27 May 2017

Luoyang

We needed to catch bus 56 out to the old White Horse temple. It leaves from the bus station. Simple right?

It would have been but we screwed up. The bus station we found was perpendicular to the railway station and going the wrong way. A bus 56 passed us going the way we wanted so we walked up the road looking for a bus stop. There wasn’t one. We walked a long way and gave up to walk back. Then we walked along the road in the direction we thought we would go. There wasn’t one there either.

Back to the original and only bus stop. It turns out that this is the right stop after all. It is the only one, and is the start of the line.

Now we were there (after a brief 2 hour walk around the streets) the bus left quickly. It takes the same route to start with as the 81, but diverges to go through the old town of Luoyang.

From the old town it goes to the outskirts of town on the east side. This is the site of Bai Ma Si. Bai Ma Si is the White Horse Temple.

This temple is either the first Buddhist temple in China, or the first Government ordered Temple in China. Depending on what you read.

The temple was supposedly built in 68AD under the Eastern Han, but in reality it was probably closer to 258 AD. The Emperor had a dream of a god and asked his advisors who it was. No one could answer until someone spoke of a god to the West, and they sent messengers to India to find out about who the God was. India sent back two high ranking monks that impressed the Emperor so much that he allowed a Buddhist temple to be built here.

On getting to the temple we were surprised to see so many tourist shops at the entrance. As we got off the bus there were at least three people thrusting incense under our noses for us to buy. At least the rest of the vendors were not as pushy.

Going in (35 yuan) and you have a wide path with stone floors. The temperature was already well over 30 degrees and we jumped from tree to tree searching for every little bit of shade. There wasn’t much. There was a large open pool with fish and turtles though. Calm and tranquil. From here you see the Iconic entrance of the horse statue in front of the main entrance. Passing through the gates we entered the temple complex itself.

Along the right wall are a series of different legends associated with the temple. My favourite was a story about Confucius. He was asked if he was a sage. He denied it. He was asked about a series of other wise men, and each time he said the same thing. They were all great men but he couldn’t say if they were sages or not. Then he was asked if he knew of a sage. He said that there was a land in the west that could get people to do the right thing without laws and that the population were honest and empathetic to each other. The ruler of this land must be a sage. Hence even Confucius accepted Buddhism. (Confucius 551B.C. – 479 B.C. Buddhism started at a lot of times, but I am choosing his death at 404 B.C. It could have also been 486 BC, 383 BC 544 BC, 545 BC. I have picked the middle number for his death. He reached enlightenment 45 years before he died so that would place the start of Buddhism at 449 B.C. Confucius died 30 years before Buddhism started and 5 years after Buddha was born!)

The rest of the legends were also interesting, but have the same feel about them as things that occurred in Judaism and Christianity. There was a good one that would have involved soaking the scriptures in a flammable smoky substance to put the Taoist priests to shame when theirs couldn’t burn in brightly coloured smoke. Trickery and Mysticism.

We also found out that the temple is dedicated to the Zen form of Buddhism,but no information on what that entails. Empress Wu was a big benefactor to the Temple and sponsored a lot of work here around 690-705 AD.

That said, there was not much information here in English (This building is X wide, Y Long, Z high and made of A type thing) We don’t even know why it is called the White Horse Temple. Although we do know important Indian monks came here occasionally through its early history to translate the scriptures into Chinese.

On going through the complex we thought we were done. A nice temple, a lot of history behind it, but not that different than most other temple complexes. We were in for a surprise. We found ourselves on a whirlwind tour of 3 countries!

We left China to enter into Thailand. Here we saw a recreation of the famous Buddhist temple in Thailand. It threw us for a little bit, as the shape was all wrong, but then we worked out that the base of the temple was the hill that the Thai temple was built on, and the top was a compressed replication of Bangkok hill temple. Still, if we had time, we would dig up the photo of the Thai temple for comparison, but honestly we couldn’t be bothered. Its hard enough getting this blog typed after all. The bling in the Thai temple brought back memories, and the styles are completely different. With it being so over the top and extravagant.

From Thailand we went to Myanmar. This temple is Stupa styled and again has a fixation for gold.

My favourite bit here is the massive cobra eating Buddha. This was a smaller pavilion to the right of the main temple (still two stories high), and the other points had golden and purple towers accentuating the Golden spire of the main temple.

Finally we went to India. This wasn’t a recreation of any existing temple, but was built in the Indian style.

Here we expected carvings over everything, and as we walked closer we thought it was unfinished. The outside walls are all plain sandstone blocks. A big central dome dominates the internal square and on entering it, there was a small Buddha dwarfed by the massive dome above it. There were no decorations inside at all. Actually, this was a bit of a let down. The outside however had carved panels depicting Buddhas’ life.

After doing that whirlwind trip we stepped back into China and caught the bus back to Luoyang Old Town.

We were so glad we did. The old town is not that much really, but we enjoyed it. It has that authentic feel of a place that is lived in rather than a tourist trap. Walking to the bell tower we passed many dilapidated period houses that are in need of a bit of TLC, but it was a real town. We walked the streets for a bit and found the old moat. This circles the city and has been redone. It looks very good, is flowing nicely and there was hardly any garbage in it at all!! Walking the back streets we saw how much had been lost with 1960’s style 4 story buildings replacing the single or double story buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century. These were mostly abandoned. It was as if we were walking through a ghost town! All the doors and windows on the ground floor were boarded or bricked up, and all the higher windows have been removed. The first houses we saw were in good condition and we thought that they just hadn’t been finished being built. However there were older lived out buildings with the same thing. After passing through a few streets like this, we decided that the inhabitants have been relocated with the idea of knocking the buildings down and rebuilding the entire place back in style. Chinese tourism 101.

Popping back out on a main street this suspicion was almost certain as most of the buildings here were new. There were still some obviously old ones left, but not many. Here the streets were alive and bustling. People were everywhere, but fairly relaxed, and the shops had a wide variety of goods. It wasn’t just lines of tourist shops. There is also a distinctly artistic flair to the area with music shops, calligraphy shops and other shops supplying them with the brushes and paints etc. Some of the paintings were pretty good, and the styles are changing from the traditional landscapes or branches with flowers.

Wandering the street took us to the city walls. Don’t expect old city walls. These have been built from scratch. They have been done well though. The walls are 5 stories high and have included shops and houses in them. They are purely decorative housing buildings. There is a way up to the top of the wall for 35 yuan but we passed on that (If you leave a message telling us that there is this awesome museum up there, we will be annoyed). The main gatehouse has a circular wall surrounding it the same as Xingcheng. This one has been rebuilt though and has the two gate houses. Inside this courtyard are a number of tourist shops and what could pass as cafes. Well, they were shops that sold drinks and had put stools out. So cafe, Chinese style.

We spent a bit of time sitting on the other side of the moat appreciating the view before it was time to head back..

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