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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Gali Tibbon

Jun27

Walk like a Tibetan

By Gali Tibbon, Friday June 27, 2014
An Amdo Tibetan woman prays as she walks the Kora, the pilgrim's path, at the Labrang Buddhist Monastery in Xiahe, China. At almost 3,000 metres above sea level, Xiahe is home to the biggest Tibetan monastery outside Lhasa with more than 3,000 monks. It is also the main pilgrimage site for Tibetan people outside Lhasa.

An Amdo Tibetan woman prays as she walks the Kora, the pilgrim's path, at the Labrang Buddhist Monastery in Xiahe, China. At almost 3,000 metres above sea level, Xiahe is home to the biggest Tibetan monastery outside Lhasa with more than 3,000 monks. It is also the main pilgrimage site for Tibetan people outside Lhasa. © Gali Tibbon

I was invited to China recently for the UNESCO Humanity Photo Awards. After a few days in Beijing I decided it was time to get out of the big city and go to the Gansu province where the Amdo Tibet people live – its is also home to the Labrang Monastery.

The journey was pretty long, and at one point I had doubts that the driver who took me from the local airport actually understood where I was heading. After a six-hour drive I finally arrived and the minute I saw the town I knew my decision to go there was the right one.

Almost 3,000 metres above sea level, the place had a good feeling. Xiahe, the town which is home to the biggest Tibetan monastery outside Lhasa, with more than 3,000 monks, is also the main pilgrimage site for Tibetan people outside of Lhasa and the reason I decided to visit.

Crowds of Amdo Tibetan pilgrims, nomads and locals come to follow the Kora (pilgrim path) which is a little over three kilometres long. The Kora encircles the monastery and is lined with long rows of prayer wheels, stupas and temples. Tibetan pilgrims in traditional outfits, holding prayer beads in their left hand (and wearing a glove on their right hand for spinning the prayer wheels) walk clockwise along the path, rotating the prayer wheels as they go.

Spirtual being that I am, I walked the Kora two-and-a-half times in the same day, meeting the friendly Tibetan people who seemed to be very curious about me – the ladies particularly about my jewellery (it was mutual!). I followed different groups of pilgrims, realising that some of them had walked the Kora at least four times in a row, not missing a single prayer wheel, while others prostrated themselves every third step.

You couldn’t look down an alley of this monastic town without spotting the crimson robes of a Labrang monk, but somehow I was more fascinated by the ordinary people. I have travelled to many pilgrimage sites around the world but the devotion of the Tibetan people overwhelmed me. Or maybe it was the thin air at that altitude...

An Amdo Tibetan woman spins a large prayer wheel as she walks the Kora, the pilgrim's path at the Labrang Buddhist Monastery in Xiahe, China.

An Amdo Tibetan woman spins a large prayer wheel as she walks the Kora, the pilgrim's path at the Labrang Buddhist Monastery in Xiahe, China. © Gali Tibbon

An Amdo Tibetan pilgrim prostrates herself on the ground along the Kora, the pilgrim's path at the Labrang Buddhist Monastery in Xiahe, China.

An Amdo Tibetan pilgrim prostrates herself on the ground along the Kora, the pilgrim's path at the Labrang Buddhist Monastery in Xiahe, China. © Gali Tibbon