Despite the ongoing protests and conflicts between Tibet and China — don’t worry, I’m not going to get into that now — the world inside the high walls of the Lama Temple is quiet and serene.
Located in the middle of Beijing, China, the complex is a maze of elaborate arches, stunning tapestries and massive temples, opening to expansive courtyards filled with people on their knees, eyes closed, filling the air with smoke from burning incense.
The noise of tourists and traffic is left outside the temple walls, and the air is filled with the hypnotic sounds of chanting and small, colorful prayer flags flapping in the spring breeze.
It is considered to be the most magnificent Buddhist temple in the city, and is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. The complex was converted to a lamasery in 1744 after serving as the former residence of Emperor Yong Zheng.
Surprisingly, I was able to move freely though the buildings — being white in Asia, I was often stopped from entering religious complexes with no explanation — and was largely ignored by the people performing ritual prayers.
About halfway into the complex, after walking through a long red corridor, I found myself the sole foreign observer of a large, tapestry filled temple full of monks, sitting in lines and reading from heavy looking prayer books.
The sound of their voices mixed with the heavy scented air was hypnotizing and after taking a few flash-less photos, I pressed my back into the wall, not wanting to disturb them, closed my eyes, and let myself be carried away by the sound of their voices.