Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hanging Around...

...for around 1500 years.

It was "not without danger" (to quote our German friend Andreas) that we toured the Hanging Temple of Mount Heng (Xuankong Si), about 60 km outside of Datong. Ever since I had heard of this place a couple of years ago, I have wanted to see it for myself. Having experienced many temples all around China, most of which have similar layouts and design, this one was absolutely a sight to see.

Supported by stilts, Xuankong Si is uniquely attached to the side of a cliff. From the bottom view, it seems to literally hang. Built initially in 490 AD, it has been renovated a few times, most recently in the early 1900s. Given the amount of time that has passed since those repairs, it is amazing what good shape the temple is in.

The perception that one has when walking along the hallways is one of wonder...and a little fright. The view is spectacular, with beautiful rock faces at every angle. It reminded us a lot of the views we have experienced in the Grand Canyon, in that the sun, depending on time of day, would illuminate the rock or paint shadows, which would alter the appearance. If you stayed long enough, you could view the temple in sunlight and then shade, totally different but both beautiful. Looking down from this perch is not for the faint of heart, as the railings, both rickety and low (definitely not built with a westerner's height in mind!) provide little protection from the 100 meter drop. There are sections of the temple (which is wide but not very deep) where I found myself staying very near to the wall!

A few thoughts that struck me as I sauntered through walkways that, at times, seemed suspended in mid-air...

First of all, who could even dream up such a structure?

Secondly, once planned, how could the construction of a temple planned to dangle so precariously ever be approved or pursued?

Finally, how awesome would it have been to live here as the monks did...before tourism turned this spot into a destination visited by so many. To have been able to pray, study, eat, and sleep with the majesty of these surroundings, in addition to calling one of the most incredible man-made structures your home, must have been nothing short of inspiring.

As for now, it is a steady stream of visitors from all over the world...dragging their jaws on the ground with amazement. For Julie and me at least, you can put it in the "favorite temple" category hands down...or maybe, stilts up!



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