Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lingshan Great Buddha at Wuxi

Another must-see place for visitors to Suzhou is the Great Buddha at Lingshan, near Wuxi. Situated on Lake Tai or Tai Hu, Wuxi feels almost like a second home to many of us. The Cat facility is located here, and many expats live in Suzhou but commute daily to Wuxi. A town as steeped in history as Suzhou, Wuxi is fast evolving into a major industrial town in China!

A little further from Wuxi is the Great Buddha - somehow, I always felt that anything related to Buddhism must be ancient, but the Ling Shan site is fairly new - completed in the 1990s, with some elements added as late as 2008. The drive is pleasant - after the turnoff a long uphill road, and an awesome view of Tai Hu right at the top! Drive along the lake for about 10 minutes - Tai Hu is the largest lake in China, and is absolutely spectacular - then head to the Long Mountain, and there it is, the first glimpse of the Great Buddha nestled in the hills!

The entry tickets for this 'Buddhist Wonderland' are probably the highest I've paid here in China - 210 RMB, about $35! Still, once you've driven all the way there, it's hard to turn away just because of the cost - and it definitely is worth it, at least once! They do have a discount for senior citizens, but the only proof of age accepted is a passport. Children under 1.4m are half price - Manasi made that, just barely! At an additional 25 RMB is the ticket for the battery car, which will take you around the entire park - would definitely recommend walking though!

Buddha's feet

The Chinese absolutely outdo themselves with names - walk past the Great Screen Wall to the Soul Cleaning Basin, where visitors can wash their hands and presumably, symbolically clean their souls before entering this spiritual place! Bow your heads before the imprint of Buddha's feet, try your luck - toss a coin into one of the toes, and have your wish granted! The Pancajnana (wait a minute, that sounds like a Sanskrit word!) Gate opens up to the Bodhi Boulevard - Buddha's path to enlightenment.

Bathing by nine dragons

The Bodhi Boulevard leads to a curious sight - a fountain with sculptures of dragons, and in the center a bronze lotus bud on a tall pedestal. Wait for show time - 5 times a day - I'll bet you've never seen anything like this before! It starts off as a regular musical fountain, keep an eye on that lotus bud, though! As the show progresses, the bud slowly opens to reveal a cherubic Baby Buddha - the music reaches a crescendo, and huge jets of water shoot out from the mouth of the nine dragons to bathe the Buddha. The statue revolves around one time, and then subsides back into the lotus - until the next show! Enactment of the mythical birth of Buddha in a lotus bud - of course, Buddha didn't become 'Buddha' until well into adulthood - so a myth this will remain!

The actual 'bathing'!

Moving on - the next attraction is a huge copper frieze - the central image is a serene Buddha, surrounded by what looks like a horde of demons with weapons raised, attacking Buddha. I'm sure there's a story that's being told here - wish I could find out more about this! There are also flocks of pigeons here, and just like in India, little stalls where you can buy grain to feed the pigeons. One thing you won't see in India though - a sweeper dedicated to cleaning up after the pigeons! That's China for you!

A familiar and beloved symbol is on display right behind this - King Ashoka's pillar, 16.9 m high and carved from a single piece of granite weighing over 200 tons. Of course, these pillars were built during King Ashoka's reign to spread the word of Buddhism, so it should come as no surprise to find one here! Nevertheless, it is heart-warming, a little whiff of India in the heart of China! This is a good place to take a seat, catch your breath, maybe enjoy some green tea from one of the little shops. The statue of the Maitreya or Laughing Buddha and a replica of the hand of the Great Buddha are right after the Ashoka pillar - touching both will bring good luck and happiness, so get in line!

The Xiangfu Temple is probably the only ancient place in this Wonderland. Buy incense to burn, or tie a wooden amulet to one of the screens here. A smaller replica of the Great Buddha statue is located here, the temple houses another statue of Buddha, and also those of his disciples. Despite the crowds, there is peace and serenity here - a truly spiritual haven in this overwhelmingly tourist milieu!

Ling Shan Great Buddha

Finally, there it is - the Ling Shan Great Buddha - not so fast, though! There are 217 steps to climb to get to the base of the pedestal. A further elevator ride brings you inside the lotus, where you can walk around the giant statue, dwarfed by even the feet! At 88m, this bronze statue is one of the tallest in China - it is also the last of the Five Great Buddhas in China. The serene and composed expression of the Buddha truly captures the essence of Buddhism - a really wonderful depiction of Buddha! The Museum of Buddhist Culture and the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas are also located inside the pedestal. Worth a look, but nothing really special!

Hungry after all the walking, we headed to the Lingshan Vegetarian restaurant - what a treat it is to find a veg restaurant anywhere in China! We were in for a disappointment, though - the name of the restaurant is 'Vegetarian' - absolutely nothing veggie on the menu! Lucky we brought a picnic, but that would have to wait till we got back to the car! There are still plenty of things left to do - the Lingshan Buddhist palace, which is actually an art museum, the Ci'en Pagoda, the Flying Dragon tower, the Five Seal Mandala - if you still have any energy left!

To the exit, then - not before walking through Lingshan Plaza! This is one of my pet peeves - after paying a hefty entrance fee, why do I have to walk past so many stalls selling overpriced, generic souvenirs, handicrafts and speciality foods to get to the exit? Enough already, I just want to leave now, thank you very much!

Found a good picnic spot right by the lake on our way home. It was just sandwich fixings and chips, but even the most ordinary food can taste ambrosial with the right setting - and though the chilly breeze off the lake made for a really short stay, the picnic was probably the high spot of the day! A perfect ending to a good day of walking!

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