long days, the expanse of wild flowers. Fun, in the form of pranks, water fights, games, dancing and singing diffuse pressure and stress. Interaction and laughter shared with relatives and community members reinforces and enhances bonds and ties.
This year, Norlha’s annual picnic was celebrated in mid-August. A preparation committee was appointed to organize food, while also setting up tents and organising activities. The spot was a beautiful meadow on the hill above the workshop, a winter grazing area for yak and sheep. In midsummer, it is carpeted with wild flowers and offers a breathtaking view over the surrounding expanse of grassland. The three days offered its usual fare of games, singing and wonderful food. The weather was perfect and everyone, from big to small, had a wonderful time.