If you have spent any serious amount of time in Tibet, then chances are you have come across Tibetans on pilgrimage. In the past 7+ years I have come across many. No matter what religious background you come from, seeing Tibetans on pilgrimage should amaze you. Most pilgrimages are to places far away from people's home town or village. They often take a year or more. They walk, prostrating all the way to the ground every 6 steps (or sometimes every 3 steps!). The young man pictured above was from Riwoche and was on his way to Lhasa. He was about 2 weeks into his journey. I asked him how long it would take him to reach Lhasa and he told me it would take about 6 to 8 months. This is a relatively short pilgrimage. I have had friends from Amdo tell me they were going on pilgrimage to Lhasa or Mt. Kailash and it would take them 12 to 15 months or more.
Tibetans on pilgrimage usually wear wood blocks on their hands for protection against the road. They also wear an apron made of sheep skin to protect their clothes. Sometimes, like in the picture below, you will see pilgrims putting rubber from old tires on the bottom of their shoes to prolong the life of their shoes. They bring few things with them. They often rely on Tibetans they meet along the way for food and shelter. Sometimes they go alone, but other times they will have 2 or 3 others with them. If they are traveling in groups, they take their steps in unison and all prostrate together at the same time. While walking and prostrating, they chant their prayers or mantra's. This monk in the second picture was from Amdo on his way to the Gyanak Mani Temple in Jyekundo.
The capital city of Lhasa is the most popular pilgrimage destination. Other important places to go for pilgrimage are the holy mountains of Kailash and Amnye Machen. Pilgrims will walk to these holy mountains and then walk the kora's (circuit's) around the mountain. Another pilgrimage destination is to India which requires walking across the Himalaya Mountains. Anybody can go on pilgrimage. If you take the bus from Xining (Silang) or Golmud to Lhasa you will often see monks walking to Lhasa, but it is also common to see lay people and even children. Weather conditions can be harsh. Much of the northern Tibetan Plateau is frozen all year long and can reach -30C or colder in the winter. There are few hotels and restaurants along many of the pilgrimage paths. The dedication that Tibetans show during a pilgrimage is unbelievable. It never ceases to amaze me.
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