LAMA TEMPLE (YONGHE GONG)
Lama Temple (Yonghe Gong)
Beijing has a lot to offer tourists, being the seat of oriental power for many decades. From royal palaces to magnificent gardens and zoos, there is just something around every corner you turn. So, it is when you go towards the north east of the city that you encounter the serene Yonghe Temple.
What was once the court eunuchs’ residence, was converted in 1694 into the court of Kangxi Emperor’s son, Prince Yong, who would later succeed him at the throne. When Emperor Yongzheng came to power, he had half the place turned to a lamasery for Tibetan Buddhist monks and kept the other half an imperial palace. Upon his death, his body was placed therein, and the Temple was given Imperial status by having the turquoise tiles traded in for yellow tiles, a symbol of royalty.
But there is more to this temple then just bookish history. For an admission fee of RMB25, you come upon the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the entrance of the temple. It is so named for the four statues that adorn the opposite walls of the first hall of five. In the middle sits the Buddha of the Future (aka Buddha Maitreya).
Next up is the Hall of Harmony and Peace adorned with Buddha statues of Past, Present and Future and their disciples, the 18 Arhats.
Crossing over, you come to the Hall of Everlasting Protection, which is like 5 buildings all joined together to form the place where monks would pray over the recently deceased emperors before they were buried.
In the Hall of the Wheel of the Law, a roughly 6 meters tall Buddha sits in front of the five hundred Arhat Hill carving done on red sandalwood. The statues on the piece are made from gold, iron, tin, copper and silver and the artwork is a famously acclaimed piece of the Lama Temple.
The last to greet your sights is the awe-inspiring 26 meters tall Buddha Maitreya, the largest wooden Buddha in the world, placed in the Pavillion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. The amazing thing about this is that it was wholly carved out of one Nepalese sandalwood tree and given as a gift to the Qianlong Emperor by the 7th Dalai Lama in the 1750s.
It is an easily accessible site through public buses and metro lines 2 and 5, both stopping at Yonghegong Lama Temple Station, as well as taxis. As an active temple, you get to witness monks and devotees praying here most of the time but specially during festivals. There are special events celebrated from January to March like the Chinese New Year, when people come to pray for the upcoming year and the Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly, which is a one-week event in honor of the founder of Buddhism.
The ambient environment, rife with the smell of incense, is very calming. The pictures snapped make for great memories. Souvenirs can be bought for bargain prices and you even get free incense sticks to take home!