Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)

Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)

 
Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)
Mt PutuoOur bus just arrived as the last boat was getting ready to embark. It was a cold and windy night and rain lashed the pier. We were traveling to an island on a lake that was populated with Buddhist temples or so we were told. For now we were more concerned about drowning in place far away from our homes. Mt. Putuoshan lies to the east of Zhoushan City. Zhoushan City is situated on Zhoushan Island that in turn gives its name to a group of some four hundred small islands off the east coast of China in Zhejiang Province. These islands are in fact the peaks of submerged mountains and so rise steeply from the sea. Mt. Putuoshan dominates the small rhomboidal land mass with its total area of about 12.5 square kilometres (4.8 square miles). The mountain is of one of four in the country that are held sacred by Buddhists and it was here that over the centuries a once large Buddhist community was to evolve.

The island's scenic beauty meant it was the perfect setting for temples and other religious buildings. In due course, it became known as the "Heaven of the Sea and Kingdom of the Buddhists". In its heyday, the island had eighty-two temples and nunneries together with some one hundred and twenty-eight shelters that between them housed 4,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. Even today visitors to the island will encounter monks in their traditional robes as they walk along the many paths that crisscross the picturesque landscape.

The major sites to visit on the island are:
Puji Temple: This temple dates from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and covers 11,000 square meters (2.7 acres). Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)
Fayu Temple: Construction commenced during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the buildings hug the mountainside in the seclusion of lofty and ancient trees.
Huiji Temple: This is known also as the Buddhist Hilltop Temple (Fodingshan) on account of its elevated position.
 
The centre of the island is covered with rich green forests that form a tranquil setting appropriate to a place of quiet religious contemplation. It is here that magnificent and protected hornbeams grow as well as the famous one-thousand-year-old camphor tree, a particularly fine tree species with a circumference measuring 6 meters (20 feet). The sandy shores of the island are also special features and particularly attractive to tourists are the bays known as "The Thousand-Step Sands" with its 1.5 kilometer (0.9 mile) beach and the smaller "Hundred-Step Sands". These fine beaches are very popular with bathers as are the entertainment facilities. Here it seems vacationers have been thrown together with those visitors seeking a more spiritual outlet.
Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)
Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)Compromises have to of course be made even in a Communist society that is at best ambivalent towards religion. Many of the visitors at least attempt to make a show of faith. I failed to ask if the majority of these worshippers were from the Chinese Diaspora or were native citizens. None the less as an outsider I found the place fascinating even the hustle and bustle that seemed to ruin the tranquility of the place yet for me seemed a part of what I would have expected from modern China. A great swirl of people often dismissive of history yet not far removed from the superstitions of their ancestors. The Chinese somehow separate tradition from history. For many history just means old where tradition is something to be maintained.
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Mt Putuo (Putuo-shan)