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Zhenru Temple

Shanghai, China

The Zhenru Temple (meaning ‘reality as it is’) dates back to the ancient times of China, somewhere in the year 1320 during the Yuan dynasty when it was moved to its present location. Since then, the temple has seen the rise and fall of many dynasties while surviving through the highs and the lows. It remains standing today and has managed to retain much of its original charm. It is a hidden gem of Shanghai city and not on a lot of tourist itineraries given its location sandwiched between the fish markets. But those that do make the effort, find that it’s a serene place where the mind and soul both feel energized.

Within the Putuo district of Shanghai, the Zhenru Temple sits nestled between Siqian street and Lanxi road with the Taopu canal passing through. The Zhenru subway station is close by and is accessed by line 11 of the Shanghai metro. Taking exit 5 towards Tongchuan road, visitors will be on the left side of the temple. Walking down on Beishi road through the fish market, the building is not more than a 10-minute walk away. There’s even an Apple Experience shop in the way! Entrance is nominally charged at RMB10 and operating hours are from 08:00-16:00 for visitors to Zhenru Temple. But the temple is never crowded, even on weekends and holidays so there is never rush hours to avoid.

The complex, which is spread over an area of almost 20 acres, has quite a few buildings inside reminiscent of Yuan-style architecture. It is hard to find temples with this particular style of construction. Zhenru Temple has been included in the list of ‘Major National Historical and Cultural Site in Shanghai’ for its cultural and historical value.

There is an earthy feel with intricate details carved into eaves, pillars and the walls of the temple, all of which makes for exciting discoveries. Surrounded by various gardens, there is a small temple and a larger one besides the Pagoda that also has an underground hall. There are various exhibition halls throughout the complex, the most prominent one being the Mahavira Hall with its 16 wooden pillars propping up the high roof. Inside rests the jade buddha Shakyamuni’s statue weighing almost 2,500kgs. There are also the Guanyin and Four Heavenly Kings Halls which are home to many relics and statues. Since this is an active worship site, there are monks going about their daily rituals, but they are quite friendly and will be happy to help.

An element to be specially appreciated is the more than 7 centuries old Gingko tree in the courtyard, a witness to the ages that have passed by the place. The worship bells, the little pillar at the entrance, yellow globe lights among the tree lined paths, the paintings along the corridors and most of all, the calming gardens; all present a peaceful atmosphere that has tourists raving. Lighting up an incense stick and saying a prayer may very well bring guests some luck!

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