Posts in Educational
Pilgrimage Pure Perception

Jigme Gyalwe Nyugu recounts a pilgrimage he made in his youth with his teacher and Dharma brother, the First Dodrupchen Rinpoche, walking through a no-man’s-land in the Yadrog area of central Tibet. His teacher got very sick but remained very cheerful. Jigme Gyalwe Nyugu writes:
When we, teacher and disciple, were going downward in Yadrog Valley, the Lord Lama Dodrupchen got seriously sick from an imbalance of the air humor and rheumatism. He was in constant excruciating pain and became so weak that he was almost dying. We didn’t have much to eat except a piece of rotten animal fat and a pot of oil. We didn’t have even a spoonful of tsampa. We drank black tea.

After he sat down to rest, in order for him to stand, I had to help him by pulling him up with the full strength of my two hands. Although physically he was in critical condition, instead of being depressed, he would say: ‘‘Oh, today I have a chance to pursue a little austerity in Dharma practice by putting pressure on my mortal, wild body and my hurting, greedy mind. I am achieving the essence for my precious human life. . . . There is no doubt that the hard experiences I am going through are the fortunate fruitions produced by the accumulation of merits and purification of obscurations in my numerous lives in the past.’’ There was great joy in his mind.

I also was joyful, thinking, ‘‘It is wonderful that this lord lama is putting into practice what the Buddha taught:

‘Preserve Dharma forever,
By [at the cost of even] crossing [a wall of] flames and [a field of] razors.’ ’’

Source: The Healing Power of Mind, Tulku Thondup

Choosing the Right Footwear for Tibet

During your Sangha Journeys pilgrimage to Tibet, you will encounter a variety of different walking conditions, from paved city streets to rocky rough paths. Sangha Journeys pilgrimages are typically not physically strenuous, but you will be encountering different types of terrain and weather, so it's a good idea to be prepared with the right footwear to support your comfort and safety.

The ideal walking shoe for Tibet will feature a comfortable, non-slip sole, a cushioned foot bed, and reliable laces or straps to keep shoes securely on your feet even if we encounter mud. If you purchase new shoes for your trip, please walk in them for several weeks or even months before you travel so that you are familiar with them, and so that they are well broken-in.

You will also want to bring several pairs of clean socks that have a cushioned sole, or that will wick away moisture, in case we encounter rain. Spraying your shoes with a layer of waterproofing is not a bad idea, either, as June through September can be rainy. If your feet are prone to dryness, make sure to bring a nourishing lotion to use at night, since high altitude can exacerbate dry skin.

As you are walking through Tibet in your own comfortable shoes or sneakers, be sure to check out the beauty of the local footwear, too!

tibetan shoes.jpg
EducationalYeshe Matthews
Experience Landing in Lhasa

We'll be landing in Lhasa — July 3, 2018!

The flight from Chengdu to Lhasa is unforgettable as it passes over the Himalaya and the river gorges of Kham. Arriving at Gongkar Airport, our guides and driver will greet us, and hopefully a few Tsogyal Latso nuns. 

From there, it's a 45-minute scenic drive to Lhasa and the lovely Kyichu Hotel, where we can relax, enjoy a meal at the great on-site restaurant (Nepalese and Western fare), enjoy tea or cappuccino in the garden cafe, and begin getting used to the idea that we are in Lhasa!

Buddhist scholar, Stephen Batchelor, describes the origins of this holy city:

"Rasa, the summer capital of the Yarlung Empire, was probably no more than a small town. Its name literally meant “Place of the Goat...the cathedral erected on this site was called the Jokhang ('House that Enshrines the Jowo (i.e. the Buddha)') and the city was renamed 'Lhasa,' which means 'Place of the Gods.'  A Tibetan etymology explains the word thus: 'The city is called the Place (sa) of the Gods (lha) because it is as though a lofty realm of the devas had fallen to earth (s a) through the richness of the Dharma.'"

If you feel like exploring, the famous Barkhor surrounding the Jokhang is just a ten-minute walk from our hotel. The Barkhor is fantastic for people watching, mingling with Tibetans and of course, spiritual practice.

Our first morning in Lhasa, we will move slowly, with plenty of free time to have breakfast and adjust. If you would like to explore, possibilities include the Barkhor and circumambulating the Jokhang or just mingling in the streets. 

After lunch, we go inside the Jokhang temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the spiritual heart of Lhasa and Tibetan Buddhism. Revered as the most sacred of all temples in Tibet, it houses the Jowo Shakyamuni statue believed to be an image of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. Built by Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal in the early seventh century, the Jokhang was built on an important geomantic site and has undergone continuous renovations through the centuries. We highly recommend you learn more about the fascinating architecture and history of the Jokhang before the pilgrimage.

Later in the day, we will walk to nearby Ramoche Temple, the second most important temple in Lhasa. Founded by Princess Wen Cheng, Ramoche is reputed to be her burial site, which she divined as having a direct connection with the subterranean crystal palace of the nagas. Inside, there is a life-size statue of the eight-year-old Shakyamuni that was brought to Tibet by the Nepalese Princess.

All in all, the first day in central Tibet is out of this world!

Is 2018 your year to experience and connect with the holy temples and sites of Vajrayana?

High Altitude: the first few days

If you live below an elevation of 5,000 feet, it may take a few days to adjust to moving around at high altitude. Your body needs to adjust to the amount of oxygen in the air and the new environment. Sangha Journeys plans easy, low-exertion activities for your first few days above 10,000 feet. To help you acclimate, you might consider the following steps:

Did you know there are 432 steps up to the Potala Palace?

Did you know there are 432 steps up to the Potala Palace?


  • Drink lots of water. Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo recommends one bottle of water per hour for best results.
  • Take it easy. Walk slowly, don't stand up too quickly, and don't overdo it. Try to center yourself in a meditative and mindful state, and move your body gently.
  • Let nature help you. There are several natural remedies on the market that might help you acclimate to high altitude. Mountaineering blogs recommend a wide variety of herbal supplements, including ChlorOxygen and Acli-Mate Mountain Drink. Sangha Journeys does not represent any product, but we encourage you to research on your own if natural supplements are helpful to you.
  • Get a Doctor's Advice. Your doctor can discuss the potential effects of altitude on your body when you go for a regular check-up, and might recommend a prescription medication to help prevent altitude sickness.
  • Wait it out. Usually, even if you have some symptoms of altitude sickness (queasiness, slight headache, mild discomfort) they will disappear within a few days of your adjustment. If things don't improve, our guide can help you find local medicine.


EducationalYeshe Matthews
Preparing Your Body for Pilgrimage

A pilgrimage presents opportunities to create strength, both in practice and in the body. Good health can be cultivated in the months leading up to your trip which will be beneficial to your pilgrimage experience.

Here are some tips to create optimum physical conditions for your journey:

  • Take vitamins regularly and try to avoid illness in the weeks before entering Tibet.
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest and sleep before your trip.
  • Hydrate yourself heavily before arriving in Tibet.
  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol before and during your journey.
  • Before you go and while you are there, consume small, high carbohydrate meals for more energy. 
  • Exercise regularly in the months before your pilgrimage, especially pay attention to cardio.
  • Talk with your doctor about altitude sickness prevention and treatment, blood pressure regulation, and heart health.

Preparing your body for Tibet is an exercise in self-care. Paying good attention to your well-being, however that works for you, will help you be ready for the circumstances you might encounter on your sacred sangha journey. However, even more than the body, be sure to prepare your mind.

Level of Difficulty in 2018:

Central Tibet & Kailash: The three-day circumambulation of Kailash is considered difficult. However, once you reach Darchen, you can hire a horse and horseperson or a porter to carry your stuff.

Easter Tibetan (Kham, Amdo and Golok): there are no strenuous hikes

EducationalYeshe Matthews
Sacred Places in Vajrayana
Go to the mountain tops, charnel grounds, islets, and fairgrounds…
Places that make the mind waver,
And let the mind project innumerable thoughts.
Fuse them with the view and practice of spontaneous liberation,
Then all arises as the Path.
— Longchenpa

Pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor and an important devotional practice for all spiritual seekers. Regardless of religion, pilgrimage always involves a journey to one or more sacred places. How are sacred places understood in Vajrayana?

First, because the origin of all places, without exception, is the radiant luminosity of the nature of reality, Vajrayana holds that all places are ultimately pure. As it is stated:

In the primordial basis, there is nothing at all.
Yet, from this basis, all appearances rise.

To the enlightened, places appear but are immaterial. From such places, apparent loci manifest to benefit the unenlightened. Those of great spiritual development experience them as the pure lands of buddhas and deities. Those of moderate development experience them as sacred places or power sites and those who are spiritually immature experience them as ordinary places made of earth, water, fire, wind and space.

According to Vajrayana, there are countless sacred places in the world and in relation to Tibetan Vajrayana, throughout the Himalaya. These are all branches of the thirty-two principal sacred places that are sourced in legendary time, in the elements of the true nature of reality. Some of the secondary sacred places are natural and some have become sacred by virtue of narrative history such as having been consecrated by masters, awareness-holders, and yogins. It is also the view of Vajrayana that these secondary places are the appearances in the external world of the impure channels, energy winds, and vital essences of the inner subtle body which practitioners strive to purify. 

There are various enumerations of these secondary places, but in general, they include:

  • 5 supreme places for meditation
  • 5 supreme places of enlightenment's body, speech, and mind
  • 25 wondrous great places
  • 5 valleys, 3 provinces, and 1 park
  • 8 major meditation places
  • 4 snow mountain ranges
  • 21 hidden regions
  • 21 snow mountains
  • 108 major sacred places
  • 1002 minor sacred places
The two—the person and the place—merge as one.
There is nothing to see: the viewer is at the very basis empty.
Meditation is impossible: the meditator has vanished into the absolute expanse.

Throughout Sangha Journeys pilgrimages, we will enter monasteries and temples filled with sacred icons and libraries, walk the land and visit caves, hermitages. We will meet lamas, monastics and practicing householders, and there will be many opportunities to make offerings, pray and meditate.

Guru Rinpoche himself was a pilgrim. With Yeshe Tsogyal, he traveled to all the Himalayan sacred sites, concealing his spiritual treasures for the future benefit of others. Later, the greatest Tibetan masters were also pilgrims, often undertaking several long and arduous journeys in their lifetimes and writing guides to pilgrimage sites. And last but not least, the Tibetan people themselves, despite unfavorable circumstances, have continued the practice of pilgrimage and rebuilding sacred sites.

Highlights from our 2017 Pilgrimage to Central Tibet & Mt. Kailash!

Sangha Journeys spends a lot of time planning the details of our trip itineraries. One of our goals is to offer many opportunities for pilgrims to make living, authentic, connections with the sacred sites and find inspiration for their spiritual paths. Here are some highlights from 2017 

Jokhang Temple. The Jokhang is the spiritual heart of Lhasa and of Tibetan Buddhism. The most sacred of all temples, it's home to a very special Shakyamuni statue. Texts such as the 11th century Vase-Shaped Pillar Testament suggest that the Jowo Shakyamuni was sculpted from a life portrait of the Buddha. In the 7th century the Chinese princess, Wencheng is said to have brought it to Tibet as part of her marriage dowry to emperor Songtsen Gampo in 641.

Tibetan pilgrims praying outside the Jokhang. Photo Dechen Steele.

Tibetan pilgrims praying outside the Jokhang. Photo Dechen Steele.

Main temple and black stupa at Samye. Photo Dechen Steele.

Main temple and black stupa at Samye. Photo Dechen Steele.

Samye. Samye was the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet during the time of King Trisong Detsen (8th century). This architectural complex is a model of Mahayana Buddhist cosmology featuring the main temple and peripheral branch temples that represent Mt. Meru and the four continents. The buildings have been re-constructed throughout the centuries. Today, there are four gates, four stupas, the central temple and satellite temples and just in the past two years, great landscaping. It's truly an incredible place!

Tsogyal Latso. Tsogyal Latso is the birthplace of Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal. Cradled in a valley that legend honors as the abode of Vajra Varahi and Saraswati, it is well known for Tsogyal's life-force lake or latso that spontaneously arose at her birth. Within walking distance are two natural springs believed to flow with Tsogyal's miraculous breast milk, the original life-force tree that nourished her as a baby, and a stupa marking her actual birthplace.

Our 2017 group enjoying the springs at Tsogyal Latso. Video Dechen Steele.

We made it! Our 2017 group, after the 3 day Mt. Kailash circuit. Photo Laura Marchelya.

We made it! Our 2017 group, after the 3 day Mt. Kailash circuit. Photo Laura Marchelya.

"Tibetans are doing kora around Kailash because we believe it is a home of Buddha and countless deities. Kora cleanses bad karma that we have gained via so many lifetimes, and it is believed that it is not only helpful after death but brings good luck and prosperity in our present life." -Tsewang Lhamo, our 2017 guide with Road To Tibet

Mount Kailash. Located in Western Tibet, Kailash is sacred to almost one-fifth of humankind. Serving as the watershed of South Asia, its magnificent peak lies near the source of the Indus, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers. Kailash is an interfaith pilgrimage site shared by Buddhists, Hindus, Bonpos, and Jains. Following traditions that span a millennium, every year thousands of pilgrims travel to circumambulate on foot. Starting at 4,600 m./15,000 ft. and going as high a 5,500 m./18,200 ft., trekking or pilgrimage around Kailash takes about three days.

Mount Everest. This is the highest mountain in the world. The most common Tibetan name for Everest is Chomolungma, meaning Goddess Mother of the World or Goddess of the Valley. The Sanskrit name, Sagarmatha, means Peak of Heaven.

North face of Everest peaking out of the morning clouds. Photo Laura Marchelya.

North face of Everest peaking out of the morning clouds. Photo Laura Marchelya.

Dakini Day at Lake Manasarovar. Photo Laura Marchelya.

Dakini Day at Lake Manasarovar. Photo Laura Marchelya.

Lake Manasarovar. This is the world's highest freshwater lake. At the southern foot of Mt. Kailash, the lake is exceptionally beautiful. According to Hindu mythology, it was created by Lord Brahma. According to Buddhism, it is said that Lord Buddha was conceived at this very lake and that Padmasambhava spent his last seven days in Tibet here at the lakeshore Chi'u Monastery.

Guge Kingdom. Founded in the 10th century by a descendant of a Tibetan King, Guge's emergence marked the second promulgation of Buddhism in Tibet. Lost in the 17th century under mysterious circumstances, it was rediscovered in the 1930's by the Italian explorer, Guiseppe Tucci.  Today the area includes houses, caves, monasteries, stupas, sculptures, carvings and well-preserved original murals.

Reconstructed monastery on the top of hill amongst the ancient ruins. Photo Dechen Steele

Reconstructed monastery on the top of hill amongst the ancient ruins. Photo Dechen Steele

Author: Dechen Steele