Just outside the town of Jyekundo lies Gyanak Mani. More than just another sacred place for Tibetans, Gyanak Mani holds the largest collection of prayer stones or mani, not just in Tibet but in the entire world. According to some estimates, there may even be a couple of billion prayer stones here. While that might seem exaggerated, upon approaching Gyanak Mani you directly see small hills consisting solely of prayer stones. I walked around the complex, and on the backside, entered one of the openings. I found myself surrounded by prayer stones, many carved, not just with the inevitable "Om mani padme hum" or "hail to the jewel in the lotus", an often recited mantra. Most stones were just engraved with religious texts, but some were colourfully decorated with gracefully carved Tibetan characters. I also saw a few yak skulls, also engraved with Tibetan writing.
Back to the main circumambulation of Gyanak Mani, I joined the stream of pilgrims. This was the first real kora I walked, and I was surprised to find that many pilgrims walked joyfully, chatting to their friends or relatives, stopping to buy something, or to have a short conversation with their foreign visitor. Since pilgrims are only allowed to walk clockwise, the stream of pilgrims basically turned the walk into a one-way street. Also traffic was supposed to follow the clockwise direction. The kora is not very long compared to some of the koras to be found in Tibet, probably a little over a kilometre. It means that staying in one place for a while, makes you see pilgrims again. Indeed, after a while, I started to recognize some of the most remarkable faces of the Tibetans walking around. I also spotted a pilgrim sitting down to carve a holy scripture in a stone.
One of the large indoor prayer wheels was being repainted by a team of prayer-wheel-painters. While the wall around Gyanak Mani had the common bronze-coloured prayer wheels, there were other large prayer wheels towering above the pilgrims. Eventually, I sat down just to see the constant stream of pilgrims passing by - few of them prostrating, most turning the prayer wheels while keeping their own hand-held prayer wheels in motion, while a few just walked past. Sitting there for a while made me realize that pilgrims were actually walking many laps: I continued recognizing faces. The more circumambulations you do, the better it is of course. Most pilgrims do 3, 13 or even 108 circuits of a kora, the latter being an ominous number for Tibetan Buddhists. Walkinf a kora is, in a way, very smbolic of the cyclical nature of Buddhism. No matter how relaxed they seemed, the Tibetans I saw on this kora were all obviously determined on their way around Gyanak Mani.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Gyanak Mani (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Gyanak Mani.
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