Hike to Shen Xian Dong – Three’s A Charm

We had now failed twice in our attempt to make it to the temple behind Weining town. Our third attempt was a success, although all three tries were charmed.

Somehow we missed the steps leading to the temple and took the scenic route.

Pine cone offering at the temple entrance.

Upon arrival, we found two young men sculpting a Buddha and warrior figure out of cement just inside.

The resident monk looks on.

After visiting the main temple, we were beckoned up a set of stairs by an old man to see a large golden Buddha.

We assumed this was the main sight, but he then summoned us further uphill. Happy to oblige, we hurried up the stairs only to see him disappear behind a  crag into a cleft in the mountain. We quickly followed, and to our surprise, found him opening an iron gate leading to a cave.

In awe, we slowly, hesitantly followed. Water dripped from the ceiling. The air was cool and moist. A set of stairs descended into the murky half-darkness. Off to the right, half way down the stairs, was a haphazard assortment of stools, a stove and a stack of plates and bowls, presumably for ritual use.

Sunlight illuminates the dark, wet staircase that lead into the cave temple.

At the base of the stairs, we stared into the darkness until the man flipped the light switch. We found ourselves standing face-to-face with a set of golden Buddha figures, illuminated by a strand of dingy light bulbs.

Buddha figures, shrouded in red cloth, with offerings at their feet

On a small table, candles and incense were burning, revealing the care given to this place by its guardians. We were offered three incense sticks each, and instructed to bow three times as the man rang a bell in time with each kowtow. We were given fruit as a gift and were not rushed to leave. Rather, our host seemed pleased to watch us as we stood awe in the chilled, musty silence.

Eventually, we thanked him and headed back up the stairs into the warm sunlight. With our limited language skills, we could only offer simple repeated thanks and gestures of appreciation, returned with a smile and a handshake.

As we left the temple, we wondered why no one had mentioned this place to us. What other hidden places did we unknowingly pass by each day? There are times when being in a foreign place seems tiring and we struggle to bring ourselves to leave our little apartment. Yet this experience reminded us the importance of boldness in continuing to search out the extraordinary.

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