Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Our Day Trip To Tibet

Let me begin by thanking the Emperor Qianlong. Here is a guy I had scarcely, if ever, heard about before this year. Turns out, though, he was responsible for some of coolest sites we have visited over the past few months.

Take yesterday. Our mission was to explore some of the temples that were built centuries ago on the outskirts of Chengde. Several of these temples were built in a distinctly Tibetan style, giving the whole experience quite an "out there" feeling.

Our first stop was Putuozongcheng Zhi Miao. This seriously impressive place is a sort of replica of Lhasa's famous Potala Palace. Apparently, Qianlong erected this massive complex in honor of the occasion of his 60th birthday. (I'd better get working...Only like twenty years to make a plan...)

An interesting fact about Putuozongcheng Zhi Miao...A number of the buildings are just hollow shells, erected to make the entire experience seem grander. Dude...that's just so uncool...

A feature of Putuozongcheng Zhi Miao we couldn't take a photo of...A pair of nine-story sandalwood pagodas. Covered in dust. Totally impressive. Kind of make up for the hollow buildings.

Our second stop was Puning Si. This equally stunning operation is apparently run by monks, as you see robed men all over the place. As someone not at all familiar with Buddhist practices, I got the feeling that it may even be an active monastery. In one temple, for example, there seemed to be evidence (cushions, lamps, books) that monks use it as a study hall.

An interesting fact about Puning Si...One section of the grounds is dominated by these massive chains of locks, unlike anything we've ever seen before. The locks are inscribed with dates and names. As far as we could tell, the locks are purchased as offerings, kind of like what we do in Catholic churches with candles. (Correct me, somebody, if I'm wrong about this...)

A feature of Puning Si we couldn't take a photo of...Inside the main temple stands a 73 foot high statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy. (Yes, 73 feet tall!) We counted that Guanyin has 28 arms. One of our tour books, though, says she has 42 arms. No matter...We lingered a long, long time here, gazing up at quite a spectacular sight.

Prayer flags, prayer wheels, high walls, lots of climbing...a taste of Tibet, right here in coastal China. Thanks again, Qianlong!



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