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Asia - Tibet
03 July 2010

Children playing street games in the streets of Lhasa, Tibet

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The day we left Shangri-la and flew to Lhasa - for the Chinese authorities would not let us make an eight day landcruiser trip through the mountains to get there - I fell ill. Quite bad this time. Nevertheless I managed to gather some will (or was it mere curiosity that drove me out of bed?) to go and explore the capital of Tibet. And rewarding it was! Though I kind of had to drag myself through the streets, leaning on my girlfriend every now and then, we gazed at the pilgrims circling around the buddhist sanctuaries.

What struck me was that most of them were old people that seemed to have walked for days and days to get here. The real hardcore pilgrims, and we saw a few of them, even came here on their knees, streching their full body length on the pavement every time, thus moving only the length of their bodies each time they moved. An astonishing sight. Hundreds of pilgrims daily circle the Jokhang temple in the Barkhor area, mainly elderly, most of them with prayer wheels: "a cylindrical 'wheel' (Tibetan: 'khor) on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather, or even coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit externally on the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. According to the Tibetan buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers."