BEIJING -- Five-year-old Goinbo Cering is on his way to Lhasa, undertaking a monumental pilgrimage that will take six years.
To date, the boy has walked for eight months from his hometown in China's northwestern Gansu Province to Sichuan Province which borders Tibet. Even the tough weather has not dampened his enthusiasm for getting to the sacred destination, the Jokkang Temple, in the heart of Lhasa City.
"I will be 10 years old when I see Lhasa," Goinbo said in a little chirpy voice, a dusty scar clearly visible on his forehead. It will take five years or more for him to see "the Living Buddha".
"I'm not tired, but I miss papa and mama," he said, the dazzling sunshine beaming off his face.
His parents had saved 7,000 yuan (US$945) for their son's journey. Goinbo can sometimes get extra alms giving from other believers he comes across in his travels.
The belief of Tibetan pilgrims is not a matter of time and money -- instead it's all about faith. As an honorable part of Tibetan life, devout believers prostrate themselves all the way to Lhasa from their hometown hundreds or thousands of kilometers away.
"I prostrated humbly on the mountain, moving towards you, just for feeling your sweet warmth," wrote Tsangyang Gyatso, the unconventional sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706) in 18th century Tibet. He was famed for a remarkable collection of beloved poetry and died in his mid twenties.
Last year, 328,000 pilgrims visited the Potala Palace, Norbuglinkha and Johkang Monastery, the top three religious sites in Lhasa. Despite the operation of the 1,956-km-long Qinghai-Tibet railway that became operational in July last year, most pilgrims stick to the traditional ways to practise their piety.
Rigba Gyamco, Goinbo's 25-year-old uncle, who has already made five pilgrimages to Lhasa, accompanied his nephew along the way. Without a map or compass, old traditions ensure the fledging pilgrims receive firsthand guidance from someone who has walked and remembered the route.