Following a Trail of Prayer Inside the Pilgrim's Way
Contrary to intuition, one of the best places to experience Tibetan Buddhism is inside China. I learned that the Chinese government places caps on the number of monks allowed to reside in any single Buddhist monastery inside Tibet. In China “proper,” however, these caps don’t apply. Therefore the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery lies within China in the small town of Xiahe. The Labrang Monastery is home to around 1,200 monks of the Yellow Hat Sect. At 10,000 feet above sea level, the air is bright and crisp. Prayer flags cap the mountains and wind horses carpet the ground like fallen leaves. The highlight for me was the Pilgrim’s Way, encompassing the entire monastery with prayer wheels. Though visually stunning, the real power of this holy corridor lay in the humble and earnest pilgrims, turning each prayer wheel as they walked – some healthy, some crippled; some suffering, some carrying another’s burden; some starving, some full but with a deeper void inside – all whirling the printed mantra, om mani padme hum, into the thin mountain air.