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Longhua Temple

Shanghai, China

No visit to Shanghai is complete without a peek at the various temples and pagodas that are deeply ingrained part of local culture. The largest complex of the various Buddhist temples in the city, is the Longhua Temple (meaning ‘Luster of the Dragon’). It is named so because according to folklore, once upon a time the fabled dragons made an appearance at this site. It is also believed to house one among 13 pagodas built by an emperor from the Three Kingdoms Period after he discovered cremated remains of Buddha and ordered to house them within the Pagodas. However, the Temple was extensively rebuilt (after suffering destruction) during the Northern Song Dynasty and it is that architectural façade that it retains to this day.

Since the Longhua temple is a major attraction, there are plenty of public transport options that will help tourists get here. Metro lines 11 and 12 have an eponymous stop for the temple and many buses stop at Longhua station on Longhua road. The entrance is charged at RMB10 (and includes incense to burn) but this price is increased substantially for the New Year (as per the Gregorian calendar) ceremony to RMB120. Opening time is 07:00 and the complex closes at 16:30 except on special events. Spring is an ideal time to go to appreciate the peach blossoms in bloom and enjoy the Temple fair (expect hordes of tourists though!).

The complex is built in what is considered a sacred style for Buddhist temples i.e., with a south to north axis along which five main buildings are aligned, which can be seen as soon as the visitors enter from the Shanmen (main gate). There are other buildings inside the 5-acre complex of the Longhua Temple one of which is the Bell Tower, home to the Qing era copper cast bell which weighs a whopping 5000kgs and is struck about 108 times in a ceremony to usher in the New Year on December 31st each year. This brings in luck for the worshippers and is one of the most popular events at the Temple.

Another wildly popular attraction is the famed Longhua pagoda which has Hollywood star power since it was featured in Steven Spielberg’s movie. But due to its age of over 17 centuries the pagoda can only be viewed from behind a designated spot. It has started leaning a bit to one side as well. But the details etched on the pagoda are amazing and go back to the authentic style of imperial times. The seven storied pagoda has each floor decreasing in height as they go up with balconies protruding underneath upturned eaves.

When originally built, the Longhua Temple complex had extensive beautiful gardens but because of many executions carried out there during turbulent times, the gardens have been curtailed in favor of a memorial hall and cemetery to honor the spirits of the dead. However, this has not dampened appeal and the complex still has much positive energy and celebrations around the year.

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