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Tibetan Buddhist nuns participate in the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 30, 2015 in Sertar county, in the remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, China. The last of four annual assemblies, the week-long annual gathering takes place in the ninth month of the Tibetan calendar and marks Buddha's descent from the heavens.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns participate in the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 30, 2015 in Sertar county, in the remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, China. The last of four annual assemblies, the week-long annual gathering takes place in the ninth month of the Tibetan calendar and marks Buddha's descent from the heavens.Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
Tibetan Buddhist nuns participate in the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 30, 2015 in Sertar county, in the remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, China. The last of four annual assemblies, the week-long annual gathering takes place in the ninth month of the Tibetan calendar and marks Buddha's descent from the heavens.
Tibetan prayer flags flutter on a hillside above the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 30.
Tibetan Buddhist nomads pray during a morning chanting session on Oct. 30.
Deities are made from barley and used during the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 31.
A Tibetan Buddhist nomad woman prostrates at a monastery at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute, which is home to thousands of monks and nuns.
Tibetan Buddhists pray on a hillside at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute, which is popular for followers from all over the Tibetan areas and other parts of China.
Dwellings house Tibetan Buddhist nuns and monks on a hillside at Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute. The school is home to thousands of monks and nuns.
Butter lamps are prepared during the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 31.
People pray on a hillside during a morning chanting session.
Tibetan Buddhists circumambulate a monastery with the body of a relative before sky burial at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 30.
A shrine is made of fake skulls at the sky burial site near the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute.
A Tibetan Buddhist nun walks passed dwellings on her way to a chanting session.
A Tibetan Buddhist nomad carries his daughter in the crowd on a hillside during the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly.
A Tibetan Buddhist nomad woman prepares tea at dusk following a chanting session.
Tibetan Buddhist nomads cook on a fire at dusk during the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns participate in the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute on Oct. 30
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Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
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See Tibetan Buddhists Gather in the Breathtaking Larung Valley

Nov 03, 2015

Each year, thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as lay people, gather in Seda, a remote town in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China, known as Sertar to Tibetans.

For days, they listen to recitations and chants as part of the Bliss Dharma Assembly, the last of four prayer meetings taking place each year.

"Sertar sits in a valley on the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of about 4,000 meters," says freelance photographer Kevin Frayer. "It is as rugged as it is beautiful, and very remote. For most of the year the closest airport is at least a 12-hour drive. And it’s an arduous one. The road is bumpy and felt never-ending but then you arrive at this place and it is breathtaking."

The celebration is different from other Tibetan Buddhist rituals, Frayer adds, because it is less about pageantry or processions than it is about the atmosphere of happy pilgrimage. "Everywhere on the Tibetan plateau you can feel Buddhism in the air, from prayer flags on a mountain-top to a pilgrim prostrating on a road," he says. "Being Tibetan is to follow the dharma; identity and faith are one and the same."

Frayer had always wanted to visit Sertar to include the remote valley in his ongoing project on nomadic people—but, now that he's been, he's still not planning to cross it off his list. "The Tibetan plateau is an incredibly alluring part of the world," he says. "It is the sort of place you wait to get back to."

Kevin Frayer is a photographer working for Getty Images.

Chelsea Matiash, who edited this photo essay, is a Multimedia Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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