Bamboo Temple,筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, Kunming. Are these the world best Arhats?

The pictures you see here are the prints I bought from the temple when I visited as photography is not allowed.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Arhat Halls

I love visiting the arhats halls in Chinese temples. These are halls filled with amazing figures and transcendent scenes. Arhats or 羅漢 luóhàn in Chinese, are often defined as those who have gained insight into the true nature of existence and have achieved nirvana.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Arhats line the walls of many Chinese temples, but you’ll fine some of the most stunning examples in the 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, on the outskirts of Kunming, Yunnan Province. The temple’s arhat hall was built between 1883 and 1890 and includes 500 individual arhats  bǎi Luōhàn. 500 is the usual number.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Despite being a relatively recent creation, given china’s long history,the lifelike facial expressions of arhats in the Bamboo Temple, their clothes and the colours, all take one back to a time that evokes China’s mythical past and conjure up the west’s romantic fantasy with all things  exotic and Chinese.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

An arhat hall is the China we imagine when we read such stories as Journey to the West 西遊記 Xī Yóu Jì, Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义Sānguó Yǎnyì or the Water Margins or Outlaws of the West 水滸傳 Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

For me personally, an arhat hall is the China I imagined as a kid having just visited the Chinese gallery in the British Museum.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Of course the above sentimentalism and romanticism about ancient China is a far cry from the reality of China’s historical past. A 5000 year history full of brutality and oppression, wars and conquests, famine, drought and floods. The China of Su Tong‘s Binu and the Great Wall and Rice. And Mo Yan‘s Garlic Ballards and Big Breasts and Wide Hips.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

A moment of Peace

Nevertheless, for a few moments when I gaze at the arhats in front of me, I feel I am in the dream like world of China’s fantastical past. The China of its great mythical novels.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Not all arhat halls are the same.

In some temples, the arhats can be simple, almost monotonously similar, and painted in one colour; often gold.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

The artist was hallucinating?

However, other arhat halls are an exuberance of colour and fanciful scenes making one wonder what the artists might have been taking when they created them. The Jinge Temple 金阁寺 in Wutaishan is a good example.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Contemplating the 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats.

When I visit an arhat hall, I’ll spend hours staring at their virtually true to life faces, pondering on who their creator was, and who he was basing them on, and speculating whether or not they were real characters who existed in the artist’s lifetime, or if they were just a figment of his imagination. Or as previously mentioned: was he on something?

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

In temples such as the Bamboo Temple, 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, 15 kilometers outside Kunming, the arhats are truly spectacular.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

They are remarkable for the riot of colours; memorable for the individual expressions on the faces of the arhats; mind-blowing for the bizarre mystical scenes in which the arhats are placed.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

The Bamboo Temple’s arhat hall is a creation of an artist whose powers of invention have run wild making it one of my all time favourite arhat halls. If you are in Kunming it is a must see. Below are the accounts of our two visits to the temple.

February 1991 and August 2010: two visits to the Bamboo Temple, 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Despite all of China’s modernization, it still takes just as long to get from downtown Kunming to the Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì as it did way back in 1991.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Getting there in 1991

In 1991, you picked up a clapped out over-crowded bus in downdown kunming that within a few minutes had already reached the outer limits of the city. After that, the bus slowly trundled past verdant green rice paddies and along pot holed roads before eventually ascending up through the lush forest to the temple.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Getting there today 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Today, there are no green fields, just kilometers upon kilometers of monotonous suburbs and snarling traffic that hold up the comfortable modern bus. Only the last two kilometers on the ascent through the forest brought back any memories of the previous trip.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Chinese domestic tourists now come to the temple in large groups on air-conditioned tourist buses; they are then disgorged from the buses and unleased upon the temple: A few selfies later they return to their waiting vehicles and moved on to their next destination.

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Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Domestic Tourists Can’t Enter The Arhat Hall

Due to their recent unruly behaviour, especially, the throwing coins at the arhats and patting them on the head for good luck, the monks do not let Chinese tourists enter into the arhat hall. Instead, they must be observed from a safe distance from which no damage can be done. It maybe one reason why the Bamboo temple is actually far more sedate than it was 30 years ago.

Individual foreigners, on the other hand, will be invited into the hall by the monks to stand in front of the arhats if no tour groups are around ( no photography).

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Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Mayhem in 1991

I remember the mayhem from our visit back in 1991. Then, the Chinese visitors came with their Danwei (work group), and would fight their way to the front of the hall in order to touch or throw coins at the arhats.

Fake fish Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

All the visitors, men and women alike, were dressed uniformly in their blue Mao suits; I can tell you it was quite a sight watching the hordes clamber over each other to get to the arhats!

Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

The incredulous, and at the same time resigned expressions, on the faces of the caretaker monks said it all.

Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

In 1991 there used to be snack stalls and tacky souvenir vendors around the temple. Most of them (if not all) have gone now. The area is actually quite a serene given that this is one of Kunming’s highlights..

Not for eating Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

What you do have now is a decent indoor and outdoor vegetarian restaurant set in lovely surroundings from where you can sip a cold beer, eat a delicious veggie meal and watch the huge resident tortoises roam around the grass. What more could you ask for?

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Taijitu太极图: Yunnan Province

A hidden gem you could easily inadvertently miss.

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙, Yunnan Province, is a freak of nature. It looks remarkably like the famous Taoist Yin-Yang symbol when seen from high above. Viewed from ground level you would never know it was there.

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

The climb up to the view point is made along a steep winding road. If you can find a vehicle to take you there it is Yuan well spent. You don’t get any real inkling as to what is below until you suddenly arrive at the scenic viewing area. From this point, the whole Yin -Yang shape just suddenly appears before you. It’s quite magical.

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

For more info about Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

Click here: https://holachina.com/?p=2654

For info on how to get there Click here: I hope you have better luck than us.

Menghai Market 勐海市场 Yunnan Province

A rain sodden trip to see local markets in Xishuangbanna 西双版纳 Yunnan Province

Menghai 勐海 xishuangbanna 西双版纳 yunnan Province云南省
Menghai Market 勐海市场 西双版纳

Our attempts to reach the Sunday market at Menghun 勐混 were thwarted by the monsoon: due to heavy rain the new highway between Jinghong 景洪 and Menghai 勐海 had collapsed and no buses were running that Sunday morning.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

When we eventually headed to Menghai 勐海 a few days later the buses were running again, but only on the old road, turning the normally smooth 45- minute journey into a four- hour crawl .

Snack sellers taking advantage of the traffic Jam

The most chaotic scenes occurred at the exit of Jinghong, as lorries, buses, tractors and private cars leaving the city fought with those vehicles trying to enter the city to either get on or leave the old road.

Crawling traffic on the Jinghong / Menghai old road

The chaos was such that there were kilometres of traffic jams in each direction and not one person of authority was there to put some order to the mayhem.

A rain sodden trip to see markets in Xishuangbanna 西双版纳, Yunnan China.
Crawling traffic on the Jinghong / Menghai old road

With so many vehicles stuck with nowhere to go, local entrepreneurs ran between the traffic, selling anything from boiled eggs to grilled meats and soft drinks.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

Overturned lorries and their spilt loads only further aggravated an already desperate situation.

Tofu seller Menghai Market 勐海市场

In the evening as we settled into our clean but rundown hotel in Menghai we watched the well-organized and meticulously planned Olympic games taking place in Beijing on T.V and wondered if we were really in the same country.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

Our first destination from Menghai 勐海 was Gelanghe,  a Dai 傣族 and Akha / Yaozu 瑶族 settlement, some 30 kilometres southeast. We took the lazy and wrong option and hired a car and driver for 200 Yuan to take us to Gelanghe.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

The road starts climbing into the jungle clad hills only a few kilometres outside Menghai affording stunning views of the valley below.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

Unfortunately due to torrential rains the road had become a quagmire. Our van slid and skidded its way up and up. Twice we had to release it from the mud with stones and planks of wood until the van eventually succumbed to the inevitable and got completely bogged down.

Stuck in the mud on the way to Gelanghe

We now became the spectacle. The passing Akha / Yaozu 瑶族, who we had gone to see, stopped to gawp, comment and laugh at our predicament until a tractor, the only type of vehicle able to navigate the road, and its friendly driver pulled us out of the bog and turned our van round.

Akha / Yaozu 瑶族 Help is on the way

Defeated we headed back.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

To compensate for the aborted trip to Gelanghe, we visited the Bajiao Ting (The Octagonal Temple) at Jingzhen 20 kms from Menghai and the Manlei Buddhist Temple at Mengzhe, a few kilometres further along the road.

The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭

Although both temples are pleasant, they are reconstructions of originals destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭

The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭,had some pleasant Dai style Buddhist murals that depicted gentle rural Scenes.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

However, the new paintings at the Manlei Temple, painted by young Dai artists are quite striking and the hell scenes are pretty gruesome.

Manlei Temple 曼磊佛塔

While the outside of the temple looks rather plain, it’s interior is a riot of colour and the paintings are not for the squeamish.

Manlei Temple 曼磊佛塔

You can see more of the murals from the Manlei 曼磊佛塔 Temple on our photo video: Buddhist Hell.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

Don’t miss Menghai’s morning Market just behind the Main road near the post office.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

It has a real buzz and you might catch a few Akha, Dai and Lahu dressed in their finest.

Unlike the Menghun market 勐混 市场, the Menghai market 勐海市场 is a market for locals and people from the countryside around. The market gets underway at the crack of dawn and is heaving by 9.00 a.m. By midday it has fizzled out.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

The next day we headed out to Xiding Market (See Article).

Menghai Market 勐海市场

Menghai 勐海 Coming and Going:

Menghai Market 勐海市场

It should be a brisk 45 minute to 1 hour zip along a new highway from Jinghong 景洪 to Menghai 勐海. That is if the monsoon rains haven’t washed the highway away. 

Menghai Market 勐海市场

Buses run continually throughout the day from both Jinghong’s bus stations. From Menghai’s bus station there are regular buses to Jinghong, Menghun 勐混, for the Sunday market.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

There are inconvenient buses for Xiding and its Thursday market (see article). If you are heading to the Burmense border there are buses to Daluo. For the route to Ruili there are plenty of buses to Menglian and Langcang.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

This was our plan but the rains made the trip a travel nightmare. Eventually we had to back-tract and head to Menglun and Laos. Outside the wet season this westward journey would make a great trip.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

Accomodation:

We stayed at the post office hotel. A clean double cost 80 yuan. Staff were extremely friendly.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

Food was a bit limited in Menghai to say the least. Simple restaurants can be found along the main street and some noodle stalls set up at night near the main square.

Photo of the Week: Pep talk for Chefs in Kunming

Kunming, Yunnan Province. Catering staff receive a motivational pep talk from their boss.

Chefs and waiters recieving a pep talk but not paying much attention
After receiving a telling off Chefs and staff stand to attention
Chefs and waiting staff chilling out after the pep talk

Photo of the Week: The Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷

This photo taken in 2010 of the breath-taking scenery along the Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷,near Bingzhongluo  丙中洛 in south west Yunnan.

For more on our trip to The Nujiang Valley click the numbers: 1 2 3 4

Photo of the Week: Yuanyang Market 元阳市场

This Photo was taken in Yuanyang Market 元阳市场 Yunnan Province 云南省 in 2006.

It shows a women from the Hani minority 哈尼族 knitting while waiting to sell peanuts

Hani Minority 哈尼族 Peanut seller Yuanyang market 元阳市场 2006

Cizhong 茨中 Yunnan: From our Diary

Cizhong 茨中

Village of Wine

 And is it still there?

Cizhong Church
Cizhong Church

Having just read a devastating  article about the future of Cizhong due to the Damming of the Mekong River (No Recourse: Upper Mekong Dam Spells End for Tibetan Village), we decided to publish this review from our diary that we had never previously put up on the blog.

The Journey

31/8/2007

The Road from Feilai Si near Deqin winds its way to the bottom of the Langcang Valley (Mekong River Valley) in a series of dramatic hairpin bends. On the right the mystical mountain of Meili Xueshan teases and torments the traveller with rare glimpses of its summit and glaciers in a game of hide and seek in the monsoon summer months.

Meili Shan hidding its peak
Meili Shan hidding its peak

For one second it’s there in all its majestic glory and then the next it’s gone, hidden behind swirling clouds or an impenetrable mist.

Road to Cizhong
Road to Cizhong

As the road reaches the river at the bottom of the valley, the barren rock faces on the left that threatened to come crashing down on our puny vehicle give way to fertile green fields dotted by white villages and prayer flags.

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Welcome to one of the most romantic places in China; the tiny village of Cizhong in China’s South West Yunnan province.

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The Village

While there are many other beautiful villages in the area, Cizhong stands out because of the lovely Catholic church that dominates the centre of the village and its surrounding vineyards.

Cizhong's amazing Tibetan style church
Cizhong’s amazing Tibetan style church

The church was built by French missionaries nearly Continue reading “Cizhong 茨中 Yunnan: From our Diary”

Faces of Xiding Market 西定市场 Yunnan

Faces of Xiding Market Yunnan

西定市场

Bulang Women Xiding Market
Bulang Women Xiding Market

Xiding Market 西定市场 in Yunnan`s Xishuangbanna Region is one of the best. In the previous post we put up we hadn’t got the photos ready. So here is a second post with the photos. Some things will have changed. But travellers still report that it continues to be an authentic rural market that attracts a number of different minorities including Bulang, Hani, and Dai.

Hani Women
Hani Women

              We abandoned our driver, his car buried deep in the mud, and mounted a motorbike. Ironically, the previously treacherous mud bath soon became a reasonably smooth, semi-asphalted road. The drive was stunning:

Our Taxi van being towed away
Our Taxi van being towed away

we passed Dai villages with their traditional raised wooden houses, thick jungle and vistas of mist-covered hills and valleys flashed by, and just when it seemed that the scenery couldn’t get better, we arrived in Xiding, looking like an island floating above the clouds. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the town revealed itself as a bit of a dump.

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              The small, grubby market town of Xiding may seem a strange destination, especially if you have to spend so much time and effort trying to get there, but its Thursday market is one of the most authentic ethnic markets in Xishuangbanna.

Hani Women
Hani Women

A hive of activity from dawn to midday, the market attracts nearby Dai, Hani (Aini or Akha), and Bulang minorities. It is said that Lahu also drop in, but we didn’t see or recognize any. The only real sign of Han-Chinese presence are the huge military barracks overlooking the town, a reminder that the Myanmar border is only a few kilometres away.

Bulang women
Bulang women

                The market occupies a large square, just up the road from the bus station, as well as some of the adjacent streets. There is nothing touristy about this market, Continue reading “Faces of Xiding Market 西定市场 Yunnan”

Shangri-La goes up in Flames: The End of Zhongdian/ Dukezong

Shangri-La goes up in Flames

The End of Zhongdian/ Dukezong

Old Zhongdian / Dukezong
Old Zhongdian / Dukezong

Reports from the Chinese Press and Western News agencies talk of the Tibetan town of Dukezong (previouly Zhongdian) being destroyed by fire. It appears that the fire started in a backpacker hostel though this still has to be confirmed.

Old Zhongdian /Dukezong
Old Zhongdian /Dukezong

Memories of Zhongdian
Our first attempt to visit the town in 1991 was thwarted when the police pulled us of the bus just after Tiger Leap Gorge and sent us back to Lijiang. Zhongdian/ Dukezong was still apparently closed to Foreigners then. Eventually, we got there in 2007 on our way to Tibet.

Ganden Sumtsellin Gompa not destroyed by the fire in Zhongdian/Dukezong
Ganden Sumtselling Gompa not destroyed by the fire in Zhongdian/Dukezong

When we visited in 2007 we found an old wooden town (surrounded by a drab new town) that had been well-restored with a low key and laid back feel. There were some wonderful old Tibetan mansions around town as well as some nice bars and cafes in the old buildings. We especially remember Continue reading “Shangri-La goes up in Flames: The End of Zhongdian/ Dukezong”