Outlying Islands, Sightseeing

First visit to the Big Buddha

Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, is a large bronze statue of a Buddha, completed in 1993, and located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong.The statue is located near Po Lin Monastery and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion. It is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong, and is also a popular tourist attraction.I’ve been to the Big Buddha many years ago (as a child). Back then it was difficult to get there and it involved a ferry ride, a bus ride and a walk. Nowadays, it is much easier. You just travel to Tung Chung (which is a bus stop away from Discovery Bay) and then take the cable car to the top of the mountains.It’s a 25 min ride and you can choose between a normal cable car, or the special glass bottom one. We went for the glass bottom one, and it’s a little scary in the beginning, with just bare glass and an undisturbed view of the streets, plans and shrubs below you.Suddenly, when you cross over the Tung Chung Bay, you can actually see water and fisher man – at first glance a scary sight, but one that I got easily used to and enjoyed.The cable car runs from Tung Chung (with all the skyscrapers) passed the airport and then up the mountains, across Lantau national park. On the road, this journey would have taken more than one hour. Upon arrival in the mountains, I noticed some stark changes. The Big Buddha is still there, sitting calmly on top of the mountains – but now the surroundings consists of a lot more, besides the Po Lin Monastery. There is a whole souvenir shop/park up there – with big food outlets like Starbucks and Ebeneezers, a couple of adventure rides for children and quite a lot of souvenir shops. They range from a place selling chopsticks (not the plain ones, but actually artistic ones) over a shop selling Peking Opera memorabilia and some clever outlets selling warm clothes, scarves and huts, as it is pretty cold and windy on top of Lantau Island.We made our way through the souvenir area until we arrived at the Po Lin Monastery. This is as much as I had remembered it, except that they are now building a huge expansion at the end of it. It’s going to double/triple in size with a massive extension and as a result some of the areas were closed off to the public.Still we enjoyed the insights of the Po Lin Monastery, which were richly decorated with flowers (mainly Orchids) for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Afterwards we had a vegetarian lunch at the monastery – which was nice, just some bean curd in lemon sauce, steamed salad and mushroom, stir fried mixed vegetables, spring rolls and a mushroom sauce. Nothing fancy, but decent food for a fair price (100 HKD per person including as much tea as you like).Only downside was that you had to sit separately (in a VIP room!) from the Chinese people – I wonder if this is because they would just laugh at our futile attempts to try and eat slimy mushrooms with chop sticks, or if they would have been served different food? It’s weird how there is still a separation between Chinese and non-Chinese people. I thought this would be a thing from the past…After lunch, we dared to climb the 268 steps to the Big Buddha. It’s a long journey, but we felt energized and strong enough to resist the cold wind that was now blowing. We made our way to the top, enjoyed the view (trying to ignore the huge building site and the crane behind the Po Lin Monastery) and the tranquility of the Big Buddha.The statue is named Tian Tan Buddha because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It is one of the five large Buddha statues in China. The Buddha statue sits on a lotus throne on top of a three-platform altar. It is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana (according to the entry on Wikipedia).The Tian Tan Buddha appears serene and dignified. His right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction. The Buddha’s left hand rests on his lap in a gesture of giving dhana. The Buddha faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south. In addition, there are 3 floors beneath the Buddha statue: The Hall of Universe, The Hall of Benevolent Merit, and The Hall of Remembrance. One of the most renowned features inside is a relic of Gautama Buddha, consisting of some of his alleged cremated remains.
Tired after climbing all the steps to the Big Buddha, cold from the wind, but happy that we’ve been close to the Big Buddha and enjoyed the scenic view, we made our way back to the cable car station and Tung Chung.

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