Feeling slightly enlightened - sacred Wutai Shan, sea of monks, Hanging Monastery... ummmm!


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Asia » China » Shanxi » Wutaishan
June 4th 2013
Published: July 13th 2013
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Another long drive that day… Didn’t matter how much I tried to stay awake on the truck, it just didn’t seem to be working too well… And ‘sleeping’ on the truck definitely didn’t make me any more rested, on the contrary actually – stiff neck, shoulders, too hot (or too cold with the window open), but then having two seats to myself shouldn’t be that bad right? I think it was just the constant moving from one place to the other that started getting to me rather than the journeys themselves. It would be nice to stay in one place for more than three nights I guess… Ah well… Sooner or later it would come to that, taking into account the distance I was covering in China overland, travelling hasn’t been that bad at all! But then you just need to complain a bit once in a while right? 😉



We got to Wutai Shan in the afternoon and when our local guide went to get the tickets we were surrounded by a gang of Chinese guys, with their shirts rolled up over their big bellies of course, came over to see and touch our truck – not only funny to get attention like that, but funny to see the rolled up shirts again! I seriously can’t get this fashion! 😉 Once we got the tickets we had to leave the truck and walk through the visitor’s centre only to have our tickets checked there and then we were able to board our truck on the other side of the building and drive to town… Hmmm… Couldn’t we just have the tickets checked while on the truck? There are many things in China that, doesn’t matter how I try to comprehend, just won’t ever make sense to me! Ah well… I’d better get used to it! 😉



On the way to our hotel we passed quite a few temples already. I’ve read a little bit in ‘the Bible’ and on the Internet about Wutai Shan, but definitely the place exceeded my expectations – thought it was just going to be another site with a few temples here and there. Well, there sure are a few temples here and there (more than a few actually), but I didn’t expect they were going to be spread around so much, that they would be so different and certainly didn’t expect such a huge amount of monks in here. Wutai Shan is after all one of the main sacred mountains in China and they say it does attract a big amount of Buddhist pilgrims, just didn’t realise the city would be flooded with monks… I really loved the place from the very beginning, it just felt so peaceful, obviously people come here only for one reason – to reflect, meditate, pray, do whatever to bring them closer to their God(s)… Amazing how the monks were dressed also. I did recognise the Tibetan monks straight away in their red robes, but there were lots of monks in grey and yellow (orange?) robes as well (with matching shoes), some usual and some not so usual hats, many of them with Buddhist beads hanging around their necks or wrists, some walking with the small prayer wheels in their hands, honestly I could just sit and watch them passing by for hours!



We still had a bit of time before the sunset so just decided to walk to a nearby temple up on a hill from the hotel. On the way up we met two young monks playing basketball, well… we just couldn’t pass by without joining in right? 😉 We each had a couple of shots at the basket, most of us a couple of successful ones (even I scored a few, almost dislocated my finger catching the ball though, yep that’s me! 😉). It sure was fun, but it was close to sunset so we had to keep moving. Short walk up the hill and we got to Pusa Ding Temple (Bodhisattva Peak). It was almost closing time so the temple was almost empty – only a few monks around (that probably were staying there anyway) and just a couple of other tourists. It was nice having the temple almost to ourselves. It sure was very beautiful and definitely one of the most colourful temples I’ve seen so far! It was getting dark so it was time to head back.



We had a few more temples scheduled for the next day, so we started straight after our ‘lovely’ tasteless breakfast – seriously they have such flavourful food throughout the day but the breakfast just can’t be more plain! Thankfully they put some pickled in soya sauce radish on the table as well so at least a steamed bun went down well with it… First we headed to Dailuo Peak. Some people chose to take cable car to the top, while most (including myself) decided to use the stairs instead. Over 1,000 steps that is… It sure was quite a physical effort, but was desperately needed as the last few days we weren’t moving much at all. Have to say that it took a few moments at the top before my breathing went back to normal. I was amazed how challenging some people made the ascent for themselves! It sure didn’t come as a huge shock seeing the monks lying down on the stairs after each step, but many other people were doing it as well, even saw one woman climbing the steps all the way up on her knees! Pretty hard-core devotees! The temple on the top wasn’t anything spectacular at all but seeing all these people on the way up and beautiful views all around made the climb well worth it! Then quick run down the stairs and we were ready to head to another temple! Next one on the list was Nanshan Temple. We had to take a bus to get there as it was a few stops away, then a short climb up the stairs (or a drive with a car for some of us – yep! lots of cars around offering their services for ‘tired’ tourists) and we were up in the temple, or so we thought… as there were quite a few more sets of stairs and more temples the higher up we went… Loved this temple! Except the monks living there, we were one of the very few tourists around. Peace and quiet everywhere and a beautiful panorama of surrounding peaks visible from the higher temples – very tranquil place with some stunning views!



Then it was time to eat something again as a small steamed bun with a few pieces of pickled radish didn’t seem to keep our bellies satisfied for too long. Yen (our local guide) disappeared somewhere when we were ordering our food so we had to be a bit extra creative when flipping through our dictionaries, still it was a lot of fun and the food was as usual very tasty and cheap… After lunch we headed to… Pusa Ding temple… again! Well… not a big deal really, still too bad they didn’t tell us the day before where we would be going, as we could’ve just headed somewhere else the previous day… This time I went through it a bit faster though – way too many tourists at this time of day! Then 108 steps down and we got to Xiantong Temple. There was a miniature pagoda in one of the halls and around it you could find numerous statues of meditating monks… Have to say it freaked me out a bit at first as I was thinking that they were real people sitting and praying on the floor… Hmmm… not sure what’s the point in doing that… Next on the list, and the last one for that matter as well, was Tayuan Temple with the symbolic white stupa. I saw monks chanting their mantras here and had a chance to spin some prayer wheels here again – still gathering all these blessing! 😉



Despite having seen quite a few temples on this trip already, a visit to Wutai Shan was well worth it as each temple here was different to the other and just loved seeing all these pilgrims and monks all around! Still two nights here were more than enough and the next day we headed in the direction of Datong, but on the way stopping at the Hanging Monastery first. It looked like we got there at the same time as all the other tours as the place was very crowded! Basically we were all just walking one after another in a long line all around the monastery. It sure looks quite impressive the way it is built into the rocks like that! Lovely place but way too touristy! And if there’s one thing I certainly don’t like is being pushed around – had a ‘lovely’ chat with one of the girls as she just kept on pushing me forward all the time – sorry I do have people in front of me, so simply can’t move any further, but she didn’t seem to have noticed that! Anyway… It was worth a short visit, but we could’ve timed it a bit better or simply wait until the other buses left as once we were leaving the monastery was suddenly empty again…



We got to Datong in the late afternoon. There wasn’t much time to explore that day so we just left it for the next day. We had a little bit of free time so just went for a short walk to see what’s around the hotel and later on our whole group headed for a meal to a nearby local eatery – you couldn’t really call it a restaurant as it wasn’t anything close to it. Basically they were offering beer and lots of things on sticks… Not a very complicated menu… 😉 The place was packed with locals (or should I say drunk locals including lots of men with rolled-up shirts!)! It was a fun evening and the food on sticks was pretty good – just loved the eggplant, nicely spiced and juicy, yummy! Some of the guys joined the locals in drinking – as much fun as it looked like, it sure looked pretty lethal as well as they were drinking some local booze. Then we headed to karaoke bar – famous KTV that is (they have them in every single city!). Well, I surely wasn’t expecting that! It was like walking into some exclusive casino or an exclusive brothel??? A very long hall lightened up with chandeliers with karaoke boots on each side. Weird place! We had our own booth for both trucks. It was fun seeing some people singing but many were getting pretty wasted at this stage so decided to call it a night and so did some of the other girls (apparently some people were partying until morning hours, well… they sure looked like that in the morning!). Have to say that I don’t really get that whole karaoke thing – it sure might be fun when you are sitting in a pub, have a few beers and they happen to have karaoke there, but renting a private booth like that just seems beyond weird to me! Even more so after seeing a few groups of Chinese men booking these! Don’t get it… Ah well…



The next day my group went to see the famous caves, I on the other hand was quite attached to toilet that day. Strange, as beside a few hangovers nobody had any stomach problems but me… Ah well… We’ve been to quite a few dirty places around, so quite shocking that nobody got sick so far… Next day we were going to see the Great Wall, so thought I’d skip the caves and get some rest at least as after all I didn’t want to miss walking the mighty wall of China… Was hoping I would feel better the next day though… as looking for a toilet on the wall??? Well… hoped it just wouldn’t come to that…


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14th July 2013

Feeling slightly enlightened - sacred Wutai Shan, sea of monks, Hanging Monastery... ummmm!
Very thorough and enjoyable story - I'd love to visit the place!

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