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A Month In China Part 6: The Home God Festival

We were awoken from our slumber by the odd sound of "wooooo" off in the distance. We all lay tucked in our sleeping bags for a while before our guide came and got us to start the day. The trek that we were on was not one of their normal treks because today was a special day. Today was the Home God Festival where the nomads celebrate the time when their ancestors decided to stop fighting with each other and lay down their arms. We trudged to the top of the ridge and took in the events at the top. Basically there were four "stations," for lack of a better term, each a part of the ritual and each accompanied by the throwing of prayer papers in the air and the "wooooooo"ing.

The first station was the symbolic laying down of arms where the people (only men, the whole festival is male-centric, we didn't see a single woman participating) brought huge wooden spears to add to the pile from the years before. The spears were then wrapped in homespun yak wool.

The next station involved the burning of a sacrifice.

Next came the most entertaining station. At this point the people circled a small stack of spears covered in prayer flags and really let their inner "woooooo" out. By the way, I should mention that most people did this on foot, but there were a handful of people on horseback mixed in as well as the occasional person on motorcycle. Nobody got injured as far as I could tell but I definitely wouldn't call the whole process "safe."

The final station involved tying new strings of prayer flags atop the highest point of the ridge. From here you could get a great view of the whole spectacle as well as the impromptu village and horse track set up for later in the day.

No, it wasn't snowing. All of the white are tiny 1"x1" prayer papers.

We watched the festivities for a while before heading back down to our own tent for breakfast. We ate, packed up, said goodbye to our hosts and then hopped on our horses to head to the horse racing. The races are a tradition of the festival and everyone from near and far turns out to either participate or watch. The race we were going to was not the one we could see from the top of the ridge but a race that was closer to the tent of our guide and where we would be staying that evening.

The track was just a string of flags that they were putting up just as we arrived. Everyone sits inside the circle, which according to our guide is about a kilometer around, while the race happens on the outside. First the rules and race assignments are discussed, then the racing and watching begins. It is great fun for everyone as they all sit around, chat, joke, smoke cigarettes and enjoy the festivities.

(Side note, this young boy who couldn't have been more than 13 years old actually won a couple of the heats, it was pretty impressive)

The races lasted about 3 hours, which was perfect timing. Just as the races were ending the wind started to pick up and a bit of rain started to fall. Even in July the rain at 12,000 feet is not so pleasant but fortunately we had wraps that helped keep us warm and dry for the ride to our guide's family's tent. By the time we arrived the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to set. We watched again as the families rounded up the yak and sheep and we got to meet their new Tibetan mastiff puppy that would have happily eaten me given the chance. The sun finally set on an amazing day and we went into the tent for dinner and another night tucked in and cozy in our yak-wool tent.

Until the next time,


In case you missed any of the previous installments here are some links for you:

Also, don't forget, you can always find many of these photographs and more for sale on my website HERE.

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