Saturday, December 12, 2009

Famen Temple and Tang Paradise

December 12th we went to the Famen Temple with Crystal, a friend of Pavans from work. We were very glad she agreed to come with us as taking buses alone in China presents communication challenges that are not always tremendously fun. We took a taxi to the west gate of the walled area and bought tickets for the Famen Temple + Tang Paradise for ¥124 each.

First up was the Famen Temple. The bus to the Famen Temple was of the "leaves when full" variety. Luckily the bus was at 60% when we boarded and filling rapidly. We took the back row so Rod could have the middle and stretch out his legs. Just before reaching capacity a chap from Singapore, with excellent spoken English, sat down next to us. We learned he was in town to give some aeronautics engineering training and had spent time in America for GM, who provided him with a place to stay and a car. Apparently he really enjoyed driving in America; he spoke with great enthusiasm in near reverent tones about how magnificent it was to be able to go on long drives on the open road in his free time. This reminded us of Pavans desire to get motorcycle licenses and, after a few shorter practice runs, take a ride across Canada then back on a long arc down through the states. Maybe we can make it happen once we get back...

After a couple of hours on the bus we got to the Famen Temple. A lady seemingly affiliated with the bus assured us there was only one restaurant around and that it was the only place to get food. We allowed us to be herded into the restaurant, just inside the temple ticket check, and sure enough the prices were ludicrous. More expensive than food on Mount Hua!! We decided to live without this and started strolling up the rather long walkway towards a modern building that looked nothing like the pictures of the Famen Temple we'd seen.

Just inside the entrance was the worst kind of bell: not ringable.

All along the walkway leading to the main building were fairly large statues with the standard kneeling, incense burning, and incense planting support apparatus.

In addition to giant statues a variety of smaller displays of figures of villagers, statues of Buddhist scenes, and the like were arrayed on the left and right of the path. One of the coolest of these was a set of large prayer wheels. We got them all spinning, as you cannot see in the picture below.

We also rather liked the staring contest between man and rock.

Despite several attempts it was not possible to get Crystal to open her eyes during a photo for some reason.

A little further down the endless path we finally spotted the expected Famen Temple off to one side.

The entrance to this was a bit confusing as it led off to the right through a section of empty buildings that look like they are meant to be stores. It also went past another entrance gate, outside of which were a number of restaurants. Damn tour bus cheats! Locals sell discount incense through the fence for much cheaper than the stores that are actually located within temple grounds.

On the way to see the temple up close we stopped to light some incense, bow three times in each direction NESW while holding the incense a rather specific way, and then plant the remaining incense in a massive vat of ashes of incenses past.

We also walked around several Buddhas three times for good luck and petted a tortoise. At this point we assume we have so much good luck built up we could safely jump off a building and we'd miraculously land on a pile of feathers. Or maybe a stunt mans safety landing pad.

Unfortunately the Famen Temple tower was closed for repairs around the base so we couldn't actually climb it. After wandering around the area and looking at all the cool statues and incense burnings we decided to go check out the newer building.

This is probably meant to be in the shape of hands clasped in prayer with a space in between. Inside the bottom floor of the structure is a decent sized Buddha with poor lighting that is hard to photograph. In front of and below it is a small container prominently placed that apparently contains one of Buddhas finger bones.

We had read they unexpectedly unearthed a great deal of artifacts when the Famen Temple pretty much collapsed (the west side fell apart) in 1981 and they found a cache of Tang dynasty treasures but even with Crystals help to interrogate the guards we couldn't figure out where these were displayed so we never got to see them.

On the top the finger bone display area is a room with a massive Buddha.

We walked around it three times to further boost our luck, then took the elevator up a couple of levels to look mega-Buddha in the eye.

By this time it was getting on towards our bus departure time and Crystal mentioned that the bus driver said the bus doesn't wait just because you paid for tickets, they leave at 2:30 pm with whoever is on the bus. We had some time to spare and were quite cold so we stopped for delicious instant noodles. After this with perhaps fifteen minutes to go we headed for the bus. It rapidly became apparent that Rod was fastest, then Pavan, and ... then Crystal. The easy fifteen minute traverse of the path to the bus stop quickly became at major risk of taking until rather later than 2:30. After observing this we decided to run. Unfortunately between backpacks, months off training, and time enjoying Xi'an air quality running proved much more difficult than anticipated. Still, we made it to the bus just a few minutes late and it left almost ninety seconds later. If we hadn't run we would have been looking for alternate transportation!! On the plus side several other people didn't make the bus for the trip back so there was enough extra space to dump our bags in spare seats on the return trip.

At about 4:30 pm we got back to Xi'an and headed for the Tang dynasty paradise. As we arrived workers were busy adorning it with Christmas decorations!

The Tang paradise is a small park within the city where a group of Tang dynasty buildings survive. This are accompanied by a variety of vendors, tea houses, and other tourist traps. The area wraps in and around some small lakes. Lakes of course have to be cleaned and why issue the cleaner a paddle when their net pole can double as a punt?

Rides on a carriage pulled by an evidently rabid camel are also available.

After racing away from the rabid camel we found ourselves in the area dedicated to people who like hands. We grabbed some cover to ensure the rabid camel wouldn't spot us.

After a few minutes free of rabid camel attack we posted a lookout.

A few nifty buildings were about.

In the distance the Big Goose Pagoda was visible.

A little further around the lake, we found the pagoda of active Tang dynasty woman.

According to a sign outside this pagoda, Tang dynasty woman would go out in groups of only woman, play sports, aggressively pursue men, and even sometimes wear male-style clothing! The dynasties before and after apparently didn't allow this kind of unreasonable independence.

Just after was a nifty lookout tower.

Literally as we climbed the lookout tower the lights on all the buildings turned on.

At this point the tempreture was dropping rapidly so we decided to make a break for hot food. After a fair bit of wandering and taxi charging we finally got one and headed off to a restaurant. The restaurant Crystal wanted to go to was full so we went to another. It proved to have a very nice traditional feel to it and had some new foods on the menu. Everything was delicious but the highlight was a quesadilla type thing with egg and onion in it. Rod ordered it verbally after a quick lesson on how to say it's name (which we've since forgotten) from Crystal. Pavan managed to order rice and water! After a long day outside in the fairly chilly air hot food was fantastic. We ate rather more than the minimum necessary in hopes of building up a layer of fat to protect us from the cold.

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