Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Temples and Scenes around Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake is surrounded by serenity and a comforting sense of peace where one can feel at ease when touring around the area, and perhaps this had to do with the number of temples and the strong religious roots in the local community.

As we explored around Sun Moon Lake, we stumbled upon a few more temples besides the famous Wen Wu Temple which were of notable mentions as well though they were smaller, but were still drawing crowds to their premises.

Xuanzang Temple


The temple is located in the western part of Sun Moon Lake, and stands out with its ancient Tang Dynasty architectural design.

It is no surprise though, as the name of the temple had provided the hints that the temple is dedicated to the well-known Xuanzang, a Tang Dynasty monk who was sent on an assignment to collect the Buddisht scriptures from India. His journey which took a decade before he finally returned to China with the scriptures and his efforts in translating the scriptures along with his disciples contributed to the evolution and the development of Buddhism, and was well-documented in various stories.
Xuanzang was such a prominent figure due to his accomplishments and hard work in translating 75 sections of the 650 sutras he brought back, which led to the 1335 volumes of scriptures in Buddhism, was respected and well-recognized. In fact, his journey and story had gained world recognition and had been documented into various forms of literature; even making it to the television screens, titled "Journey to the West'.

The Xuanzang Temple was built in 1965 to honor the remains of this respected monk, which was originally stolen by the Japanese during the World War II from Nanjing and was shipped to be worshipped at the Jion-Ji Temple at the Saitama Perfecture in Japan. It was only in 1955 when the remains were taken from Japan to Taiwan where they placed it in the Xuanguang Temple before finally transferring it to this temple upon its completion towards the end of the year 1965.



There are two levels in the temple; with one being dedicated to the worshipping of the remains of Xuanzang and the other section to the Golden Sakyamuni Buddha.
The late President Chiang Kai-Shek wrote the words 'National Treasure' on a plate which can be found inside the temple. On the outer wall of the temple (at the main entrance in the first picture above) is where one can see the illustrated carvings of Xuanzang during his journey to the west.

There is a large drum located at the front of the temple



There is also a bell and a mallet, and the bell is known as the "Wake-Up Bell"



The temple provides an immense sense of inner peace and tranquility when one is on the grounds.
As with all religious temples,







There is also a resting pavilion where one can sit on the stone chairs and relax, while enjoying the superb view of the Sun Moon Lake and Lalu Island from the temple.





It is interesting to note that the temple faces the Lalu Island on the front while the rear faces the Qinglong Mountain, which places the temple at a very unique and good location as described by a Fengshui master once who depicted the strategic spot to 'A Green Dragon Playing with a Pearl'.




Xuanguang Temple
A smaller and older temple which formerly housed the relics of the famous Master Xuanzang upon its return to Taiwan in 1955. The temple is well-maintained even after the remains have been transferred over to the new Xuanzang temple upon its completion in 1965 and is still a popular historic site for its  background in association with the Master Xuanzang.
Worshippers and tourists still flock to the small temple for prayers and the view.





Dragon Phoenix (Long Feng) Temple (日月潭龍鳳宮)
This temple, though tucked away in its own comfort is a majestic sight with the pair of large complex stone carvings of a dragon and phoenix flanking both sides of its entrance, to dazzle visitors with a grand introduction to its turf.





This temple is not to be underestimated for it is an extremely hot spot among couples and the locals who throng the temples praying for romance and blessings in their marriage.
The dragon and phoenix are believed to mythical creatures in the Chinese legends where they are said to be powerful beings with supernatural powers. They are also seen as a strong and powerful match for each other, with their might and grand statures and are often portrayed as emblems of goodness, particularly in the arena of romance.
The dragon phoenix combination is widely used in the Chinese community and they adorn the decorations for most marriages, where they are believed to bring good luck and strength for a long lasting romance/marriage to the couple.



The beginnings of this temple start from the year 1978 when the Nantou County set up a 'Matchmaker's Pavilion' on Lalu Island (then known as Guanghua Island) for the locals and there would mass weddings conducted in what is known as a 'Shuixiang Group Wedding' (Shuixiang translates to Water Village). Many visitors; or rather couples would participate in this mass wedding which became rather popular until the year 1999 when disaster strikes in the 921 Earthquake occurred.
Due to the incident, the Matchmaker's Pavilion was relocated to a newly constructed Dragon Phoenix Temple on land, which still remains a top tourist attraction and among the locals around Sun Moon Lake. Courting couples and single men and women would come to the temple, praying for a good destiny for themselves and for their potential spouses. Even married couples come to the temple to pray for a long lasting marriage and undying romance.
It was said that the popularity of the temple was due to the effectiveness in which their prayers were answered; whereby a person who is single and in search of a partner comes to the temple and pray, could meet his/her other half in a mere period of 6 months! This strengthened the beliefs among the locals and the believers in the mystical powers of the gods and deities who continue to shower them with blessings and good fortune. Sun Moon Lake is truly a romantic haven and never ceases to amaze visitors with her offerings.
From the ravishing beauty of her uniquely shaped body to the endearing tales of her temples, one would just fall under the spell of this dazzling destination.








It was really hard to bid goodbye to this place, and the memories and sights captured here will definitely last for an eternity....


Taiwan Travelogue: Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔) (Sun Moon Lake)

The nine-storey octagonal building of the Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔) stands tall and proud as the eminent landmark of Sun Moon Lake, on top of the 954 meters high Sha Ba Lan Mountain.


The pagoda, at 46 meters high was built in 1971, by the late President Chiang Kai Shek in loving memory of his mother. Back then it was a challenging task in the construction due to the location of the pagoda, and since Sun Moon Lake's geographical location itself was distant from the mainland, the building materials had to be shipped over the lake and then carried up to the mountain.

To reach the pagoda, one would need to take a short hike of about 700 meters up the Sha Ba Lan mountain, which would take approximately 15-20 minutes.








On normal days, one would be able to climb up the pagoda which offers a splendid view of the Lalu Island, and of course, the Sun Moon Lake.
It was rather unfortunate that the pagoda was closed when I was there, due to a recent earthquake which occurred and the officials have decided to close the pagoda to conduct further investigations to ensure the structural integrity of the pagoda before reopening to the public.
While my visit was wrongly timed, this was an understandable concern from the authorities and precautionary measures are always to be prioritized for the safety of the public.



The surrounding area of the pagoda was still impressive; with the naturally beautiful landscape of the trees, plants and flowers, including the cherry blossoms, though they were rather sparse at that time too.





A building situated in front of the pagoda was formerly a rest house frequented by the late President Chiang Kai Shek since the year 1971.



Ci En Pagoda, in all its might and grandeur is a symbol of reverence and with the peaceful surroundings in the area, there is truly that sense of reflection as one takes in the meaning of the place and also the beauty of the environment.