Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle

Winter/Spring 2016

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine

Issue link: http://read.dreamscapes.ca/i/631317

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Page 39 of 47

I raise my eyes from the two red sym- bols carved into the huge boulder by a Tang Dynasty poet. Suspended 75 metres above me is a temple. It looks like it has been glued to the sheer face of the cliff. Spectacular indeed. I'm not sure which is more unbelievable: that this temple would be built in the first place, that it still exists a millennium and a half later, or that tourists are allowed onto the rickety-looking structure at all, let alone so many at once. The temple is in Shanxi, a small province by Chinese standards with a population about the same size as Canada's. Shanxi may be small, but it holds many marvels that are difficult to believe. The modern capital, Taiyuan, boasts trees more than 1,000 years old. China's best-preserved ancient city Pingyao looks much as it did when it was founded in the 14 th century. Thousands of intricately carved Buddhas rest in caves. Shanxi is the home of one of China's four holiest mountains, one that the Dalai Lama hopes to visit before he dies. And Shanxi has this amazing temple suspended from a cliff. THE SUSPENDED TEMPLE Also called the Hanging or Xuan Kong Temple, this monastery was built high on the cliff to withstand floods from the nearby gorge and to ensure monks could meditate in complete silence, with not so much as a barking dog to disturb them. There are easier ways to achieve this, but I'm glad monk Liao Ran made the effort back in the year 491. Peering over the railing of the narrow ramp that connects two of the pagodas, I experience a little vertigo. I'm reassured the spindly wooden poles that appear to prop up two-thirds of the temple are only supple- mentary and the real support structure is hidden inside the cliff. Within the temple's 40 narrow halls and tiny rooms are Buddhist, Taoist and Confu- cianist sculptures, the only temple in China to combine elements of all three religions. The structure is made almost entirely of wood. Despite its flimsy appearance, the biggest risk to the monastery is fire. Fire extinguishers—and the more picturesque bags of sand—are placed throughout the building to prevent an errant ember from engulfing the entire temple. YUNGANG GROTTOES Religion also sparks the creation of beau- tiful things, often on an unbelievable scale. Thirty years earlier and more than 100 kilo- metres away, another monk, Tanyao, carved caves in the sandstone at the foot of Wuzhou Mountain. Over the next 65 years, 252 caves and grottoes were cut into a one- DREAMSCAPES WINTER/SPRING 2016 40 SUSPENDING DISBELIEF IN SHANXI EDITORIAL AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHANNA READ "SPECTACULAR," READS THE CHINESE CALLIGRAPHY.

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