Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chengde: Mini Potala (普陀宗乘之庙)

There are eight temples on the periphery of the Imperial Summer Villa in Chengde, aptly named Eight Outer Temples. As we only had one afternoon left in Chengde, our tour guide brought us to go see just one, the Mini Potala Temple.

It was built in honour of Emperor Qianlong as a mini facsimile of Lhasa's Potala Palace especially for the use of visiting Tibetan monks during their annual trek from Tibet to bless the Emperor.

Beside Buddhist ceremony and festivals, the temple also served other functions such as meetings of different ethnic envoys from throughout the empire. Today it serves as a meeting point for tourists from throughout the globe.

This is the entrance gate to the temple complex, which like most other imperial temples, contained three corridors, one for the gods, one for the Emperor and one for the temple priests. Guess which one we all used to enter.

The gate is flanked by a pair of very large statues of elephants, seated in a rather reverent position, Buddhist symbols of strength of mind and calm majesty.

These colourful pieces of cloth are called prayer flags. They were found everywhere around the temple either tied to long strands of ropes or on tree branches.

The Tibetans believe that when the wind blows through the prayer flags, the prayers written on them are dispersed into the air, and the blessings are then bestowed both on the one who plants them and on everyone in the surrounding area.

The architecture of the temples here are a blend of Tibetan and Chinese styles with vast red walls and double-eaved gold-tiled roofs complete with little mythical figurines at the roof ends.

The living quarters were all in white with red windows and housed mainly the monks, temple priests and quite a number of old folk who have come to 'retire' here.

Meanwhile, the more elderly members of our tour group decided to retire as well as the foot of the hill while the rest of us were given just an hour to venture further up the hill to the Temple proper, the Putuozongcheng Temple...

... which is the towering red and white building. Although it is dubbed a 'mini' Potala, this temple is still one of the largest in China.

Thank God the staircase was very wide and not too steep, unlike the ones at the Great Wall. Sigh, the ole 'uns don't know what they are missing.

The staircase led us to the main terrace at the base of the temple which opened up to a magnificent view of the surrounding hills.

Needless to say the view from the terrace was amazing. We could see for miles around from mountains to rivers, rooftops to highways.

Colourful flags with emblems of dragons and phoenices in various colours flew fiercely in the wind, some of them quite tattered and torn.

This is a stationery prayer wheel which is basically fixed metal wheels set side by side in a row. Apparently if you turn the wheels while making a wish, it might come true.

As I looked up to marvel at the majestic architectural wonder in front of me, the guide told us that there was more to come..... at the top of the building. Oh my....

As we reached the top of the red building, we found ourselves in a courtyard where monks were doing their daily chants and prayers.

The upper courtyards have been restored to their former glory, complete with gold embossed roofs and traditional chinese paintings on everything from the windows to the ceiling beams.

Five narrow staircases later, we arrived at the very top of the temple complex. And man, was it worth all that huffing and puffing!

There were a couple of beautifully decorated pagodas made of sandalwood which housed various Buddha effigies. Understandably, we were forbidden to take pictures of the interior, so we had to settle for the exterior and the landscape.

And what a view! Blue skies, rolling hills, and all the shades of green and yellow everywhere.

The sunlight bouncing off the mythical creatures on the roof somehow gave it an otherworldly effect.

Before we knew it, our hour was up and we reluctantly made our way back down to join the others at the foot of the hill. But not before I snapped a couple more pics of the mesmerising vista. ;)

It's not hard to understand why many people who come here even for a visit, never want to leave. It was indeed a very peaceful place, and the perspectives that one gets whether high up at the top of the world or down below where the cypress trees and prayer flags blow kisses in the wind, is something that money can't buy.

No comments: