The first "book" Tsering Dondrup read as a child was a Tibetan calendar his parents used to consult for weather information and ideal dates for ploughing and harvesting.
"We had a new booklet every year. The colors of the covers varied, but there was always a delicate painting of cattle ploughing the fields in early spring," remembers Tsering Dondrup, a Lhasa resident whose hair has now turned gray.
As he aged, he learned that years in the Tibetan calendar were identified with different colors including white, black, green, yellow and red. "Yellow stands for the year of the earth, while blue, green and red stand for water, wood and fire respectively," he says.
The year 2012, for example, is the "Year of the Water Dragon," so the corresponding calendar has a blue cover.
But the cattle ploughing scenes hold much greater significance than that, he says of the calendars, which bear a fascinating history and continuing practical application that is often overlooked among more prominent elements of Chinese culture.
"The colors and postures of the cattle's head, horns, mouth, hooves and tail tell the weather conditions of different periods of the year and help farmers decide the time for ploughing and harvest," Tsering Dondrup explains.
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