Prayer flags – what are they?

Distinctive and colourful, you’ll find them swinging from any high point or windy place across the Himalayas, but why?

Buddhist prayer flags at Everest Base Camp, Tibet
Buddhist prayer flags at Everest Base Camp, Tibet

Tibetan Buddhist in origin, the 5 colours represent nature’s elements: earth (green), fire (red), water (blue), sky (white) and space (yellow). If you look closely you will see that each flag is inscribed repeatedly with the Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum. As the wind strikes the flag, the belief is that prayers are sent into the air to appease the spirits of the earth.

We have a big flagpole rising above our tents at Everest Base Camp with prayer flags extending off it like spokes of a wheel. In our case we need to appease the mountain gods to grant us a fair weather window which will enable us to climb the mountain.

It’s certainly windy around here at the moment, and has been ever since we arrived. By my reckoning there must be a billion gazillion prayers floating about up there by now, and we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed the mountain gods are taking note.

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