The Sacred Mountain of Putuo Shan Island

The Guanyin Colossus on the southern tip of Putuo Shan. The statue is 108 feet tall. Putuo Shan is strongly associated with Guanyin, the goddess of compassion and mercy.

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A short journey from Shanghai or Ningbo, Putuo Shan is a pleasant if slightly touristy escape from China’s stifling cities.

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When I moved to Ningbo in 2014 I heard that there was a Buddhist island off the coast, in the farthest reaches of the Zhou Shan archipelago, where you could easily escape from the hustle and bustle of city-life.  Images of secluded mountain temples and monks praying on sandy beaches immediately came to mind.

 

Putuoshan is one of China’s four sacred mountains.

 

I was only a little disappointed upon arriving at Putuo Shan to find that the island is far from that ideal.  It’s become quite touristy, with electric buggies carting around tour groups in matching caps and souvenir stalls lining the newly paved roads.  Even if you huff it up the mountain paths, you’ll still find it difficult to escape from the crowds.

 

The island has been considered holy since the 10th century. The Communist period saw a decline in its stature and many of the temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but today pilgrims and tourists from all over China visit in droves.

 

I traveled to Putuo Shan twice during my time living in Ningbo, both times taking long-distance buses.  The first time I misjudged the time it would take to get to the island and set off too late in the day, arriving at Putuo Shan around 3:00 in the afternoon. Since I didn’t want to stay the night on the island I was only able to spend a couple of hours exploring before I had to head back.  I only had time to check out the colossal statue of Guanyin.

 

 

I revisited nearly a year later, this time heading off in the early morning, giving myself plenty of time to wander the mountain trails and investigate the numerous temples.

 

According to legend, the first temple dedicated to Guanyin was founded by a Japanese monk, Hui’e. He was en route back to Japan after having stolen a Guanyin figure from the sacred Wutai Mountain. His boat was caught in a violent storm and, fearing for his life, Hui’e vowed to build a temple to Guanyin if he were saved. The storm suddenly passed and his boat landed on the shores of Putuo Shan. Hui’e was convinced that Guanyin had chosen the island and so he built the temple and spent the rest of his life as a hermit on Putuo Shan.

 

Although Putuo Shan is no longer the serene Buddhist retreat it was in centuries past, it still makes for a pleasant trip. The rest of the Zhou Shan islands are also worth investigating, with many undiscovered gems waiting to be uncovered.

 

The “Hundred Step Beach.” There’s also a “Thousand Step Beach” further north along the coast.

 

How to get there: Putuo Shan is one of the more famous tourist attractions in China and so there are numerous routes available from the nearby major cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou and Ningbo.  There is a ferry from Shanghai that costs between 90 and 340 RMB.  From Hangzhou and Ningbo there are similar ferries, but the cheaper option is to take a long distance bus to Shenjiamen 沈家门.

Prices and hours: From the ferry terminal here you have to buy an entrance ticket, which costs between 140 and 200 RMB.  There’s also the ticket for the ferry which costs about between 15 and 25 RMB.  Once you’re on the island you’ll need to pay small extra fees, usually 5 RMB, to access individual temples and sites.  There are two docks in Shenjiamen that service Putuo Shan – at one – 半升洞码头 – the last ferry runs at 5:30 p.m., at the other – 武松之 – the last ferry runs at 9:50 p.m.

You can find more detail on getting to Putuoshan at Travel China Guide.

 

 

One of the pavilions of the Puji Temple – dating to the 11th century and surrounded by gorgeous camphor trees.

 

 

Steps leading up to one of the 200 halls of the Fayu Temple.

 

 

 

Incense smoke in the Huiji Temple at the summit of Foding Mountain – the temple dates to 1793.

 

Cable car down to a modern temple and tourist bus stop.

 

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