The following travelers' guide is composed by Thomas Lim based mainly on information given by Khejok Rinpoche during a pilgrimage to Wutaisan led by Rinpoche in 1999.
General introduction of the place -
Wutaisan is famous as a Buddhist pilgrimage place sacred to Tibetans, Chinese and Mongolians. It is one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism and the holy residence of Manjusri, the embodiment of the Buddhas' wisdom. The other three are (1)Putorsan of Nan Hai, sacred residence of Chenrezig, the embodiment of the Buddhas' compassion. (2)Giuhwasan of An-Hwai, residence of Ksitigarbha, the embodiment of the Buddhas' aspirations and (3)Ermeisan of Sichuan, residence of Samantabhadra, the embodiment of the Buddhas' activities. Wutaisan is also respected as a Taoist sacred site as well as being a resort in the summer months due to its cool / cold climate. The region once had over 500 Buddhist monasteries and nunneries built by Chinese, Tibetans and Mongolians over centuries, including the second oldest monastery of China. Some were built by emperors. A large number of them belonged to the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Today there are less than one hundred revived. Wutai, literally meaning five platforms, refer to the five flat tops of the mountains, one each at the cardinal points and the middle. The Wutaisan region refers primarily to the entire area inside the boundary of the four mountains at the cardinal points. For most tourists who are not there as pilgrims, a visit to Wutaisan could just mean going to the town of Tai-Huai, the heart region in the middle of Wutaisan region. But not for pilgrims. They would walk (most people use taxis now but many Tibetans still prefer to walk or even make full length prostrations so that the entire route encircling the region and passing the five peaks would be covered by their bodies.) either the grand pilgrimage or at least the lesser pilgrimage.
The grand pilgrimage includes the main monasteries and paying respect to the Manjusri statues at the five peaks. At each peak there is a small temple housing one of the five different forms of Manjusri, the Buddha of Wisdom. From Tai-Huai, the east peak is 16 KM away, south peak 25, north peak 18, central peak 18 and west peak is 21KM from Tai-Huai but only 5KM from the central peak. Each peak is known for its special scenery, east peak for the sunrise, south peak for the wild flowers, west peak is the best place for appreciating moonlight, north peak for its snow and central peak for looking at the stars. Although the region is called five peaks or five platforms, four of the five are actually of the same chain of mountains while the south peak stands on its own. There were over 500 monasteries and nunneries in the past around this region. Most were built inside the boundary of the cardinal peaks. Of those inside the boundary, most were actually in the heart region Tai-Huai.
The lesser pilgrimage is for the sick, dying or old pilgrims and include visits to the main monasteries inside Tai Huai and to the Dai-Lor Peak, which has a set of replicas of the Manjusri statues housed at the five peaks.
Wutaisan is also famous for its mushrooms and a type of arthritis medicine made from those mushrooms.
Tai-Huai is likely to be where you are staying at. It is safe, with very low crime rate. There is not much to do other than visiting monasteries and there is not much of a night-life there. There were a few noisy places which must be karaoke bars (or homes of very weird people who turned the music up so loud and have Christmas lights at their front doors) but most tourists would sleep early and arise early for pilgrimage. While it is safe to walk around the streets at night, I do not think there is any point for doing so.
Best time for pilgrimage -
The ideal time is between June and October. Wutaisan is also known as 'the mountains of coolness' and has a weather ranging between - 40 and 30 degrees. During the best months for travel, it ranges between 7 and 30 degrees.
Money exchange -
The Chinese currency is called the Reminbis. Do not plan to change money at Wutaisan although it is possible. Do so in Beijing or Tai-Yuan. US$100 is around 800 Reminbis. Do not expect to be able to use credit cards in Wutaisan or have your travelers' checks cashed except in the most expensive hotels.
What to bring -
Other than the usual snacks, money (standard of living relatively low there), basic medicines, travel documents, etc., suitable clothing for weather ranging from 10 to 26 degrees, umbrellas or rainwear and footwear for light trekking (and for horse riding if you do not intend to walk at some places) should be on your list of 'what to bring'. Film is available at many shops but it is safer to bring your own camera batteries. Showing refuge ordination certificates would mean free entrance into most places which charge a few dollars for entering. It is better to save that few dollars and donate the money to the monastery offering boxes instead. The entrance fee collection is a government tourist policy and not necessarily with approval of the monasteries or their monks. The fee collected, or the main part of that anyway, goes to the tourist bureau or other non-Buddhists departments and does not benefit the monasteries one is visiting much. It is not necessary to bring kataks as they are for sale at the Shi-Fang monastery for 3 Reminbis or so, By the way, most monasteries prefer you not to smoke, consume alcohol or meat, or take photos inside temple halls. Just remember that they are places of worship although tourists are allowed in. Do not do things that you normally would not do in a Christian church. If you ask very nicely while showing respect for the statues, most caretakers would let you take photos.
Getting there -
You could either enter Wutaisan from Beijing by trains or coaches (or chartered coaches which are very expensive) or from Tai-Yuan by trains, public vans or chartered coaches and vans.
From Beijing - You get your one-way tickets to Sha-He from Beijing railway station and it is the same place you board the trains. The station does not indicate too clearly and you need to find the correct numbered hall for passengers going the direction of Tai Yuan (She-He is in the middle of the route) and wait there until they let you board the trains. People are very rough at the train station and it is not the most pleasant station I have been to. In fact, it would probably feel like being in a train station in Russia 30 years ago. The train ride from Beijing is 150 Reminbis one way for the best beds (4 bed in each compartment. You might be sharing the room with 3 strangers if you are alone. There are no separate male and female rooms. If you do not feel safe you could ask the staff to put you up elsewhere. When asked nicely they would usually help.) and ordinary beds are 105 each (very comfortable, safer than the compartment option if are a western young female traveling alone). Snacks, instant noodles, coffee and tea are available at reasonable prices when the service people feel like offering the services. The cheapest tickets are the 'hard seats' at 50 Reminbis each, which mean that you sit in a hard upright seat next to two tattooed strangers who smoke like chimneys despite the non-smoking signs on a row of 3 seats which could only fit two persons of average size. It is not dangerous but not pleasant either, especially when the trip is for 7 hours. It would be quite an once-in-a-lifetime experience if you are into that kind of adventures. The trains run overnight, leaving Beijing railway station at around 9PM and arrive at the town of Sha-He near Wutaisan at around 4AM. Morning calls are usually announced before the trains arrive at Sha-He but do not count on that. The trains only stop for 3 minutes and they leave at the expiration of the 3 precious minutes whether you get off or not (in case you are too late to get off, the officers would not apologize to you. They would ask you to pay extras instead as your tickets only take you to Sha-He.). If you travel as a group, this train ride is actually a lot of fun.
From Sha-He, you would find vans waiting to pick up customers. It is usually 20 to 25 Reminbis each for the ride and another 50 for the government tourist bureau charge to enter Wutaisan. The most important thing is that you get off the trains quickly and rush to the vans. The vans do not solicit customers in English and they just leave after a while, if you do not make it known that you wish to go to Wutaisan. Even with chartered vans, you could still ask the drivers and the tour leaders for a ride. Most people visiting are on pilgrimage and usually are quite friendly and helpful (unless if you look unfriendly). The ride is about one and a half hour and pleasant. Sometimes you would see deers running across the road. The drivers would take each passenger to the place you wish to be released at. If you are traveling by train in a group and has chartered a van beforehand for Sha-He to Wutaisan, you could get the drivers to take you to pay respect to South Peak on the way to the heart region, as it is on the way. It would cost extra, of course.
There is one drawback of using the train services from Beijing though can't buy return tickets from Beijing station ( you can get them through some travel agents though). If you do not have return tickets, on the way back you must either travel to Tai-Yuan beforehand and get a ticket there or risk it at the Sha-He station at midnight for the 00:20 trains and try to get spare tickets ( you only find out how many seats are left 20 minutes before the trains arrive).
You could also go to Wutaisan and return to Beijing by coaches, which run a few times daily. Some coaches have beds and are very comfortable. The trip is a little longer than the train, perhaps even up to 10 hours, but the scenery is really nice with spectacular views of the Great Wall along the way. To return to Beijing from Wutaisan by coaches, you need to ask around and make your bookings a few days prior to your departure. From Tai-Yuan - Tai-Yuan is a small city which has an airport with flights coming from most cities of China and Hong Kong. From here you could get train tickets to Sha-He. The ride is about 4 hours. There are daily privately-run vans which are cheap but not too comfortable.
Note for pilgrims -
It is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition to buy whatever one is being offered by the first person who asks upon entering Wutaisan. It is considered auspicious. In a pilgrimage, the pilgrims would cultivate a mind of faith and devotion on the way there. As soon as one settles in a hotel and wash the hands and face, one should go immediately to the most sacred site and pay homage before having anything to eat or drink or looking after one's personal needs. In Wutaisan usually Tibetans go straight to the Asoka stupa.
It is not difficult to find cheap hotels ( 20 Reminbis for a bed / rooms with 3 beds have toilets and showers) or monasteries that would be happy to host you for as little as 10 Reminbis a day, meals provided (vegetarian). However, it is considered against the tourist bureau regulations for monasteries to accommodate foreigners (this may or may not include Hong Kong citizens, depending on the mood of the tourist officials when you ask). There are a number of hotels in the heart region of Tai -Huai which are cheap and clean. I led a tour of 40 in July 1998, mainly Chinese, on a pilgrimage and stayed at a newly built hotel 10 minutes walk from the mall of Tai -Huai. It was 20 Reminbis per bed and 3 beds per room (if you travel alone you could pay 60 Reminbis to have the whole room if you wish). Each room has a toilet and bath room. All rooms have excellent view of Dai-Lor Peak and the Asoka Stupa and the hotel owner even washed our clothes. There were 2 small restaurants next to the hotel which served clean, cheap but not-too-delicious foods. A meal per person was about 5 to 10 Reminbis unless if you go for the famous Wutai mushrooms which cost a lot and not really worth the price. The only problems with this hotel (and most in China) were that the boss (who was also the receptionist, tour manager and laundry person) did not speak English and hot water was only available for 4 hours a day in the evenings (if you travel as a group, you could 'beg' him to turn on the hot water in other hours. It worked everyday when I was there). There are expensive hotels (up to Reminbi $1,000 + per room) too, probably worth 3 stars. They are a lot more expensive but English speaking people may find life easier there.
I do not think there are any western type of restaurants in the mall of Wutaisan, but there are some in the hotels approved to host foreigners. Most restaurants in the streets are cheap and offer pretty much the same foods. They are not suitable for westerners' or Chinese from the Southern regions but are clean and safe. Just remind yourself that you are on a pilgrimage and are supposed to undergo some hardship and you would be okay. The foods are not bad not too delicious. Vegetarians would have no problems as there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants ( as non-delicious as the meat dishes served in other restaurants ). One more thing - most restaurants do not have English speaking staff or English menus. As the place is frequented by visitors from Tibet and Mongolia, residents are very used to conversing with people who do not speak their language and are generally very patient and friendly. It is also okay for you to walk into the kitchens and point at the foods you want, as long as you keep smiling and appear friendly while doing so. It is also possible to have meals in some monasteries if you arrange with the caretakers in advance. Most of the time they do not ask for anything in return but please do not take advantage of the monasteries which already are struggling to revive and rebuild. It is up to you to leave a handsome offering in return.
Transport within Wutaisan -
Taxis are available with non-English speaking drivers who usually smoke. Daily vans run by travel agents go to the peaks and other places of interest. You could either arrange with travel agents (there is always one in your hotel if you ask around or the hotel owner would make arrangement for you) or just wait on the roadside and stop the vans to get on, that is if you could read the destination signs in Chinese. A trip to any of the peaks is usually about 20 Reminbis. It is better to charter a van if you have a group, as you would want to stop for prayers at most places if you are pilgrims. The van owners would charge per person as long as you have 8 people or so, although a van takes 16 or more. If you ask the van to go to 2 peaks or more peaks, the per head price just doubles and triples, although some peaks are on the same route anyway. It is wise to work out a discounted price and get to at least 2 or 3 peaks in a day. In fact it is even better to see all peaks in one day, starting 6 AM and returning at around 6PM. A van would cost 400 Reminbis or so but you pay for lunch for the driver and another person who usually do not do anything (I think he is called the 'tour manager') . The drivers usually smoke and get very upset if you demand them not to (which mean you would not enjoy the trip and he would be very difficult). You must list ALL the places you wish to spend time at when working out the deal and make sure the van owner and you have a copy each, with prices clearly written , length of time you wish to spend in each location, and the length of time you would have the van for. On the way, sometimes the drivers pick up hitch hikers, friends or a few extra passengers if your chartered van has empty seats. They consider this to be normal and not a breach of contract or taking advantage of you in any way. It is better to specify that you do not want this to happen if you hate strangers or are very possessive.
The more important sites to visit :
Ta-Yuan Monastery / Asoka Stupa / Stupa of Manjusri hair -
The monastery houses the 2 most important stupas of Wutaisan and is in the middle of the town of Tai -Huai.
The larger, 180 feet tall, stupa which is visible from practically any part of Tai -Huai is the Asoka stupa.
It is surrounded by a number of Tibetan prayer wheels and has a number of small shrines at its base. In one of these shrines is a replica of a foot print of the Sakyamuni, said to have been copied by Tripitaka Master Xyin Chuang when he visited India in the Tang dynasty. The original footprint in India was left for the benefits of sentient beings, as the Buddha said to his close disciple Ananda, 'In the future, whoever sees this footprint which I leave for beings to pay homage to, shall be blessed and have their negativities purified.'
Asoka stupas were the stupas commissioned by the famous Buddhist emperor Asoka centuries ago. Buddhist history relates that he had the help of numerous spirits and had 84,000 stupas built all over the world overnight. Only a relatively small number of these stupas are known to us. Each stupa contains the relics of the historical Buddha and is therefore accorded with highest respect. Wutaisan was mentioned by the Buddha over 2500 years ago as a place where Manjusri dwells and teaches. It was described to be in China, in a certain direction and a certain distance from India. However, in the early stages of Chinese Buddhist development, the description was treated more as a legend than an actual place. One of the Asoka stupas was said to be in this legendary sacred place. The first two Indian monks to enter China had long ago noticed the mentioning of the Manjusri's holy residence situated in China, as spoken by Sakyamuni the Buddha. Shortly after they arrived in China, the two monks used clairvoyance power and saw the Asoka stupa of Wutaisan in their vision. They came in a pilgrimage in search of the mountain and confirmed Wutaisan as the place described in the sutras, using this stupa as bearing. Xian-Tong monastery was built by the monks and became the second oldest Buddhist monastery in China, the first being built when they first arrived in Lo-Yan. It was named the monastery of Vultures' Peak, after the sacred peak where the historical Buddha taught many texts to his disciples. An emperor of China, to express his devotion and faith towards the new religion, renamed the monastery 'the monastery of Great Faith Vultures' Peak", which was later changed to Xian-Tong. It is believed, however, that the actual Asoka stupa is a much smaller one about 18 feet tall, enshrined in this large stupa which was built later by Nepalese to protect the precious smaller stupa.
Next to the large stupa is a small stupa called the stupa of Manjusri's hair.
This stupa is white, about 15 feet tall and situated in a quiet corner of the monastery. There is an interesting story connected to this stupa, one of the 2 most sacred in Wutaisan. Centuries ago, Xian-Tong monastery had the tradition of hosting annual grand offerings in the third lunar month as a charity. Monks, nuns and lay people were invited to pay respect at Wutaisan and the monastery would offer free meals to any visiting sponsors. Once an old but pregnant woman arrived with a child while carrying another baby and followed by a dog. She walked past the reception where sponsors were expected to make monetary offerings and cut off some of her matted hair as she had nothing else to offer. The hair was put aside and ignored. The woman asked for her share of meal to be given as she was in a hurry. Although it was not the arranged time for meals yet, she was given lunch boxes anyhow by a monk. One was for her and the other for her child. The woman asked for another share as she had a baby and was given the extra box. She then demanded for another for the baby in her womb. The monk was a little upset but gave her another nevertheless. The beggar-woman asked for yet one more for the dog and the monk lost his temper and started scolding her for her greediness. The dog then changed into a snowlion, the baby and the child into two youthful attendants and the old woman transformed into Manjusri and flew away, pronouncing a verse that goes, 'The mind reacts to thousands of conditions involuntarily. First train your equanimity. Once you see beyond the bodily appearances, how would you still have a wavering mind of attachment to some and hostility towards some others?'. The over 1,000 people were amazed by the spectacle and prostrated In unison. The monk who lost his temper earlier was now in great regrets and attempted to pluck out his eyes, saying that his eyes were useless in that they did not even recognize the great being who was in front and caused his great misdeeds towards Manjusri. The other monks persuaded him into building a stupa instead and the hair offered by the old woman was honored. The hair, when looked at before it was inserted, appeared as ordinary black hair to some and as gold threads to others. This event actually took place in Xian-Tong monastery. At that time the Ta-Yuan and Xian-Tong monasteries were under the same abbotship and the stupa was built in Ta-Yuan instead of where the incident happened. The monk who scolded the old woman later erected a memorial plate with a picture depicting the scene of the old woman transforming into Manjusri and flying away, with the verse spoken by her engraved as a lesson for people to respect any other sentient beings despite their appearances. The plate is now enshrined in the right bottom corner of the grand prayer hall of Yuan-Zhao monastery as you enter the hall. The stupa will undergo maintenance and repair in 1999 and it is possible to contribute towards the project.
At the library of this monastery is a special 'scriptures wheel' which is a man-powered revolving shelves, built in 1581 by the famous master Mien Shan, containing over 20,000 volumes of Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese Buddhist texts. It is a symbol of the turning wheel of dharma and the idea of building such a device was likely to be influenced by the Tibetan prayer wheels.
Named after the son of the historical Buddha, born before the Buddha renounced worldly life, this monastery is currently run by Mongolian Gelugpa monks and was built in the Tang dynasty. It is just opposite the Ta-Yuan Monastery and next door to Hi-Fang Monastery, on the main street. It is a popular place for pilgrimage particularly for Mongolians. The inner chamber has a wooden structure with revolving lotus petals that open to show the Buddha images inside. The device is operated by a monk who goes under the structure through a trap door in the temple. Usually the lotus is left in an opened position for people to see but if one asks nicely, the monks are usually happy to spin the lotus for guests to appreciate the motion. It is auspicious to offer kataks here and the arhats at the bottom of the lotus are worth noting.
The monastery also houses a tantric chamber with Yamantaka, Heruka, Guhyasamaja, Kalarupa, Mahakala, and Palden Lhamo. Tantric chambers are usually not open for lay people but this one is open for all to visit apparently (probably because no one knows about traditions anymore and the place has turned a little tourist orientated ). The chamber is worth a look and for making prayers to tantric deities and protectors. The four directional protectors' statues here are distinctively different from the statues seen at Chinese monasteries, as they were made in the Tibetan style.
It is next to the Rahula Monastery at the corner of the main street and used to be a branch temple of Rahula. In the old days this was the most famous amongst the Tibetan monasteries that would host visiting monks and pilgrims. It is a small monastery now with about 20 Tibetan monks mostly from Amdo.
The monastery has a Tibetan medical clinic and a small shop which sell over-priced statues and khadaks. The monastery offers statue filling and blessing services with no fixed charges. The clinic sells Tibetan medicine at very high prices but the doctor is said to be quite good. It is possible to request the monks there to perform pujas at the Asoka stupa or stupa of Manjusri's hair for sponsors with 1000 lamp offering ritual. One is expected to pay for the offerings and butter used for lamps and it is up to the sponsor to offer a small amount per monk attending the pujas at appropriate times of the rituals. The young monks there speak good mandarin and could make special arrangement to enter the inner shrine of the Asoka Stupa for the pujas. Please note puja arrangements are not official program of the monastery and one has to request nicely, rather than demanding such arrangements. The sponsor is expected to be present for the pujas and lamp offerings are done in the evenings.
Although not a big monastery or very old comparing to other monasteries of the region, it is well worth a visit as all the statues here were made in bronze, rather than the inferior clay or wooden counterparts, strictly in accordance with the Tibetan tradition and are the few statues that escaped the massive destruction of the past few decades.
The monastery is the biggest and the oldest of Buddhist monasteries of the region. In 64 AD, the Chinese emperor Han Ming dreamt of holy beings in the west and was told that an enlightened being lived in India. He sent delegates in order to invite the teachings to come to China. When in the place we now call Afghanistan, they managed to acquire a good collection of Buddhist texts and statues and met two Indian masters who were spreading the doctrines there. The masters were invited to China and became the first Buddhist teachers of China. A monastery was built in Lo-yan and named 'the monastery of the white horse', after the horse that carried the sacred texts into China. The two masters noticed the mentioning of a sacred place in China in the sayings of the Buddha. Using their clairvoyance and looking for the Asoka stupa that was known to be in this holy place, they found Wutaisan and confirmed this to be the sacred place mentioned in the texts. However, at the time this region was occupied by the Taoists and their plan to erect a monastery faced some obstacles. The emperor summoned the masters and the Taoists leaders and ordered them to put their holy scriptures on two platforms. The texts were lighted and the Buddhist texts remained intact while the Taoist texts were burnt to ashes. The emperor then announced Buddhism was superior and the masters be permitted to use the Taoist place. Thus Xian-Tong was built in 68AD. The monastery stands on a site that looked like the Vultures' peak of India, one of the holiest places of India and thus it was first named 'The Vultures' Peak Monastery'. The emperor, to express his devotion and faith, renamed it 'The Great Faith Vultures' Peak Monastery'. It was renamed by a later emperor as Xian-Tong in 1687.
The monastery has the largest bell of the region. The bell, built in 1620 weighs 9999 KG, is 8 feet tall, 3 inches thick and with a diameter of 5 feet. Over 10,000 Chinese characters, text of a Buddhist sutra, decorate the body of the bell.
There is a museum in the monastery which houses many priceless religious artifacts worthy of a look even if one is not into antiques.
The monastery has a number of other places of interest to both pilgrims and tourists. The 1000-armed Manjusri temple has a very rare statue of Manjusri with 11 heads and 1000 arms. Each hand holds an alms bowl with a Sakyamuni Buddha statue inside. Manjusri is the embodiment of all the Buddhas' wisdom. According to the oral tradition, this statue symbolizes that the depth of Manjusri's wisdom equals the wisdom of 1000 Buddhas and 1000 monks, symbolized by the 1000 Buddha statues and 1000 monks' bowls he holds in his hands. There is another Manjusri temple which houses the statues of the five emanations of Manjusri along with other statues of Manjusri and other holy beings.
The Chenrezig temple houses a replica of a very famous Chenrezig statue now worshipped in Putorsan, the sacred place of Chenrezig and also one of the four holy mountains of China. The original statue called 'The Kuan-Yin who does not wish to leave' was first worshipped here in 863AD. A Japanese master was given the statue to be taken to Japan. When the ship got to a place near Potursan, which is called 'the ocean of lotuses' now, the storm was so bad that the ship could not go further. The next day first looked fine but when the ship was leaving, a storm again came and the plan to leave was abandoned. On the third day the ship was leaving and the storm came again. The monk observed 'iron lotuses' grew out of the surface of the ocean and blocked the ship. Prayers were made to the statue asking the statue's indication on whether the obstacles were due to the unwillingness of the Buddha (the statue) to travel to Japan. At that point the storm ceased and an 'iron cow' appeared and ate the 'iron lotuses', clearing a path on the surface of the ocean for the ship to return to Putorsan. A monastery was built to house this statue by the Japanese monk and the residents there and was named 'the Monastery housing the Kuan-Yin who would not leave'. This statue became one of the most respected of China and a replica was made in Xian-Tong in place of the original one.
Just around the corner as one comes out of the 1000-armed Manjusri temple is the remarkable bronze temple. Built in 1605 by the Chinese emperor Wan-Lit in honor of his mother, the construction used bronze collected from 10,000 families from all over China, to make the building auspicious (the number 10,000 was considered a number of longevity at that time). Inside the temple, there are 10,000 Buddha statues mounted on the walls. As one comes out, on the right corner of the temple, there is a crack on the solid bronze pillar. When the Ching emperor Kang-Xi was visiting, he asked whether the entire temple was made in solid bronze. Out of curiosity, the emperor axed the pillar with his sword and made the crack. The emperor was satisfied and the crack was never repaired in memory of the emperor. In front of the temple are 5 stupas also made of bronze. They correspond to the 5 dhyani Buddhas, the 5 aspects of wisdom and the 5 emanations of Manjusri.
It is a Buddhist and Chinese tradition to honor landlords, who are spirit kings of the region. Some of the landlords are considered higher in status more or less like the worldly politicians. The landlord of Xian-Tong is honored as the leader of landlords of the entire province. There is an interesting legend related to this : When emperor Kang-Xi visited, he was standing at the west bronze stupa and suddenly asked why the monastery did not have a temple that honored the landlord spirit, as with most other monasteries. The abbot replied that there was indeed a temple for the landlord and that the emperor was standing right in front of it. He was referring to a miniature temple just a few inches high with a miniature landlord statue inside. The temple served as a decoration of the stupa and was not used as a real temple. The emperor bent down to see for himself. Upon seeing the toy-sized landlord statue, he laughed merrily and exclaimed, 'Wow! He sure is BIG!'. As the story goes, a voice, said to be of the spirit landlord of the place, came from the miniature temple, 'Thank you my emperor for granting this status.' It was believed that the emperor ruled both the world we see and the supernatural world as well and what he said would be honored as valid. Thus this landlord statue, the smallest in the province in size, became respected and worshipped as the leader of all landlords.
Yuan-Zhao Monastery -
At the time of the Ming emperor Yung-Lo (1402), the great Indian master Srisa came to China. He was appointed the imperial teacher and granted golden seals, banners and parasols, all symbols of status and started to build this monastery. He died in China and 2 stupas were erected to house his relics. One was near Beijing and the other stupa now still stands in Yuan-Zhao Monastery. The famous disciple of Lama Tsong Khapa, Jamyang Choje taught in this monastery in 1414 and the event was considered the beginning of the spreading of Gelugpa lineage teachings in China. Jamyang Choje spent many years in China and was appointed as Imperial teacher by 2 Chinese emperors. The second emperor (son of Yung-Lo) granted the title, 'The Great Dharma King of Love' to him and this became his more well-known title. Apart from his great activities in China, Jamyang Choje was the founder of Sera Monastic University, one of the 3 largest monastic education institutes of the world.
At the end of the main street and the row of stalls, the monastery could be seen at the top of a staircase. The monastery is run by Chinese Gelugpas currently. The famous Srisa relic stupa is at the back of the main hall. Tibetans, particularly the Amdo Tibetans, who come to Wutaisan to recite the text of Chanting the names of Manjusri 10,000 times in order to attain increased wisdom would do so in front of this stupa.
A memorial plate depicting the scene of an old pregnant woman transforming into Manjusri and flying away is enshrined at the right hand side of the wall on the outside as one faces the entrance of the main prayer hall (details of story in Ta-Yuan Monastery section).
Guang-Zong Monastery -
Just behind Yuan-Zhao, a bit higher up the hill but below the Bodhisattva Peak. This is a very historical monastery and is run by Chinese Gelugpas. The monastery was first built in 1507. The 18-feet relic stupa of the great translator Fa Chun, who translated Lam Rim Chenmo and a lot of other texts from Tibetan into Chinese, is here on the right hand side as one enters the monastery. Many Chinese Gelugpas come here annually to offer their respect whether they knew this master or not, as he is considered one of the 2 forerunners of Chinese Gelugpas. The master was ordained in this monastery and went to Tibet for studies before the political changes. Upon his return, he translated many Tibetan texts into Chinese and managed to spread the doctrines of Gelugpa Buddhism very widely in China. His influence is still obvious even today in China.
Bodhisattvas' Peak (Pusa Peak) -
It has been mentioned previously that Wutaisan, unlike other holy places in China, has been heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The number of monasteries built by Tibetans or Mongolians (who are followers of Tibetan Buddhism) once exceeded that of Chinese Buddhism. The Xian-Tong Monastery has been regarded as the leading Chinese Buddhist monastery, while the Bodhisattvas' Peak, which is actually a monastery, has always been respected as the head of all Tibetan monasteries. These 2 are the most important sites to visit for the tourists.
The monastery is located at the top of the vultures' peak atop Guang-Zong Monastery. It was first built before the Tang dynasty but has undergone many renovations and renaming in the course of history. The monastery is reached by climbing 108 steps, symbolizing that it is by the passing beyond the 108 types of delusions that one could ascend to the top. At the top end of the steps, a rock carving of 9 dragons decorates the entrance. Both the number 9 and the dragon are symbols related to imperial status. Being such an important monastery, the abbots were appointed by either the Chinese emperors or the Dalai Lamas.
There is a stupa hall here where 20 stupas are kept, in memory of the 20 abbots who served between1698 and1937. The first 5 were appointed by the Chinese emperors and the other 15 were sent by the Dalai Lamas. In the western end of the monastery, a replica hall stands to replace the destroyed hall where emperor Kang-Xi stayed on 4 occasions in his 5 visits to the region, and emperor Chien-Lung who stayed twice here. It is worth noting that the roof tiles of this monastery are golden ceramics while the other monasteries have terra-cotta tiles in grey. Traditionally, the colors yellow and gold were reserved for the imperial court and it was illegal for peasants to use them. As the monastery has been used as the residence of 2 emperors on many occasions, permission to use the royal colors was granted when they were making new roofs, thus giving this monastery a very special status.
In the western chamber of the front prayer hall sits the well-known 'Manjusri bearing an arrow'. When the Ching dynasty emperor Kang-Xi was on his way back from a pilgrimage to the north peak, while passing the place called 'the bathing pool' where pilgrims used to bathe and clean before entering the region of the sacred land, he saw a monk bathing naked while ladies were around washing clothes. Being a pious Buddhist, the emperor felt the behavior of the monk was a disgrace for Buddhist practitioners and shot an arrow out of anger. The arrow hit the monk on the right shoulder but the monks escaped. Following the trail of blood, the emperor arrived at this hall and saw that the statue had his arrow, still with blood, on its right shoulder. The emperor realized that the monk was none other than Manjusri himself who manifested so that the emperor would become aware of this deteriorating hall's condition. Funds were granted for the renovation and the statue became well-known. In 1908 When the 13th Dalai Lama visited, he could not bear to see the holy being's image being pierced by the arrow and took it out with his hands. It used to be kept in a case as an offering on the altar until His Holiness took the arrow away.
In the southern end of the rear hall, there are 4 giant cooking pots worth seeing. The biggest one was made in 1601, 6 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep. The pots were used 26 days in a year when large number of pilgrims were to be served. In particular, they were used for cooking the special porridge in the 12th lunar months. In memory of the historic Buddha's having been offered milk by a young girl, Chinese Buddhists and most traditional Chinese families in general would cook porridge on the 8th day of the 12th month, said to be the enlightenment anniversary of the Buddha in the Chinese tradition (Tibetans celebrated this event on the 15th day of the 4th month). The making of special porridge on this day has become a Chinese tradition over the centuries rather than a purely religious event. Red beans, rice, green beans, dates, chestnuts and other grains replaced the milk as the offering. The monks in the old days would prepare for the cooking for 6 days and start cooking on the 6th. 6 pots would be cooked and the first offered on the morning of the 8th day of that month, after a night of continuous chanting of prayers. The 2nd pot would be offered to Jangya Rinpoche who usually stayed at Zhen-Hai Monastery. The 3rd would be offered to high lamas, the 4th to sponsors, the 5th to monks and the last to whoever came for the porridge, including lay people, beggars, pilgrims and poor families.
In the Manjusri temple, there is a replica of a painting by the Ching emperor Chien-Lung.
When His Holiness the 6th Panchen Lama visited the emperor for the emperor's 70th birthday in 1780, in gratitude, the emperor painted a Bodhi tree as an offering to His Holiness. The emperor, to show his devotion as a disciple of His Holiness and as a Buddhist, changed from his emperor's robes and crowns into lay Buddhists' robes while making this painting. In the past, this temple kept other treasures granted by emperors, including a statue made with 30 KG of solid gold, an abacus made of diamonds and a parasol made with huge pearls. They were probably destroyed in the cultural revolution or stolen around that period. The monastery used to be the place for the annual cham dance (lama masked sacred dance). The dance would last for 2 days with the 1st performed here and the 2nd day in Rahula Monastery. On the 2nd day, the abbot of this monastery would be carried in ornamental carts and accompanied by colorful procession to Rahula to watch the performance. Tens of thousands of people would gather just to see the procession. The annual cham dance has recently been revived here (but not in Rahula). The monastery is run by 20 or so Mongolian monks.
Pu-Shou Nunnery -
The nunnery is built on the site of a monastery built in 1202 and is about 2 KM from Tai -Huai. When a monk in the name of Yonten Lama has just completed the rebuilding in 1908, His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama was visiting Wutaisan on his tour from Mongolia to Beijing and the monastery given to His Holiness. His Holiness stayed at the monastery and gave teachings here for six months. The site was destroyed and turned into a hospital. It was revived in 1991 and is now the site of a nunnery. Over 500 nuns live here and attend the newly formed Vinaya school which is quickly gaining respect and recognition from Chinese Buddhists all over China. At the moment it is not open to tourists. It occupies a large piece of land now and has plans to expand to include Tibetan-styled prayer halls and many other facilities.
Vajra cave (Jin-Gang cave) -
Further up the hill along the same road going in the northern direction from Tai-Huai, one comes to the Vajra cave. The cave was excavated as early as the Tang dynasty and was said to contain numerous Buddhist texts and statues.
At around the same time, in 676AD, a pilgrim in the name of Buddhapuri arrived here from India, praying at this spot as he was about to enter the heart region of Wutaisan for a vision of Manjusri. An old man appeared and asked him in Sanskrit whether he had the Namgyalma text which could cleanse beings of negativities and which China did not have. The pilgrim replied that he did not have the text with him, to which the old man said, 'There is no benefit for you to visit here without bringing the text. Even if you meet Manjusri in person, he would not reveal himself to you. You should return to India and bring the text.' The old man disappeared as he said this and the pilgrim monk realized he has seen a manifestation of Manjusri. He returned to India without entering Wutaisan and in 683 came back to China with the text. The text was translated and became widely respected. The pilgrim was last seen walking into the cave, where he met the old man, holding the original Indian text and never emerged.
Bao-Hwa Monastery -
Just a short walk uphill from the vajra cave still along the same road, the Tang dynasty built monastery has a special stupa worth a visit and paying respect to. The tip part of the stupa is said to have come from Tibet, fallen from the sky, while the middle part is in Kumbum Monastery in Chinghai and the base still somewhere in Tibet. The story goes that a day an old lady appeared and told the villagers to move away as there would a stupa flying from Tibet to land here. None took any notice of the stranger. The old woman then grabbed a child and started running away from the village. The young villagers ran after her but was unable to catch the old lady although she seemed to be walking slowly. When everyone was a distance away from the village, a structure which was the top part of a stupa was witnessed to fly across the sky and landed in the village. The old woman was no where to be found. Feeling that the arrival of the lady and the stupa top were blessings of the Buddhas, the villagers erected a stupa using the top part which landed and they moved away to another place to give room for this monastery to be built.
Dai-Lor Peak -
This peak be seen on the right of the town of Tai -Huai if one is facing uphill. The peak is accessible by cable cars, horses or a climb up the many steps. Many pilgrims prefer to start 6 AM and prostrate their way up to the peak. It is said to be relatively easy. Most Tibetans feel that one should at least walk up the stairs rather than going by horses or cable cars.
The peak has a temple at the back which houses the set of 5 emanations of Manjusri (the same set of 5, one each at the 5 peaks of Wutaisan). The 5 are Red Manjusri, Youthful Manjusri, the Lion-roar Manjusri, White Manjusri, and Black Manjusri but are called Wisdom Manjusri (south), Youthful Manjusri (central), the Lion-roar Manjusri (west), the stainless Manjusri (north) and the Manjusri of intelligence (east) corresponding to the directional peaks respectively in the Chinese traditions. Emperor Chien Lung used to pay homage to Wutai regularly but he was frustrated in 1781 that after a few attempts, he was still unable to get to all the 5 peaks due to weather and other circumstances. He expressed his frustration and wondered whether he was lacking the good karma for reaching the peaks. The emperor asked an abbot to ensure his wish to pay respect to the 5 statues of Manjusri could be fulfilled in that 5 years' time. The abbot ordered a novice to come up with a solution. The novice thought for a long time and presented the idea to build another temple with all 5 replica statues together, not too high up the mountains but high enough for the emperor to experience some physical hardship so that he would 'feel' that he has accomplished something. The temple was built on this site as it is not dangerous but requires a hike just enough for the emperor to feel tiredness but not to the point of giving up and Chien-Lung was very pleased in 1786 when he visited. From then on, people who due to various reason (sickness, old age, weather or the lack of time) could not visit all the 5 peaks would pay homage to all 5 Manjusris here. From left to right, the statues are displayed in this order : the Manjusri of intelligence, Stainless Manjusri, Youthful Manjusri, Wisdom Manjusri, and the Lion-roar Manjusri. Paying homage here is called 'the lesser pilgrimage' in relation to the complete tour of the 5 peaks.
There is another small temple of interest to tourists and pilgrims. The temple with a hexagonal base houses a special form of Sakyamuni Buddha called the Sandalwood Buddha. In Sakyamuni's time, on one occasion he was to ascend the Tushita heaven to give teachings to his mother, who died shortly after delivering the baby prince who was to become the Buddha. The disciples requested something to remember the Buddha by in his absence and it was decided a drawing of him should be made. However, it was considered impolite to look at the great being straight in the face and a solution was conceived that the Buddha was to stand at the edge of a lake, the artists would paint his image as reflected in the surface of the lake. The finished painting was the image of Buddha as reflected in the water and thus was formed by waved lines. Later in history, a statue was made using the painting and the waved lines, specially evident in the part of the flowing robes, were copied. This statue was made in sandalwood and subsequently this became a style of the Buddha's images. Any statue made in this style would be called a sandalwood Buddha image, regardless of the material used. It is a rare form of statues seen in few places. There is also one in Yung-Hor palace of Beijing.
Shu-Xiang Monastery -
The monastery is only a short walk away from the Prajna spring and houses the largest Manjusri statue of the region. The monastery was first built in the Tang dynasty. In the Ching dynasty, a princess, an aunt of emperor Kang-Xi, was sent here to live in seclusion. The young princess was married to a powerful person executed shortly after the arranged marriage for treason. It was inappropriate for the princess to stay at the imperial palace after marriage but equally improper for her to stay else where. Emperor Kang-Xi knew Wutaisan well (he visited many times on pilgrimage and rumor maintains that he was in search of his father who some people claimed, and some historians still do, took up the life of a hermit monk after many years of rulership and participating in wars) and made this monastery an imperial patronized one for his sister to stay, arranging a hermit-like lifestyle for his sister to avoid embarrassment. There was a young, scholarly and handsome monk at the monastery who became a close friend of the young princess. Rumors about the two having an affair spread and eventually it was believed that the imperial court decided to take action. The plot was to burn down the monastery and thus killing the princess and the monk, to avoid further spreading of the embarrassing rumors. At the big fire, all buildings were destroyed except for the small house where the princess used to meet the young monk to discuss dharma. The emperor took this to mean that Manjusri was saving the house, the princess and the young monk to show that they were innocent. Large contributions were made by the imperial court to rebuild the monastery to expiate its sin in attempting to kill the princess and the rebuilt buildings are what we see here today. After the incident the monastery became known also as 'The Monastery of no stain', referring to the pure dharmic relationship between the princess and the monk, which was misunderstood.
The main statue is the Lion-riding Manjusri, over 9 meters tall and the biggest in Wutaisan. It is called the Chiao-faced Manjusri. When the statue was built, the craftsman tried many times to make the face to his satisfaction but without success. He was getting frustrated and prayed to Manjusri for assistance. One day when he was making his lunch out of the Wutaisan famed Chiao flour (a type of staple food), there appeared a cloud which resembles a perfect face of Manjusri. He immediately kneaded the dough in accordance to the face features of the cloud. The craftsman used the dough prototype to reproduce a perfect face but was unable to duplicate the dough perfectly. In the end the dough face was pasted onto the statue and gold painted, making it the only statue made with flour in the world.
Prajna spring (Bor-Yeah spring) -
The spring is on the road side where Shu-Xiang Monastery is just a few steps up the hill.
Monks living near this area used to walk miles in the winters to get water. There was a monk who vowed to perform a non-stop marathon chanting of the Diamond Sutra as a request to the holy beings to help with this ongoing water shortage problem. It took him 10 years to almost complete but on the evening prior to the completion day a tiger appeared and the monk stopped his chanting out of fear. Years later another monk attempted, almost 10 years passed and in the second last evening a tiger came and he was unmoved. On the last evening, however, a mighty spirit appeared and threatened to kill the monk if he continued the chanting. The monk was very afraid and stopped. Yet years later, in the Tang dynasty, another monk took up the incomplete task. On the second last evening the tiger came, and on the last evening the spirit came and yet he was unmoved. Near dawn an old man came and said that his wish would be granted the moment the monk completed his chanting but the monk's life must be surrendered for such a wish. This old man was warning and tempting the monk. The monk decided to give his life for the cause and just continued chanting. The old man just left. At the first light of morning, the monk completed his committed number. He saw water flowing out from underground just next to where he sat and laughed happily. When his laughter stopped people found that he was dead. From then this water, said to be blessed by Manjusri, has been used and praised by emperors and high lamas. Monks no longer need to suffer problems of water shortage. Many Tibetans use this place to perform their 100,000 water offering preliminary practices. I saw a Tibetan monk who, despite his advanced age, walked from Kansu to here to do water offering. Recently 2 Chinese nuns also completed their 100,000 water bowls offering at this spring. The pavilion next to the spring was used as a tea/picnic stop by a number of Chinese Emperors and high lamas when they came specially to take the water. The water is called 'the Wutai sacred water' and 'wisdom water'. It is said that one receives Manjusri's blessings by taking this water and one's wisdom would increase easily after drinking it.
Chenrezig cave (Kuan-Yin cave) -
South of the town of Tai -Huai, about 30 minutes by car. It is a short climb on the staircases to a temple at 1700 meters above sea level and behind the temple is the cave where His Holiness the 6th Dalai Lama meditated. Half way up the climb one would notice a small hexagonal pavilion. There are 3 murals on the pillars, one with Chenrezig saving a person about to be attacked by beasts, one of him saving a person attacked by a robber holding a knife and one of him saving a person being attacked by an enemy with a large stone. The main statue worshipped in the small temple is the 11-faced, 8-armed form of Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion. The cave is at the right back corner of the temple when one faces the entrance of the temple. It is only big enough for one person to sit in and is the place where Chenrezig manifested miracles. At the time of the Dalai Lama's arrival monks had to carry buckets of water from other places. When His Holiness was staying there, a spring naturally appeared at the left of his cave (if you are facing the cave) with very blessed and slightly sweet tasting water. His Holiness stayed and meditated in this cave for 6 years. The 13th Dalai Lama also paid homage to the cave when he visited in 1908. It is possible to get the monks to open the gate to take some water from the locked-up spring. The craftsmen at the temple (he is found at the bottom of the hill, where your car or van would be parked ) are specially skilled in making wrathful deities and accept commission works at reasonable price, except that one needs to arrange for the statues to be shipped to one's home country. About 15 Tibetan monks stay here and run the place.
Zhen-Hai Monastery -
The monastery is on the right hand side along the same southward road that led to Chenrezig cave but before arriving at the Dakini cave. The monastery is at the top of some stairs and houses some very ancient Indian statues, including one of Chenrezig in male form, which is the original main form this Buddha was depicted in ancient Buddhism. The monastery is run by Tibetan Gelugpas and Mongolians and used to honor Jangya Rinpoche as its head (actually the whole of Wutaisan has Jangya as the supreme head at one stage). Nowadays the abbot is a Mongolian who is neither ordained nor officially recognized appointed by the government. In this monastery one could see the 2 pine trees planted by Jangya Rinpoche himself in a courtyard and the Jangya stupa.
70 KG of solid gold are inside the stupa and it is amazing that they were not stolen or destroyed during the difficult years. The stupa was built in 1786 by Emperor Chien-Lung who was a disciple of the 3rd Jangya Rinpoche, who passed away in Wutaisan. Jangya Rinpoche had asked the Emperor not to make any monuments but this stupa was built after Rinpoche's death anyway. Emperor Chien- Lung confessed in his writings that he did quite well in following every word of his lama's instructions except for one thing : that he went against his lama's wish and built this stupa in memory of such a great lama despite the lama's expression of not wishing any monument to be built. The relics and gold are stored at the bottom of the stupa underground instead of within the body of the stupa, as the emperor foresaw wars and designed it this way so that if the stupa body was destroyed, the gold and relics would still remain intact underground. This stupa has been seen to emanate rainbow light rays on a few occasions during the last few centuries. The 20 or so monks there witnessed such an event just minutes after Khejok Rinpoche said his prayers in front of the stupa and left. The next day there were dozens of Tibetan and Mongolians lining up at the hotel to receive Rinpoche's blessings.
The monastery site used to be a small pond which flooded yearly and would kill many people. Tibetans would say it was the nagas getting upset. There was one time when it was starting to flood again, many people of the region were praying at night to Manjusri for help. They then saw a fireball flying across the sky from Tai-Huai's direction towards this area. The next morning they found a huge cooking pot blocking the water hole. The pot belonged to a Monastery miles away and was one of the biggest in Wutaisan. No one knows how it got there. It blocked the hole and there was no more flooding. The monastery was built here and thus named Zhen-Hai, literally meaning 'subduing the ocean'. There is a stupa called 'The Stupa subduing the ocean', which could be seen opposite the stairway leading to the monastery from the roadside, quite a distance away.
Zhen-Hai was the official Wutaisan seat of Jangya Rinpoches. There were 5 other monasteries under his abbotship and thus collectively named the 5 Jangya monasteries : Wen-Shu, Kwan-Hwa, Je-Fu, Che-Fu and Pu-Le. They were all destroyed in the 50's.
Dakini cave (Fo-Mu cave) -
A bit further South on the same road that led to Chenrezig cave and Zhen-Hai Monastery . It is a long hike up but horses are available. It is important to negotiate with horse owners as a group to get reasonable deals. It is about Reminbi 25 one way. There is still a hike up to the cave where the horses stop. The cave is not spectacular in a worldly sense. On the rock ceiling at the entrance of the cave one would see a naturally formed triangular hole called the dharma sphere. One enters the inner sanctum through a small opening to emerge again from the inner sanctum through the same hole again, to symbolically go through the birth process from Vajrayogini (Vajravarahi)'s womb. The inner cave is said to resemble a womb with rock formation that resemble the ribs and the organs and the shape of the opening bears resemblance of the vagina. The famous Jangya Rinpoche, the lama of Emperor Chien-Lung, meditated on the Naropa lineage of Vajrayogini (Narokhadro) here and attained the inner dakini pureland state. He had a vision of Vajrayogini and when he emerged from the cave, every person he saw was a daka or a dakini to him and every where he went appeared to him as the mandala of the deity. It is possible to do dakini tsog or other practices outside the cave with offerings set up inside. Recently a group performed tsog here and there was a flower rain followed by a gentle hail storm. The event was talk-of-the-town for many days. Note that there are people selling fire crackers outside the cave and that it is NOT a Buddhist practice to light fire crackers at a holy place.
The Peaks -
Small temples, windy, very sacred but equally as boring. It is possible to visit all the 5 peaks on the same day if one starts early in the morning with a chartered van and bring a pack lunch. Due to road and weather conditions, the vans sometimes could be take passengers right to the peaks and one may need to walk a little. The statues at the peaks are new and made in 1999.
Lions' Lair (Shi-Zi Wor) -
The place was so named as 'millions of lions' were once witnessed in the sky and the place became respected as a special Manjusri's place (as he rides on a lion). There used to be a monastery but this was destroyed, leaving only the 13-storey stupa standing. The stupa was built in 1604 in Chinese style which, unlike the Tibetan or Thervada stupas, does not conform with Indian Buddhist traditions of building stupas. It has golden ceramic roof tiles. Not a place of great interest but one would pass by the place anyway if one visits the peaks, It is between the west and the south peaks.
Jin-Ge Monastery -
Close to the south peak, this monastery was built in 770 AD and has the largest statue of the region.
In 736AD, the great master Dao-Yi came to Wutaisan for pilgrimage. When he was near the site of this monastery, there came a sand storm and the master was unable to see beyond a few steps. He made silent prayers and a novice appeared and led him to a huge and ornate monastery. He was given a guided tour of the building complex before he was led to an old monk. Tea was served and Dao-Yi noted the exceptionally good taste of the tea, the best tea he had ever drunk. The old monk gave a teaching on 'The extensive Prajna Paramita Sutra' to Dao-Yi and walked him to the front gate of the monastery. Dao-Yi took 2 steps and turned around to thank the old monk again but there was no sight of the old monk or the monastery. Dao-Yi found himself in a deserted place and realized Manjusri had shown him a monastery he was to build. He drew up a detailed plan to build the monastery exactly the same as he remembered. Dao-Yi did not manage to raise enough money to build and the plan was later picked up by another monk who completed the building the way Dao-Yi described as according to his vision in 770AD. An Indian master from the famed Nalanda Monastery served as technical consultant during the building and the completed monastery was offered to another great Indian master. The halls used to have roof tiles made in copper and plated with gold, thus the name Jin-Ge, or 'golden top', was used.
The 1000-armed Chenrezig statue in the central hall is 51 feet tall and made in 1558. An old pine tree of the monastery was used to carve the statue. The branches were carved to become the 1000 arms and the trunk into the body. Shu-Xiang Monastery has the largest Manjusri statue of Wutaisan, while this statue of Chenrezig is the largest of all statues of the region.
Ji-Xiang Monastery (Qing-liang-qiao) -
The monastery was built before the Tang dynasty and rebuilt a number of times. It is in a valley not far from the west and the central peaks.
The Manjusri statue of this monastery is an unusual form, with a beard, wearing the robes of a monk and carries a lantern in his hand. The facial expression is very life-like, making this statue specially famous amongst the many Manjusri statues in Wutaisan. Emperor Kang-Xi was lost when he visited this place in search of his father who was suspected to have taken up the life of a wandering monk after becoming tired of a political life. The emperor arrived near this monastery late at night and met an old monk holding a red lantern, who led him past a foot bridge to the monastery. At the disappearance of the monk, the emperor noticed the unusual statue looked exactly like the old monk and holds the same lantern. The Manjusri became known as 'the Manjusri with a lantern' and the footbridge 'Bridge to coolness' (Qing-liang-qiao), referring to the name of residence of coolness where Manjusri was supposed to dwell in.
In the 1950's and 60's, the great master Nan-Hai lived and taught here. The Chinese master went to Lhasa of Tibet to learn from other great masters such as the Pabongkhapa and Khangsar Rinpoche (the 2 had a master-disciple relationship and are known as the sun and the moon of Tibetan Buddhism) for 9 years. Upon returning to China, Nan-Hai started a movement spreading the doctrines of Gelugpa lineage and became well-known. His disciples totaled a few thousands and he was officially invited in 1945 by Roosevelt, then president of the United States, to teach in America. He declined the offer but visited Vienna and New Delhi as a leader within the Buddhist circles of China in 1952 and 1955. Passed away in 1967 in meditation in Wutaisan, Nan-Hai and Fa-Chun (see Guang-Zong Monastery) are respected even now as the forerunners of Chinese Gelugpas (Chinese people who follow the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism). The influence of these 2 masters is still evident all over China today.
Suggested Itinerary for small groups of pilgrims -
Arrival Day : Check in, pay homage to Ta-Yuan Monastery's 2 stupas and see Ta-Yuan, then to Shi-Fang, Rahula, Xian-Tong, Yuan-Zhao, Guang-Zong, the Bodhisattvas' Peak, Pu-Shou, the Vajra cave, and Bao-Hwa as they are all within the Tai-Huai region within walking distance (note that the order of listing here roughly correspond to a straight line from the mall, through the Bodhisattvas' Peak and ending at Bao-Hwa Monastery). If you do not spend much time at each stop, there would be enough time to walk up the Dai-Lor Peak and pay homage to the 5 Manjusris there. While you visit Shi-Fang Monastery, you may wish to arrange with the monks to have lamp offering pujas done at the sacred stupas to be performed on the second and third evenings of your stay, as it is necessary to arrange beforehand. You would need to make arrangement for transport for the next days on this day.
Second Day: An early start at around 6AM to visit all the 5 peaks, the Lions' Lair, Jin-Ge and Ji-Xiang Monasteries. Lamp offering pujas in the evening with the Tibetan monks at Asoka Stupa, if you have successfully arranged this with the monks at Shi-Fang on the previous day.
Third Day: You may like to start 6AM and prostrate your way up Dai-Lor Peak as the Tibetans do, if you did not get to the peak on the first day. Then travel by chartered taxis or vans (depart Tai-Huai by 11AM the latest) to the Prajna Spring, Shu-Xiang Monastery, the Chenrezig Cave, Zhen-Hai Monastery and the Dakini Cave in this order. These places of interest are along the same road, with the first stop being the closest to Tai-Huai and the last stop, the Dakini cave, the furthest. It is wise not to do the tour in reverse order as the Dakini cave visit could be physically demanding and would ruin the day if you exhaust yourself in the climb up. Lamp offering pujas with the Tibetan monks in the evening at the Manjusri Hair Stupa, if you have successfully arranged this with the monks at Shi-Fang on the first day.
Fourth Day: Shopping and a day for prayers before departure on the same day.
Note 1) - It is important to schedule the visit to the peaks in the early part of the trip, so that in case of sickness or changing weather conditions, you would have the remaining days of stay there to complete the homage circuit to the peaks, which is the key part of the pilgrimage.
Note 2) - The above itinerary is about as brief and complete as it could be, if you wish to pay homage to all the important places instead of just seeing a few places and taking some photos. I suggest that you spend 5 days there instead and spend 2 days doing what is suggested for the arrival day, as it would then allow you to spend some meditative moments in these special places.