After a comfortable bus ride from Hangzhou, the last boat to Putuoshan takes me to the island off the coast of Zhejiang province when it is pitch dark. As I have not made any arrangements prior to arrival, I am soon surrounded by a small crowd of guys trying to sell their homestay room to me. Officially illegal for foreigners, I end up staying in one of them after a lot of hassle and moving from one place to another. When I venture out the next morning, I am surprised by the crowds in the streets. I walk up the stone stairs towards the huge golden statue of Guanyin that I have seen lit up the evening before. I have to walk around quite a few pilgrims who make their way up on their knees and hands. It will now quickly become clear to me that this island is indeed an important holy site for many. I walk all the way to a monastery near the coast, with its ochre walls, and close to Guanyin Leap, a spot where the bodhisattva Guanyin left her footprint. Great views from here over the east bay of Putuoshan. I decide to leave a visit of the golden statue for the next day, and follow the crowds on a wooden boardwalk heading north along the coast.
When I arrive at the Hundred Steps beach, it turns out that the southern side is only accessible for monks for special occasions, but I can walk to a small pavilion on the rocks in the middle of the beach, and then walk the rest of the beach towards the north. Plenty of Chinese are bathing here, playing in the sand; I spot another pavilion on rocks higher up. I reach the spot after a short climb, find a cave with Buddhist figures and candles inside. I sit on one of the boulders for a while, with great views over both the Hundred Steps beach, the Thousand Steps beach, and the east cape of the island, and I am amazed that there is no one else here. After walking part of the Thousand Steps beach, I return to the road, and visit Fayu temple. I am back in the crowds again; this is one of the three most prominent temples on the island. It is impossible to distinguish between tourists and worshippers; many people are burning incense, praying in front of the many richly decorated halls of the temple complex. From Fayu, I walk up the stone stairs to close to the highest point on the island, Foding Shan, where I find another temple: Huiji. A little harder to access (even though there also is a cable car), this complex is a little less crowded, and has some old parts which have escaped destruction during the Cultural Revolution.
After making my way down, I buy more drinks: it is a very hot and humid day, and especially when there is no breeze from the sea, sweat streams down my skin. I now walk the walkway towards the east: my next destination is the promontory which I have seen from a distance. Apart from some minivans passing by, I am the only one here. The road clings to the rocky coastline, offering views from time to time. At the far eastern point of the cape, I find a small temple straddling a narrow chasm in which waves crash: this is the Cave of the Buddhist Sounds, with a tranquil monastery in ochre colours built above it. A truly spectacular setting. From here, it is a short walk to Shancai Cave, another place of worship. On my way back, I walk the Thousand Steps beach, visit the nunnery Dacheng, which appears empty. The next morning, I am at the same rock between Hundred Steps and Thousand Steps beach again, to find that the sun is hiding behind a cloud, effectively ruining what could have been a beautiful sunrise. From here, I first see Daobao pagoda and then visit Puji temple. It is Saturday now, and the crowds are massive. Smoke curls up from all the incense burners, monks pray and walk by in their dark red dresses, people pray. At the many incense burners, there is a continuous sound of coins hitting the metal: people try to toss coins into them. Climbing a little higher up in the complex, I find empty courtyards, and some of the tranquillity that I would have expected here. It is time to walk to the larger-than-life golden statue of Guanyin, the much revered bodhisattva of Putuoshan. An enormous platform has been built at several levels, with statues in stone, and many more praying people. The closer I get to the statue, the more impressive she becomes, until I am at the highest accessible platform and stand only metres below her feet. It seems the perfect farewell to Putuoshan, and I walk back to the wharf, leaving the crowds and oppressive heat of the island behind me.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Putuoshan (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Putuoshan. Read more about this site.