Chortens (stupas) are one of the most recognizable Buddhist structures and can be found in many areas in the Himalayas. They add an interesting texture to the stunning mountain scenery. During our travels we have visited many regions in the Himalayas and have seen hundreds of chortens. Here is a selection of our favourites.
Buddhists in the Himalayas typically follow Tibetan Buddhism. Chorten is the Tibetan word for stupa and translates to “basis for worship”. Chortens are said to resemble the shape of Buddha sitting in a meditative posture when he attained enlightenment. Originally, Buddhist stupas were built to contain relics from Buddha’s body such as ashes. There are many legends that suggest a few ancient stupas around Asia contain portions of Buddha’s body. Today, chortens represent Buddha in places where people would not be able to travel to one of the original chortens that may or may not contain his relics.
Tibet is a remarkable place that is rich in culture, legends and history. It is the birthplace of the doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism. We were lucky to have been able to see some of their beautiful Buddhist chortens.
Stupas, including chortens, are usually solid so people don’t enter inside. Instead Buddhists circumambulate clockwise around them, always keeping the chorten on their clean side (right). They are to focus on Buddha’s teachings while they walk in order to gain merits towards enlightenment. Buddhists believe in rebirth and the way to get out of the endless cycle of death and rebirth is to become enlightened.
In Nepal we travelled through the Buddhist regions of Mustang, Everest, Manaslu and Annapurna. The heritage of the residents is mostly Tibetan. They have maintained many of their ancestral traditions which are mixed with their own unique regional customs. We could see how the chortens varied remarkably as we travelled between regions.
The northern Indian regions of Ladakh, Spiti, Sikkim and the cities of Rewalsar and Darjeeling have large communities of Tibetan Buddhists. Their culture, architecture and beliefs are very similar to their Tibetan ancestors. We enjoyed seeing the many different chortens in these Himalayan communities in India.
Nestled in the Himalayas, Bhutan is a recently democratized kingdom that has been closed off from the rest of the world for years. It’s a devoutly Buddhist country with strong ancient traditions and customs. It was fascinating to see symbols of their Tibetan Buddhists roots throughout this small country.
Coming Next: Seven Summits – Climbing Mount Elbrus
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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