A sprawling collection of colourful buildings appears suddenly as I crest the final hill. Ganden is one of Tibet’s ‘great three’ monasteries and is set into the mountain in such a way that it has been invisible until this moment. It’s a sight to take one’s breath away and a testament to the deep and persistent faith of the Tibetan people that despite all the odds, it remains there to this day.

Tibet Expert Snapshot
Tibet Expert Snapshot

Stepping over the huge oak threshold, I am instantly transported from the piercing sunlight to an altogether more mysterious world where it’s impossible not to feel a little bit spiritual. A ray of sunlight shines a spotlight on silks and golden chalices. A burgundy-clad monk appears in a doorway, rosary beads threaded through his fingers. He catches my eye for the briefest of moments and vanishes again. In the dark, the air is heavy with the smell of the past.

Back in the daylight, I tread the ancient kora – a pilgrimage path with jaw-dropping views across the vast expanses of the Kyi-chu Valley. The way is marked with shrines brimming with miniature chortens and Buddhas left by the faithful. Plumes of smoke from burning juniper float upwards into the ether, an offering to a pantheon of gods, and the air is filled with the clicking of prayer wheels. Each time I pass a fellow pilgrim, we exchange the old Tibetan greeting – Tashi Delek – which wishes the recipient good luck, health, success, goodness and prosperity.

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