Since the inauguration of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in 2008, I have embarked on three profound journeys to Tibet. Each visit has been a pilgrimage of the soul, offering a glimpse into the unwavering faith and blessings that permeate the Tibetan landscapes.

My initial visit during the Tibetan New Year in 2008 allowed me to explore the wonders of Lhasa, where I celebrated the Tibetan New Year and explored iconic sites like the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple. In 2010, I ventured on a self-driven journey from Lhasa to the majestic Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Nyingchi. The culmination was a 23-day, 10,000-kilometer road trip in 2014, navigating the challenging terrains of the Dian-Zang, Sichuan-Tibet, and Qinghai-Tibet highways.

the Sacred Act of Prostration in Tibet

Witnessing Devotion Along the Pilgrimage Routes

The highways leading to Lhasa, such as the Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet routes, are adorned with the awe-inspiring sight of devout pilgrims engaged in the sacred act of prostration, known as kowtowing. Men, women, the elderly, and the young alike, journey hand in hand or solo,donning sturdy canvas aprons. Dust-covered faces tell tales of their pilgrimage along the highways, where every three steps mark a heartfelt bow towards their sacred destination – Lhasa.

Kowtowing worship for Tibetan Buddhists

Dedication and Endurance on the Pilgrimage Path

Kowtowing is the most devout form of worship for Tibetan Buddhists. This ritual involves a meticulous sequence of steps, a physical manifestation of reverence for the body, speech, and mind. The act of prostration unifies these elements, creating a harmonious connection with the divine.

Devotees kowtow tirelessly, overcoming challenges such as river crossings and treacherous terrains. At night, they restart their journey from the previous day's mark, believing that only through this relentless dedication can they express their reverence to the sacred spirit. The resilience and sincerity displayed by these pilgrims are truly commendable.

pilgrimage worship in Tibet

A Journey of Faith

At the Sela Pass, approximately 400 kilometers from Lhasa, I encountered several groups of kowtowing devotees. Among them were individuals from Ganzi, Sichuan, who had covered over 1,000 kilometers along the Sichuan-Tibet highway, facing adversities like mudslides, rockfalls, and avalanches. Their faces, covered in dust, bore the marks of their challenging journey. Despite worn-out shoes and patched aprons, their shining eyes and serene expressions evoked deep respect.

For many believers, a pilgrimage to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa is a lifelong aspiration. Despite their hard work and frugal lifestyles, when the time comes for the pilgrimage, they willingly sell their possessions, with the majority donated to the monasteries. Some set out with no money, relying on alms for sustenance. The local Tibetan people hold these kowtowing pilgrims in high regard, often providing assistance along their arduous journey.

In front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, there is always a crowd of devotees engaged in the sacred act of prostration. Starting from the main entrance of the Jokhang Temple, they move in a clockwise direction, bowing every three steps as they circumambulate the temple. Despite the rigors of their devotional practice, their faces display neither fatigue nor pain; instead, they radiate happiness and joy, brimming with sincere devotion.

This may be what the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore said - people with faith are happy.

tibet kowtowing culture


The pilgrimage is not just a physical endeavor but a spiritual odyssey. Kowtowing pilgrims, driven by unwavering faith, endure hardships with a tranquil and dignified demeanor. As I stood witness to their devotion in front of the Jokhang Temple and along the Barkhor Street, I couldn't help but be moved by the profound sense of happiness and joy radiating from their faces.


Related Articles:

Where is Tibet and Why is Tibet the Sacred Land in Our Hearts?

Have You Witnessed People Pilgrims In Prostrate Worship In Tibet

Buddhism: Basic Beliefs

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism

The Distinctive Character of Tibetan Buddhism


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