I think everyone has already heard about Shaolin temple, about the monks that training incredibly hard every day to get unique strength and deadly Kung fu skills. Shaolin temple was definitely on my list. I imagined a temple hidden in misty mountains in the middle of nowhere that is actually hard to find and even harder to get there. Well reality is slightly different….
Shaolin temple lies in Henan province in central East China. The best way how to get there is to take a bus from capital city of Henan Zhengzhou. It takes only about one hour to get to Dengfeng. From here you can choose a taxi or bus going directly to the temple. The temple is very close to the city (which destroyed my idea of secret temple hidden in the deep forests)
The entrance of the temple area is created by huge statue of the monk and a massive gate so you really can’t miss it. After purchasing a ticket (110 rmb) you are allow to go in and find out how the temple really looks like. I was quite surprise. To reach the temple you must walk a bit. There is a foot path leading to the temple but it looks more like a promenade or pedestrian highway with stands selling toys, selfie sticks, drinks and snacks. I was disappointed. Is this the famous mysterious temple? Apparently yes. There is also outside training area where, if you are lucky, you can see practicing monks.
Finally I reached the temple. After seeing so many temples before this one wasn’t too different. I actually expected to be a little bit bigger. Very interesting are the old trees in the courtyards within the temple that have a holes in it. These holes were made by the monks practicing finger punching. The very last hall of the temple has also a legacy of practicing Shaolin martial arts – the footprints on the cobbled floor
The whole visit of the temple doesn’t take more than one hour. So when I finished I was wondering what to do next. I didn’t want to believe that this is all. So I walked a bit further when my eye caught something on the top of the hill behind the temple. It was a huge statue of Bodhidharma sitting in lotus root position, quietly watching over the temple. I decided to climb up there.
Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk and the founder of ZEN Buddhism and Shaolin Kung fu. When he came to this monastery he was refused for the first time so he found a little cave on the top of the hill where he just sat and meditate. For nine years! The legend says that he felt asleep and when he woke up he was so angry on himself that he cut his eyelids off to prevent falling asleep again! Quite scary huh? Well it’s just a legend and whether is true or not the cave is still there. If you climb ”a few” steep steps you will first reach the little cave, you can go in and say some prayer. Few more steps up and you will reach the statue itself. It’s not very high hill but still you will have a nice view over the valley.
Going back down I saw a cable car going to the top of the opposite mountain. Actually there where two cable cars. I had a plenty of time so I bought a ticket to one of them and went up. I thought that both are going to the same mountain. I expected there will be some loop up there so I planned to take one up then walk a loop and take the second down. It was a good plan but it didn’t happen 🙂
I must stop here and say that every time I go somewhere I usually read as much information as I can so I know quite a lot about the particular area. I know where to go, what to see etc. I don’t know why but this time I didn’t. Frankly speaking I knew anything about the area neither about the surrounded mountains. So I was actually surprised when I found out that the mountain I was going to climb is Song shan – one of the sacred mountains of China.
I arrived to the top and because there wasn’t any decent map (as usual) I started to walk the tourist path. In a minute I reached a tiny path made on the edge of the mountain. It was just stunning. The rocks were very different that any other mountains I’ve seen in China so far, they had very unusual shape, they were huge and looking over the fence there was a big drop down. I walked further and further wondering where the hell is the other cable car? But there was no any. It definitely went to another place of the mountain. But I was too far to go back and on the top of it I didn’t have idea where this path leads! Well I kept going. Finally I ended up on the parking lot right on the other side of the mountain with no buses no taxis… I didn’t know where I am exactly. Fortunately there was one guy with car offered me a ride (for money of course). I didn’t have any other choice but pay him to get me back to the city.
I must admit that the temple wasn’t as exciting as I expected but the Song shan really made impression on me. No wonder I was there twice already and if there is a chance I will definitely go again!
TIP: The entrance ticket to the Shaolin temple includes the Kungfu show where the monks will show you their skills. It’s quite impressive. What these boys can do with their bodies is simply unbelievable. At the end of the show they choose three volunteers from audience and try to teach them some of the movements. But of course nobody is able to do it so it’s just an entertainment for people.
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