I have some vague memory of having been to a Buddhist place in India but not sure where it was. So much for India being the place of origin of Buddhism. I am not brave enough to make a trip to Bihar, especially after hearing the experiences of a colleague from Germany who follows Buddhism and went there to look at the place of origin of the faith. On that note it seems incredible that the faith which originated in India, spread to far off places and then was forgotten in it’s place of origin. In the middle of the 20th century, the caste system in India led some people to take up Buddhism (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as their role model) as a way to get rid of their caste identities. But still, that is a very small number of people compared to the rest of the population. Like everything else, you can find some details about the decline and revival in India, here. So for me, coming from India, it was a great experience to spend a day at the themed “Ngong Ping” village on the Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Why? Because I could see with my own eyes how people worshiped Buddha in a land far far away from where he was born, attained enlightenment and imparted his wisdom to the masses. There is a landmark-ish statue of Buddha on the top of a hill that you see at the top of the post, which is visible from quite far away (claims are that it is visible even from Macau on a clear day!). So one day was devoted to do the trip to this place.
I took the metro (MTR) from the Kowloon island and it took around 45 mins to reach the Tung Chung station (one change). There is also a shopping complex there, which tempted me but I went on towards the Cable Car terminal – was lost a bit but may be it was just my being generally geographically confused! Once there (you have to go up via an escalator), I was so thankful for having purchased the tickets at the airport itself (as well advised by a friend B) – the queue for the ticket was of epic proportions! I just had to exchange those tickets for the pass to enter the cable car. And then I was all set.
The cable car on the way up was called “crystal” – with a transparent bottom! It was a thrilling experience to go on above the sea, the trees, the hills and seeing them below our feet! One of the guys in the cable car was a bit nervous so he resisted from seeing down..but everyone else enjoyed the view.
Once we reached the top, there was a beautiful view – the clouds adding mystique to the experience!
I could see the Big Buddha in a distance and to reach him, I needed to go past a themed village, which had lots of shops, a movie theater showing a Bruce Lee movie, a theater with something about Buddha, a fake Bodhi tree under which people could get photographed and so on. There were cable cars from various years also placed on the way and each cable car was dedicated to a country (had the flag colors on them). See images below.
At the end of that way, there was a monastery to the left and the Buddha to the right. So I first went towards the monastery. It is called the Po Lin Monastery. It was established by three monks in the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s very calm there and you can just sit there for hours without anyone disturbing you. There is also a vegetarian restaurant there where one can take a simple meal consisting of soup, sauteed vegetables, mushrooms with greens, some spring rolls and steamed rice – all of it coming as a set meal. As far as I remember, it was about 98 HKD. That was my first proper lunch in 3 days! There is no ala-carte menu. There was also a meal for families which contained some other dishes too. The meal went well with the surrounding. The surprise part was a free ticket with the meal coupon, to the museum which is below the Big Buddha! There was also a fast food kind of section of that restaurant too (simple fares only – no pizza burger stuff), but I didn’t see it before ordering the big lunch.
Once done with the visit to the monastery and having a good meal, I proceeded towards the Big Buddha.
So the bronze statue that you see at the top of the post, is popularly known as the Big Buddha or technically, the Tian Tan Buddha. It isn’t very old – its construction started in 1990 and completed in 1993. It’s really huge – about 34 meters tall and weighing about 250 tons! One has to climb 268 stairs to reach there.
One can see huge incense containers on the way, in which people can insert the burning incense sticks. I had not seen these kind of holders anywhere else before visiting the island.
There I could also go inside the museum and learnt something about Buddhism in Hong Kong. There is some relic of Buddha also inside – I think a tooth – gifted by monks from Sri Lanka.
One is not allowed to take pictures inside. It’s very calm everywhere around, despite a large number of people visiting the place. There was greenery all around. It felt like I could just make a cottage and live there!
Anyway, so it was time to move on. I got down, reached back the Ngong Ping village, was curious about some tea and went inside a shop to taste my first Oolong tea, then went towards the cable car point and proceeded with a non-crystal bottomed one. Glanced through the aforementioned shopping center and then went towards my next big thing of the day – meeting a friend from school, after a gap of about 20 years, who now lives in Hong Kong.
(Random Info – A few days later, she also made the trip to this place with her family.)