Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Balloon" Day

by Mark

Last Friday our Aimag center celebrated a Buddhist holiday by having one of about three candle-lighting days of the year. Basically the large hill ("Bulgan Mountain") on the north edge of town gets covered in candles. People take carved out potatoes full of wax up the mountain side, light the wick, maybe say a prayer, place the candle in a crevasse, and then climb back down. Since Kara works for the Department for Children, she and a co-worker were responsible for the kid's candle-lighting portion of the event. This started at 4pm with kids wandering over the face of the hill...

This video is a view from about half way up the mountain - just behind the large Buddha statue you may have seen in past pictures. You have to realize it's about -15 C at this time of day, and no matter how many layers you've got on, you stay out there long enough you're going to get a bit chilly. Kara was kind enough to give some of the Mongolians with what must've appeared to be magic dirt - also known as those little Hand Warmer packets. I decided that I'd arrive to the event just before the scheduled start time of 6pm. It quickly became dark as the program began. After issues with the microphone were fixed, hundreds gathered for the first ever "balloon" release. Now, these aren't really balloons per se...they're more like nylon parachutes with a candle at the base - the heat from the candle burning assists in the rising of the "balloon". 2009 was the first year they attempted this and I have to admit I was quite shocked that it basically went off without a hitch. (Except that I don't think anybody was designated as part of the clean-up crew because the next day hundreds of balloons were scattered around town.) Here's a couple videos of the first "balloons" being released a little early (sorry, it's a bit dark) - everyone was trying to get the "show" started early. I can't blame them, it was freezing.

It quickly got colder as the sun went down, so at about 7:15pm I was you can only imagine how cold Kara had gotten by then. We lumbered back down the hill, frequently turning around to see the spectacle that was dozens and dozens of lighted parachutes. We decided pictures would have to tell most of the story because we were so cold we probably don't remember half the walk enjoy!

One kid as he received his potato candle to place on the hill.

Kids and adults placing their candles on the hillside.

Men in their dels (traditional Mongolian clothing.
I'm pretty sure the men with the big maroon wraps are lamas.

People releasing a balloon into the air.

A glimpse from a distance of the hundreds of balloons floating away.

1 comment:

akmonki said...

Very cool to get a visual of the balloon/potato event you described to me. It looks pretty surreal/cold. I suppose I ought to check up on your blogs more often---