Pilgrimage needs faith. More faith, more happiness. Otherwise, we are just like tourists looking at ruins. Pilgrimage is not just going to holy places and taking pictures. We go to holy places for blessing, so it’s good to do practices at the different holy places.
Of course, it is good to recite Buddha’s mantra and meditate on the Heart Sutra, even something short like this, and then to recite a lam-rim prayer and different praises to Buddha. There are three different praises to Buddha; the best one is Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Origination. Then there is the Praise of the Buddha—Unrivalled Lion of the Shakyas by Lama Tsongkhapa and Praise of the Exalted One (?). It is good to do different praises to Buddha. Use Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Origination most of the time, because it talks about emptiness.
Pilgrimage is good if you know how to do pilgrimage. Otherwise it’s just travelling like a tourist. Also, when we go to these holy places it reminds us of impermanence. Once these places were great cities, but now there are just stones. A thousand years ago these places were quite different, but even though there are just stones now, these stones are so precious. Amazing. Can you imagine how blessed these places are? They are places where the Buddha was. Many Tibetan people take away earth from holy places.
One time I went to the place where a monkey made offering to Buddha and the guide took some of the earth to give to me. Then an Indian doctor who was with me got angry at the guide for giving me the earth! That earth is now at Kopan with many other holy things from different places. [Note: Many people give Rinpoche holy objects, like blessed stones or fish from Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.]
So, do different lam-rim prayers at these holy places and make prayers to have realizations. At the beginning, do prostrations. You can recite the preliminary prayers that we do traditionally at Kopan [see FPMT Retreat Prayer Book, pp.13-17]; this includes prostrations by reciting Buddha’s name (Lama tonpa chom den de…). Then do the seven limb practice. Then recite the different praises to Buddha and lam-rim prayers.
If you have time, carry the story of the holy places with you and read that story in the different places to the people who are doing pilgrimage. If you are going on pilgrimage, read a book describing the holy places and read about what the Buddha did in those places. You can also read the stories of the great pandits.