China Trip 2014 – Day 7 to the end!
Waking up on Mount Wudang – wow! How many people can say that? And in the Tai Chi Hotel.
First Temple Complex of the day is the South Cliff Palace. Although the buildings are of the Ming Dynasty, Daoists were here hundreds of years earlier, at least in the Yuan Dynasty.
Walking through the complex, meet an enormous stone turtle with an inscribed stele on its back (rub various parts of it for health, wealth, and happiness) a 700 year old gingko tree with its stinking fruit being eaten by great tits (just like the ones back home in the garden – the birds that is), and on down to the red-walled temple and the Black Dragon White Tiger Hall. This was the place where Zhen Wu (Emperor of the North) was considered to have achieved immortality. Inside the courtyard is a tea house, and a medicine hall, where we are met by an affable monk who sells us herbal hot patches for our knees.
The cliff part of the temple is built onto the rock formed by a geological fault. To find the cliff-hanging temple, you have to go around the back of the main temple hall. Having let everyone else go round, take their photos, and go for a sit-down, then we had the place to ourselves. Fantastically atmospheric, this would make an amazing set for a fight scene, but maybe that’s the total tourism without training taking its toll on my imagination. The wind whistled through the wooden structures, occasional bronze bowls were struck to leave a reverberating note, incense drifted in front of the open doorways. The statues within were dressed and ready for action, weapons to hand, faces either serene or menacing. I loved this place.
One of the most famous things here is the dragon incense burner. It is on a stone beam that projects out over the gorge. To put incense into the burner you would have to take at least two steps on the beam (like walking the plank). So many people have fallen to their deaths that it is now forbidden to try – but someone must be doing it because there were (unlit) sticks in the burner. Hmmmm.
After lunch it’s time for another temple complex – this time one only populated by nuns – the Purple Heaven Palace. Set in a more sheltered location, it sits snugly against the side of the mountain, and was an oasis of calm and warmth. Apparently this Palace has the best feng shui on the mountain. Having frozen ourselves during most of this trip, sitting on the steps leading up to the great hall, bathed in warm sunshine, had a soporific effect. It was as though the whole place were Sleeping Beauty’s palace. The young nun at the gate was dozing gently, another nun sat meditating with her back to the sun, and some others were quietly sorting herbs in shallow baskets. The peace was overwhelming and ignoring the obligatory tour, I sat on the steps, basking in the sun. When I came to, everyone else seemed to have the same idea, and we formed a dozy stairway to heaven.
Final stop was in the town at the foot of the mountain. Here the temple is in the centre of this bustling metropolis. The surrounding gardens were packed with families, old and young, dogs with coats clipped into outrageous shapes. We went into the temple, said brief prayers for success (with the brass bowls ringing in our ears). The tour was over, and we were sent off to a local supermarket to pick up fun supplies prior to dinner. Back to the real world, spirituality left behind.
Back at the hotel, as I had to leave the next day, I met the teacher who was going to train the group before their return to Beijing. Mr Ma was agelessly youthful, tall and lean, an exemplar of clean living. He explained what he was going to teach, and we agreed a schedule which started at 06.30 and ended at 21.00.
The next morning I said farewell, being recalled home by other duties. The journey back had its little wrinkles (like airline tickets booked in the wrong names, no coffee in the “4-star” hotel) but it just makes me glad to get back home safely in the end.
I left the group in capable hands. After a few days in Wudang they were to head off to Beijing to train with Professor Zhu Yu Ming. What did they learn? You’ll have to ask them when you see them in class.