Monday, February 9: After Alex and I walk around Shaxi Old Town and finish our lunch, we go with a hired driver (for 200 yuan) to Shibao Shan, or Stone Treasure Mountain, a nature reserve and religious sanctuary. It was one of the first to be protected by China in 1982. There are a good number of well-preserved temples on this mountain, some dating back 1300 years to the once powerful Nanzhao Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Our first stop is the Haiyun Temple. This is an active Buddhist temple where people are bustling about hanging red lanterns for the Chinese New Year. The people here are friendly, offering us cups of tea, hot freshly roasted walnuts, and a snack that seems to be a cross between a square of styrofoam and a Rice Krispies treat. We are made to feel welcome and end up hanging out here for a while, snacking and enjoying hot drinks with our amiable hosts.
There are a lot of colorful characters at this temple, but I have to say I don’t know who they are.
We can see a view of Jianchuan, the town where we changed our bus from Lijiang to come to Shaxi, from this mountaintop temple. Sadly, none of my pictures turn out because we’re facing into the sun.
Some of the colorful characters have strange and inscrutable looks on their faces.
And some of them look incredibly disappointed.
I love some of the rich paintings on the walls.
And, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m always captivated by the painted carvings under the flying eaves.
Alex sits down for a while to enjoy the warm fire and the roasted walnuts.
We finally tear ourselves away from the warm hospitality of Haiyun Temple to head to Shizhong Temple, also known as Stone Bell Temple.
We hike down a seemingly infinite number of steps and then on a paved trail about 500 meters to the temple. We walk through dense forest until the vista opens up, offering sweeping views of the valley and surrounding mountains.
When we get near the entrance, we find some strange, organ-shaped rock formations.
Shibao Shan got its name, “Shibao,” from the surfaces of the red rocks on the mountain that look like a tortoise’ s back; these rocks sometimes appear to be lions, sometimes elephants, and sometimes clocks.
When we hand over our tickets, we’re told “No photos.” Signs everywhere instruct the same. I really hate it when places don’t allow you to take photos. I can understand if they don’t want you to use a flash, as I know light can damage artwork. But I feel it is uncalled for to prohibit all photos.
Shizhong Temple is home to the Shizhongshang Grottos. The Shibao Shan rock carvings represent the spread of Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet into Yunnan. Representations of the bodhisattva Guanyin and other Buddhist images are carved into the rocky mountainside. They’re magnificent cultural relics, but of course you’ll just have to imagine them since I can’t take photos.
It seems the “no photo” signs are specifically meant for the grottos. I do respectfully obey the rules, even though I don’t like it one bit. However, I do take some photos of the outside of the temples.
Across the valley, we can see more temples and unusual rock formations.
There are paths going off in all directions here, but we decide to take one to Watching Bell Terrace. We can see the pavilion on the hilltop, so we traipse off in that direction.
From the terrace, we see more lovely views of the mountains and rock outcroppings.
Finally, we head back toward Shizhong Temple, where we see a strange brain-shaped rock formation. I don’t know if this is natural or man-made.
We hike back through the forest and climb the endless steps; we’re hot and exhausted by the time we arrive back to the main gate. Then we head to my favorite temple in Shibao Shan, the “Suspending Temple,” also called the Baoxiang Temple.
The Baoxiang Temple was built on a ledge of a nearly vertical cliff and can only be reached by a long flight of stairs.