31 May 2017

Kaifeng Iron Pagoda

We wanted to go to Daxiangguo Temple. Apparently it is something special, however it seems to be hard to find.

Finding where we think the temple is located on the map, we set out. As it happened, we couldn’t find it. Chinese city blocks are huge, and if the temple is in the middle of the block with only a small entrance street, we would have no chance of seeing it. However after we gave up looking we managed to find another temple. We have no idea of the name of the temple, and only the vaguest idea on where it is, we went in for a look around. It turned out to be stunning. On entry you are faced with a large circular hall. We have seen smaller versions inside main halls where the sutras were kept, then there is the temple of heaven in Beijing. This was sort of in between. It was hall sized and held a large Buddha statue, and very beautifully made. The temple is a working temple, and also a place to relax during the day away from the traffic and noise. There were buildings in all the compass directions, and we worked our way clockwise around them. Most of the buildings were used for the running of the temple, or accommodation of monks, but each compas point had another hall. There was a statue of Avalokitesvara (The thousand handed Bodhisattva representing the god or goddess of mercy) in one of the halls. This statue was a bit unusual as instead of just having the one body and a lot of arms and hands coming out, she had four bodies melded together and the arms all came out at a 45 degree angle to the body they represented. Badly typed but imagine four people back to back representing the body of the person, then thousands of hands and arms coming out of each body. I wonder what the sculptor was on!

The rest of the temple was also well done, but nothing else stuck out like those two things. As we left, we passed a few beggars at the entrance. There are surprisingly few beggars in China and as the temple was free, we spun them a few yuan. I don’t know how China looks after the destitute, but it can’t be worse than other countries.

Moving on from the temple we saw a bus 20 approaching. Apparently this is the bus that circuits town visiting all the main tourist attractions. Catching it, we headed out to the Iron Pagoda. This is one of the oldest extant pagodas in China. It is also made of glazed tiles rather than Iron.

On arriving at the park we paid our 40 yuan to go in, thinking it was actually a pretty good deal for a AAAA rated scenic spot.

Walking through we came to a collection of Bonzi trees in a contemplative glade offshoot of the park. It was a relaxing stroll around the water features and a few different galleries. Some with rocks, some with calligraphy or pottery. We were thinking that this was a nice addition to the park.

Then we walked on to the main attraction. Through an older temple, and out the other side. There was a section here that had all the tourist stalls set up, but none of them were operating today, and across a larger open area there was a stage. Most of the square was covered in timbers, and we assumed that it was being set up or dismantled from some show or other. Then there was actual parkland to the right where people were even allowed onto the grass!

Back onto the Pagoda. We had caught a couple of glimpses before, and were slightly worried. Our fears were correct. The entire pagoda is fenced off and covered in scaffolding!
Again, it wouldn’t kill anyone to notify us that it was under renovation. Especially as this is why anyone even bothers to pay for admission (other than the fact that if you want to see any grass in China you have to pay for the privilege). We were a bit disappointed to say the least. Walking around we found out that you can still go up it though.

Well, you can if you pay an extra 30 yuan. This would make the place a very expensive park to visit. So now we are very disappointed. What was the 40 entrance fee for? The ability to stand on grass. O.K, granted. We haven’t come across that much in China, and it is very special to be able to see, touch and smell grass. Let alone lie on it or walk over it. There was even a lot of grass in the one place. It would have been at least a football fields worth. The upkeep of the grass must be amazing. Tenderly loving each blade and measuring it before you trim to the correct height. Making sure that it has enough water, and replacing it should it die unexpectedly from the shock of being walked on. OK, so the 40 fee is worth it, just for the grass alone. If they had a few more trees for shade they could have even called it 60! But we had still expected to be able to climb the pagoda.

We were allowed to approach the entrance to the Pagoda though, and could get a close up look at some of the tiles. This just made us want to walk around it even more. The tiles are stunning considering that it was built around 1049 AD. The start of the inside also seemed to be tiled. We debated on whether to climb it or not, but decided against it. The only reason to do so was to look at the tiles, as the view would be similar to any other city. Although we could get a very special aerial view of the grass (maybe that’s why they charge to climb it?…)

On the far side of the pagoda is another square. All heat and no shade. At the far end are benches set up for the sound and light shows they put on at some stage in the past, probably before they put up the scaffolding. Then there is a large lake with a small pavilioned island that you can walk out to. This was a very relaxing spot to watch someone swim by. Of course, with any bit of water, you could rent a boat, but today there was no takers. The people working there were not idly wasting time watching their phones though. They were fixing their fishing net that they then put out in the lake. Either to catch dinner, or people illegally swimming in to the park to sneak a glimpse of the grass, we don’t know.

A bit disillusioned as we thought Kaifeng was different, we headed back out of the park. Past a statue of the lotus spirit (with broken bridge so you can’t get close). We are determined not to let anything ruin our view of the city as we think it is a wonderful place. There are great people here, it has a small town feel, and isn’t touristy at all. Even if they do charge you to look at grass.

There was something a bit different at the park though. On our way back, we passed the area that had been set up for a show. Music was coming out of the speakers now, so we went to investigate. There were a few people hanging around in soldiers uniforms, and we stopped to watch. They disappeared, so we thought whatever it was was over, especially when someone came out to sweep the stage. Turns out that this is the start of the show. It was about a rich person during the first republic. As it was all in Chinese, we can only assume what the plot was, but it seemed that he was not a nice guy. Kicking beggars, and stealing something important from a peasant. The peasant reported him to the authorities that came round and confiscated his house, kicking him out. As far as we could tell. When the actors realised we were there to stay, they even put more effort into it. The strangest thing was that when we turned up, there was nobody here. During the show, a few people walked past without stopping, and towards the end, one couple did sit down to watch. We think that the show would have gone on anyway. Without us or anybody else to watch it. I suppose,if you are paid to do a job, you do it Even if there is no audience. I am glad we sat through it, and gave them someone to perform to.

We were close to the North gate, so walked up for a closer view. It was pretty pointless as you cannot climb the wall. Every section of the wall we have gone past has been inaccessible. It may be possible somewhere, but not on any of the road entrances. There is a very nice bakery on the other side though and we picked up some cakes and biscuits for lunch later.

Catching bus 20 again in the opposite direction we went for the scenic drive around town. At some point we ended up at Daxiangguo temple. Outside they had up a site map, and honestly told us that the main attraction was under renovation. Perfect. We knew we could skip it. See, its not that hard! Nearby was a massive market complex, so we walked that instead. It was a lot of fun. If you want to go underwear shopping this is the place to be. There was pretty much everything else as well. Toys, bags, religious paraphernalia, writing equipment, lanterns, you get the idea. One shop we found interesting was selling astro turf, and other fake grass, plants and vines. For those that can’t afford the real thing. We even saw rickshaws decked out with them later.

In the evening we made our way back to Kaifeng Fu to check out the lake at night, watch the dancing (which we have missed as we haven’t seen it for a while). This place did it with a bit more modern music to attract a younger crowd. When lit up at night the place has a completely different feel, and had an almost festival like atmosphere. Walking over the bridge watching the lights around the lake change colours with all the young couples is also a nice stroll, then onto the street markets for dinner.

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