Tiantong Buddhist Temple- Ningbo, China

Main entrance from the parking lot/ taxi drop-off
I am from a rural area of California, so city living is not really my style. After a few long weeks in the city, I needed a break. I needed fresh air, trees, mountains, and no cars. Our afternoon at Tiantong Temple filled all of those needs. 
Entrance gate
Located in the mountains 25 km east of Ningbo, Tiantong temple is a large Buddhist temple that was built in 300 A.D. The legend goes that the founder went up into the mountains to pray and then decided to build a temple and monastery there for other pilgrims. Once it was more popular, he needed to build an indoor eating area. He went high up in the mountains to cut down trees for the building, but he was having a hard time doing all of the labor himself. He prayed for help, and a big storm washed all of the wood he had cut and needed to haul down to the temple. In thanks for that gift, he planted 25 km of trees to shade pilgrims as they journeyed to the temple. We enjoyed that shade as we walked up towards the temple! 
First gate on the ancient pilgrim’s path
As it is far outside of the city, we were a little worried about transportation to and from the temple. We took a taxi from our hotel, and it cost about 110 rmb from right in the heart of Ningbo and took about an hour. There is a bus that leaves from the Ningbo East bus station that stops right outside the entrance- number 162. We decided that we would try to hail a taxi back, and take the bus back if we couldn’t find a taxi to take us. On Trip Advisor it had mentioned a ton of construction near the front entrance. It seemed that the construction was completed when we visited, but all the buildings were completely vacant. It was like walking through a ghost town. In fact, we were not even sure that the temple was open because there was no one there! We visited on a Sunday afternoon and found that tickets were free. I’m not sure if this is the case other days of the week as well. There was a ticket booth where we got a little ticket sticker that we gave to the person at the gate. Again, as in everywhere else in China, the ticket booth is off to the side of the entrance. 
Gardens and ponds on the way to the temple
Lantern along the path
It was at least a half-mile uphill walk from the main entrance to the beginning of the monastery and temple. The path was well-marked and shaded with some ponds and gardens. There were also a series of gates with different animals on top, names and symbols as we made our way up the mountain. The path was jogging stroller friendly- there were bumps but nothing our wonderful stroller couldn’t handle. We were glad we brought it as it is hard to get Landon to follow the path when there is so much to explore on the side!
2nd gate on the path

Early on, we decided to climb straight to the top and then explore the side gardens and statues on the way down. It was a hot, humid day and we wanted to at least see the temple before we got too hot and sweaty to care anymore. The first main thing we got to was a series of shallow ponds with giant koi, turtles, and ducks. Some of the fish looked like they could eat Landon they were so huge! I wondered how old they were and how much they had to eat to grow so huge! There was no shortage of food as tourists and pilgrims threw snacks into the water to watch them come up to the surface and snatch the food. 

Giant fish!
Pillars surrounding the first big pond

There was a road going directly up to the monastery that I believe was for stay guests and worshipers only. The path and road combined as we came closer to the temple. The wall along the road kept back a gorgeous bamboo forest. Although I have seen bamboo mixed in with other trees before in Asia, this forest was mostly bamboo and it was so beautiful! In another area, the bamboo was going up the hillside and I could just imagine pandas tromping around in the forest munching on all the bamboo.

Wall keeping back the gorgeous bamboo forest
Bamboo forest
Bridge over a stream on our way to the second pool 
Second pool with giant fish and turtles!
Monastery walls
Eight-story pagoda

Boys with the pagoda and pool 

 The second pool was at the base of the entrance to the temple complex proper. This is one of the bigger Buddhist temples in China- at one point it had over 900 rooms, and currently there are over 700. There were real-life monks in their yellow robes, and we saw rooms where the monks ate, studied, and worshiped. We even heard them worshiping and chanting, but did not see them as they were in a room that is not open to the public.

Like all buildings in China, the temple is very old, but has burnt down or destroyed multiple times and rebuilt. I could see very old foundations and walls, and then buildings that looked newer as we wandered through. Although the pagoda looked very cool, it seemed like too far of a hike to go explore it as well on this very hot day.

Golden Buddha hall

It is difficult to find detailed descriptions in English for the temple, so some of the names of buildings are ones that I have made up. The first hall we came to seemed to me to be more like a display building vs. worship building. There was a giant golden Buddha in the center, with different incarnations of Buddha on the sides of the chamber. They have different strengths and personalities depending on which direction (north, south, east, and west) that they represent. Some of them looked friendly, and some looked angry. Landon liked that they were different colors. 

Golden Buddha

Musical Buddha

Green, serious Buddha

Awesome lantern!

My favorite part of visiting these temples are seeing the workmanship and ornate decorations that adorn the temple and surrounding buildings. Like the other buildings we have visited in Ningbo, the gold leaf decorative finishes were prevalent, as well as awesome lanterns hung all around the rooms. Even the metal bells and incense holders outside of the buildings were decorated!
Thousands of Buddhas!
The next hall seemed to be the pilgrim’s worship hall. There were three Buddha statues with ribbons hung in front (pictured below) and cushions for kneeling. There were worshipers there, and people studying from books around the edges of the room, along with the tourists just checking stuff out. Other statues lined the sides of the room, and around the back we came upon an interesting 3D scene of thousands of Buddhas and people in various poses and environments. It was really an interesting piece that I could have stayed and looked at for hours if I didn’t have a toddler to keep me moving. It was so difficult to get a good picture of it with the light and size of it, as well as the ribbons hanging in front. 
Buddhas of middle, pilgrim’s hall

Each main building seemed to be built a few steps up the mountain from each other, but they were all approximately the same size and shape. Running along the sides were the living quarters, dining areas, libraries and smaller shrines as well as other small rooms. The whole complex is built up the mountain, though, requiring visitors to climb lots of stairs to see the whole thing. We eventually ditched the stroller for this part of our journey. 

This temple is especially famous as the birthplace of a certain sect of Zen Buddhism that is practiced mostly in Japan, but also in other parts of southeast Asia. I guess a Japanese Buddhist leader traveled throughout Zheijang province and received enlightenment to start a new sect of Zen Buddhism at Tiantong temple. He took this back to Japan and there are many followers of this sect of Buddhism in Japan. So this would be an especially holy place for these people. 
Inside of monk’s worship building
The top building (pictured below) seemed to be the monk’s worship area. The Buddha was much smaller, and there were books and a smaller number of cushions arranged in a square for a small group to worship at a time.

Top, monk’s worship building

After making it to the top, we let Landon lead the way down and just explore. On the way, we passed a room that seemed to be for worshipers and monks only. There was a lady at the door who liked Landon, even though he was trying to go into the room without taking his shoes off. We successfully extricated him from the room and she gave him a little necklace with a Chinese saying on it. We put it on him because he wanted it on, so for all we know, Landon is now dedicated to Buddha or something. 

Landon and his necklace
Happy Buddha and the pagoda
The funny thing about heat and humidity is that is completely squashes your appetite! We had packed sandwiches and snacks for lunch, but didn’t end up eating until after 3:00! We headed down the mountain to find a place to eat, and settled for the steps around the most modern looking of the statues and areas of this temple- by the happy Buddha. I felt like I could relate to him with his Buddha belly and my growing baby belly!
Baby belly debut, with the pagoda
Landon was not stopping for a picture…
On the way back down the mountain, we passed some beautiful gardens and walked through them following the lead of explorer Landon. I liked the circular doorways 

Exploring the gardens
on this garden gate, and the beautiful lilies on the pond. It was such a wonderful afternoon up in the mountains! We ended up taking the bus back down the mountain, which Landon loved even more than taxi rides! There were big bumps, and it took a little over an hour to get back into Ningbo. 

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