As an old tradition, Khampas from all over the Tibetan Plateau come to trade, celebrate and ride at The Litang Horse Festival every August. A cultural event held in Litang County, Sichuan province, China.

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Kham is referred as the “Ethnic Corridor of Southwest China”

Khampas are Tibetan nomad, usually herders. During the festival horsemanship and horse races are held upon the Tibetan Ponies.

The festival is significant because it helps to establish socio-economic hierarchy in Khampas who participate, and a lot of honour and prestige is placed on who owns the best horse.

The horse-racing festivals takes place across the Kham nomadic regions of western China, drawing thousands of spectators where nomads pitch their tents at the location.

It also boasts markets, entertainments, and competitions to test bravery and horsemanship.

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Kham is a historical region of Tibet covering a land area largely divided between present-day Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan

The town of Litang, home to a high proportion of Tibetans, saw a mass protest during the horse-racing festival of 2007, as the area has a long history of fighting under Chinese rule.

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The Khampa living on the mysterious snowy plateau is said to be the offspring of the god of war and the god of beauty

The standoff began during a festival ceremony Aug. 1, 2007 after police detained a Tibetan nomad for whipping up the crowd to shout in support of the Dalai Lama.

Afterwards the Chinese security forces launched a huge military crackdown in the region, also following the self-immolation protest on March 17 of a monk from Kirti monastery that killed himself.

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The Khampa men can be easily recognized in the crowd with gold or silver accessories

Exile sources say that authorities have detained more than 300 Tibetan monks at a besieged monastery in Sichuan, taking them away in buses and brutally beating local Tibetans who attempted to come to their rescue.

Since the protest, monks at Kirti have resisted a forced campaign of “political re-education” following the protest, sparking clashes between police and local people trying to protect the monks.

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The Khampa women also like wearing some gold and silver accessories

This series of images are from the 2017 Event, that took place 10 years after the 2007 protest and suspension of the event by the local government.

2007 protests

Lithang is home to a high proportion of Tibetans, especially nomads. The town saw a mass protest during a horse-racing festival in mid-August last year, and the area has a long history of chafing under Chinese rule.

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Khams Tibetan is the Tibetic language used by the majority of the people in Kham

The standoff began during a festival ceremony Aug. 1, 2007 after police detained Yonru nomad Ronggyal Adrak for whipping up the crowd to shout in support of the Dalai Lama.

Nomads issued three specific demands, including the release of Ronggyal Adrak, who was later jailed for “splitting the country,” religious freedom including the right to hear teachings by the Dalai Lama, and the release of revered Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, among other prisoners.

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Kham has a rugged terrain characterized by mountain ridges and gorges collectively known as the Hengduan Mountains.

They withdrew only after Tibetan leaders begged them to do so, vowing to restart their protests if the demands weren’t met.

The authorities promptly launched a “patriotic re-education” campaign and posted Tibetan officials away from the area.

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Tenzin Dorjee, a Tibetan monk from Lithang now living in southern India’s Drepung monastery, said the restrictions were being imposed for fear of similar incidents this August. 

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“This year, the Chinese authorities have ordered local people not to organize a horse racing festival,” he said. “Tibetans in Lithang are also now seeing a build-up of Chinese troops.”Tenzin Dorjee

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Fumes - Art, Photography, Ideas
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“They are deployed in different areas in Lithang. A contingent of more than 600 Chinese soldiers is stationed very close to the monastery of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Nyakchuka county. The Chinese army camp is only two miles from the monastery,” Tenzin Dorjee

Patriotic education

Calls to government and police departments in Lithang went unconnected during office hours this week.

The Chinese authorities have launched a concerted “patriotic education” campaign among Tibetans aimed at diminishing support for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for violence that erupted in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, on March 14 following several days of peaceful protests.

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Beijing says that 22 people were killed in rioting, which spread rapidly from Lhasa to other Tibetan areas of western China.

Tibetan sources say scores of people were killed when Chinese paramilitary and police opened fire on crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

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Chinese authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama for instigating the protests and fomenting a Tibetan independence movement. The Dalai Lama rejects the accusation, saying he wants only autonomy and human rights for Tibetans.

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Text & captions by Andrea Capello

All images copyright © 2018 - 2018 Andrea Capello.
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