Shaolin Temple

Zhengzhou, China

Found in the Henan province of China, the Shaolin Temple was built 15 centuries ago in Dengfeng city at the base of Mountain Shaoshi. Its name is also taken from the same mountain and the temple is the first in China to develop the Zen Buddhism, besides playing its part in promoting the religion in the country since its inception. As of 2010, it has also been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. However, its popularity in the world is contributed to the eponymous TV series about Shaolin Kungfu televised in the US and other countries starting in 1970s.

To get to Shaolin Temple, which is about 13kms (30 minutes) from Dengfeng, about 50kms (2 hours) from Luoyang and 65kms (2 hours) from Zhengzhou, public buses are available daily that drop you off right at the gate of the Temple. Ideal time to pay a visit is from spring to autumn. It is always crowded but gets especially so during holidays and festivals, so try avoiding those and visit in the mornings to get good seats at the acclaimed show at the temple. Entry cost is RMB80 and the show is included in the price (keep your ticket though).

There are basically two things that are most appreciated by guests at the Shaolin Temple. The first is the Shaolin Kung Fu Show that takes place multiple times during the day. It is an energetic show where the masters teach their students various moves. It is quite reminiscent of the action-packed martial arts movies and draws huge crowds of locals and foreigners.

The second is the Pagoda Forest which is a burial place for the famous monks. There are almost 250 stupas and the stories on each one is built according to the status of the monk and the artistic trend that was in vogue at the time. These are quite the sight to behold and very humbling.

Besides these major attractions, the other buildings in the compound are also appreciated by visitors, even though most are recreations of the original, as the temple has seen much turbulence over the course of its history. These include the Dharma Cave, wherein a monk sat and meditated for 9 years straight. The Mahavira Hall is the heart of the compound and is where worship and celebrations are carried out. The Shanmen Hall and Hall of Heavenly Kings also house many statues and artwork. And after having gone through the Monks Living Quarters and the Ancestors and Second Ancestors Monastery you come across the Wushu or Martial Arts Training Center, where you can pay by the hour to learn the ancient art.
Though this training school is in the oldest Kung Fu temple in China, yet you can get the same or better training in a plethora of schools outside the Temple for much lesser price. One thing that you can count on is the good vegetarian food made by the monks here, something that is common in almost all Buddhist temples.

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