One of my first read on Tibet was the journals and books by Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969) the French-Belgian explorer and spiritualist who was among the world’s first woman to venture into the land of snows. Spectacular monasteries surrounded by colourful prayer flags perched on hills and mountainous tops make up the unique scenery of the country rugged landscape with pilgrims walking around holy paths from early dawn for their daily kora (meditative walking), whirling their prayer wheels while murmuring prayers. Land of magic and mysteries, Tibet becomes an inspiration for the literary world such as James Hilton classic novel “Lost Horizon” which tells a story of a utopian world of the fictional Shangri-la. His story soon made into the Big Screen, one directed by Frank Capra (1933) and the other a musical version directed by James Jarrot (1973). Even if things has greatly changed since the early 20th century and despite the ongoing Chinese occupation, it is the beauty of their spirituality which has kept their faith and religious beliefs truly alive. To come see the land of snows during the holy month of the Saga Dawa is probably the best time to visit. The month celebrating the birth and death of Buddha falls on the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar which usually coincides around the end of May. Meditative walks and prayers intensify during the holy month with important rituals taking place around Mount Kailash. The end of the sacred month is climaxed with religious ceremonies in monasteries. This is probably one of the best time to come and visit the monasteries and watch the rituals performed by the Lamas such as the one carried out in the fabulous Kunbum Pelkor Chode monastery in Gyantse. The Kunbum, a nine-tier mandala shaped structure is surmounted by a golden dome, small chapels on each floor decorated with fine exquisite Nepali-Tibetan frescoes and can be visited by climbing clockwise.
Masked Lamas and musicians enter the ceremonial ground to begin the rituals …
Then the magic fills the air, Lamas in their golden embroidered costumes wearing various animal masks whirl around in a circle while moving their arms and legs to the tune of drums and trumpets. And for a moment I seem to be thrown into the utopian world of Shangri-la….