Prostrating Buddhist monk draws admirers in India

REUTERS, January 15, 2007

KOLKATA, India -- Crowds of Indians have been lining the route of a Buddhist monk who has been prostrating himself on a year-and-a-half-long pilgrimage from Tibet to India, witnesses and religious leaders said on Monday.

Gyaltsen Lama, who is in his twenties, entered the eastern Indian state of Bihar this month and told Buddhist leaders and police he was going to end his journey at Bodh Gaya, where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment in 6th century BC.

'He is just 22 days away from completing his extraordinary journey,' said Bhikkhu Bodhipala, chief priest of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. 'He is very tired.'

Clad in a saffron robe, Gyaltsen left Tibet in July 2005 and crossed Nepal before reaching Bihar.

He lies horizontally on the ground with his hands outstretched, utters a sacred Buddhist verse before getting up to walk to the point where his hands had extended. He then repeats the same exercise, covering a distance of 7 km (4 miles) a day.

'He is very young but is determined to complete the journey,' said Ramesh Singh, a witness from Bihar's Muzaffarpur district where Gyaltsen was on Monday, still 180 km (110 miles) by road from his destination. 'We are all praying for him,' he said by phone.

Scores of people, including Hindus and Buddhists, have been lining the roads every day with food offerings.

Gyaltsen told locals he hoped to pray at the centuries-old Mahabodhi temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built near the Bodhi tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.