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In the Footsteps of Pilgrims

One of my favorite pictures collected in the book Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa is of six pilgrims coming down an empty stretch of the Chamagudao, the Tea Horse Road. They are going to Lhasa, performing the chak tsal, the Tibetan Buddhist act of prostration. At the time this photo was taken, they already had been walking for three months.

As a devotee performs the chak tsal, he takes a couple of steps forward while clasping his palms together, then he brings his hands to his heart and moves forward again while bringing his hands to his face and then overhead. Finally, he drops to his knees, then down to his stomach, flat out with his feet together and hands stretched out front, his forhead pressed to the ground. Pilgrims travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles this way over days, even years.

For this image, I was trying to capture each pilgrim in a different position, so I would have every gesture of the chak tsal in one photograph.

I had to walk backwards for thirty minutes to get this one frame.

Photographer Michael Yamashita has been shooting for the National Geographic magazine for more than thirty years, combining his dual passions of photography and travel.  After graduating from...