Friday, March 30, 2018

Hangzhou. Zhongzhu Monastery.

After leaving the tea pickers behind, we drove a very short distance to Buddhist temple, nestled in the green hills somewhere near Meijiawu Tea Village. It's a very lovely, secluded and tranquil spot for a temple.  According to the itinerary, we were at Zhongzhu Temple which dates back about 800 years.  I have not been able to find any information about it on the internet but obviously, it exists!  So, I have no information about the place other than the name.

Hangzhou is home to countless Buddhist temples so much so that the city has long been  a focal point of Buddhism in southeast China. For centuries, pilgrims from all over China have come here to worship. 

Must-visit spots include Lingyin and Jingci temples both of with date back to the 1st century AD.  However, other than these two famous religious sites, Hangzhou boasts dozens of temples with fewer visitors and Zhongzhu is one of them.  The plus side of visiting a lesser known temple is that we were the only tourists here!  That was evident the moment we got out of the van.  Not a soul around.

Once we passed through the entry arch, we entered into a small courtyard.  Melody was doing her guide duties and explaining the place to Bro and SK.  I decided just step aside and take in the sights as more often than not, I rarely remember a word of what a guide tells me.  Ergo a big reason why I do so much pre and post trip reading so I can learn in my own time and at my own pace.

As Melody was talking, a monk walked by us.  His dress immediately reminded me of the beautiful linen dress that the monks at Jogyesa Temple, in Seoul wore.  That was the first clue that Zhongzhu was very likely a Chan Buddhist temple.

From the first courtyard, we entered into a larger, inner courtyard where there were several more structures.  By now, it was starting to dawn on me that we were not visiting a temple; we were actually visiting a monastery.

Here, we paused to light some incense and make our prayers before venturing further into the complex.

After a brief moment to pause and pray, we continued to walk around the site.  I strayed away from the other three, all the while keeping close watch on their whereabouts as I did not want to lose sight of them.

On either side of the courtyard was a row of buildings that I assumed provided housing for the monks as well as classrooms and administrative officers.  This is not a big monastery but it is a working one.

Monks were going about their business and yes, I decided to stalk them for photos.  But I did it respectfully.....standing far away and using my zoom lens to capture the images.  Seeing a few more of the monks confirmed my initial thought that this is Chan Buddhist monastery.   With their closely shorn heads and outfitted in their elegant linen tops and bottoms and with cloth shoes on their feet, these monks are the epitome of what I would describe as proper, traditional Buddhist monks.  I didn't see any of them using a cellphone but I would not be surprised if they have them!


Zhongzhu is a small monastic complex so we didn't spend all that much time here which was a good thing because the next to-do on our itinerary was to get to the train station.  We have to catch another high speed train to the city of Jiashan where we will then have to get into another car to drive to Xitang, the water village that is the second highlight destination of our itinerary. 

Leaving Hangzhou behind for the second time, I still say that I've not really seen Hangzhou. Especially after today which was such a quick tour of some obscure sights that I felt like I had robbed Bro and SK of seeing what most guidebooks and tourists would describe as the highlights of the city.  If I ever get the chance to come back, for a third time, I will deliberately set aside time to spend at least two days and one night here to see the major highlights.  Hangzhou really deserves more than just a day trip from Shanghai let alone what we did today which was barely a handful of hours.

Now, it's off to Xitang which holds promise of the traditional beauty of an ancient Chinese water village.  Our drive to the train station took us past West Lake so I took a few parting shots as we inched along in the traffic.  Maybe I will be back here one day.