Thursday, August 16, 2007

Big Buddha

So, yes, after much boredom, sucking in bus exhaust, and dazedly scanning the throngs of Chinese passersby for white and/or black people, I finally found the group.

Our next destination on Lantau Island was the Big Buddha which is more properly called the Tian Tan Buddha, a name it was given because its base is modelled after the earth mound altar thingy at the Temple of Heaven (i.e. Tian Tan) in Beijing. The Big Buddha is by no means ancient -- construction was completed back in 1993 so it doesn't date back much farther than Nirvana's In Utero or the premiere of the X-Files. It's claim to fame is that it is the world's tallest, outdoor, seated Buddha statue -- those are a lot of qualifiers, I know, but it is none the less a fun landmark to visit and an impressive figure.

The northeastern part of the Lantau, which contains Tung Chung, the airport, and Disneyland, and much of which was reclaimed from the sea, is becoming increasingly developed with ultramodern buildings and infrastructure. Yet, much of the rest of the island is occupied by two large Country Parks where development is limited and where Hong Kong citizens can enjoy pristine nature. Come to think of it, I really want to come back here someday and just spend a few days hiking through the mountains (I've been daydreaming about hiking a lot recently) and chilling with the monks and stuff.

The part of the Lantau that's home to Big Buddha is closed to private buses so we needed to take a public bus to the Po Lin monastery . There used to be a ski lift that would take you there as well, but the authorities put it out of commission after it proved to be abnormally prone to accidents.

The contrast between the modernity of Tung Chung (Citygate sort of reminded me of "Tomorrowland") and the natural beauty surrounding the bus route was even more striking than when we travelled from Central Hong Kong up into the mountains to the south. Nevertheless, the city state's benevolent, civilized government was still represented not only by the public transportation but also by the drainage pipes and anti-erosion walls interrupting the landscape.

Incidentally, if you should ever visit Hong Kong for more than a day, you should totally invest in an Octopus Card which you can use to pay for the MTR, buses, the tram, the ferry...

Anyway, the bus took us up and down and up again on a steep, narrow mountain road. Some people in our crew confessed to being a tad bit nervous, but I figured the bus driver probably drove this route like 10 times a day and thus I didn't sweat it (Let the record show this, for reference later in the trip, that I am normally not squeamish about mountain roads).

It was raining when we first arrived at the Po Lin monastery and a few people bought some stylish plastic ponchos. But, fortunately for us, after a couple of minutes the rain ceased. It was still cool and windy though, and the veils of cloud rolling over the surrounding mountains really added a mystical air to our visit. I remember telling Ada that the fog and the wind made it feel like we had reached the end of the world.

Pilgrims have to climb up 268 steps in order to reach the Big Buddha. Pretty much everyone in our group did it including Peso (who was wearing a cast!), Dr. and Mrs. Echetebu, and little Sydney. I kind of felt like the laborious act of climbing the steps should alone be enough earn one some sort of spiritual reward.

Buddha looms above, seated in the center of a giant lotus and wearing a serene expression. His right hand is raised palm open as if to say "Chill..." Surrounding the Big Buddha are several smaller statues of female goddesses or enlightened beings who hold offerings in their hands (Buddha's box, a lotus, a pan flute, uh er... a tiny fountain?). Perhaps just as spectacular as the Buddha statue itself was the awesome view.

After we made our way back down the steps (which wasn't much easier than the climb up, truth be told), we headed to the monastery's temple. Outside the temple were large cast iron pots where incense is always burning so that sweet smelling smoke would waft over to Buddha keeping him relaxed and pleased.


GG said...

I really recommend glacier, it's definitely one of my favorite trips. It looks like you're having a pretty cool trip too!

Ada said...

Aaahhh... memories... I'm still not over being back. Went out last night and people were like "where've you been this summer?"... My response in my head was ".....aaaaaaahhhhh... damn... for the life of a trustfund baby."

Meeg said...

I hear you. I'm trying to figure out when I can get away again.

nola32 said...

ahhh, accident prone ski-lifts. gotta love em.