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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Unmissable Tiebi Yinshan

It’s been described as one of the eight most beautiful scenic spots in Beijing during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but I have to say I think that description certainly holds true today.

Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest, a.k.a. Tiebi Yinshan, is located some 45 km north of downtown Beijing and is a part of the Badaling-Ming Tombs Protection Zone of Scenic Spots and Historical Sites. It’s been designated as a national 4A scenic spot as well as one of the 28 designated tourist destinations during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. 

Maybe during the Olympics they laid on fleets of buses for the visitors; but with the rapid expansion of the capital’s subway system, Yinshan is now easy to get to on public transport, albeit that the journey from the city centre is likely to take you just over three hours.

There are 18 pagodas in this area built during the Jin (1115-1234), Yuan (1206-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The most spectacular are the multi-eaved ones, and they are what everyone comes to see. The eleven ‘overturned-bowl’-shaped ones are boring by comparison.

Pagodas were introduced to China from India along with Buddhism and here they blended with unique Chinese wooden structures such as pavilions, terraces and towers which gave Chinese pagodas a particular charm of their own.

To get to the site, you travel through scenery of rolling mountains and steep cliffs, all covered in pine forests.

The bus drops you unceremoniously in what appears to be the middle of nowhere; but as you walk up the hill (about a 15 minute walk), there are flowers everywhere…

…and the local residents have gone to a lot of trouble to make the place welcoming to visitors.

I particularly like the way they have incorporated a 3D cart into a 2D painted backdrop that runs along the road for a few hundred metres.

Everywhere (it being nearly autumn) there are trees loaded down with ripening chestnuts

Finally you arrive at the ‘scenic spot’ (only another five minutes to the ticket office now!).

You can see how the park is laid out on this map. We have just entered on the road at the bottom…

‘Yinshan’ or ‘Silver Mountain’ was so named because in winter the snow-covered mountain is said to be as white as silver. ‘Tie (iron)’ refers to the colour of the rocks on the mountain, which are mainly granite, and are rich in minerals such as manganese and iron, which have become black owing to erosion. The dead lichen and moss on the surface of rocks adds to the overall colour. So, the rocks of the Yinshan Mountain are as black as iron’. ‘Bi (wall). refers to the shape of the Mountain. The cliffs are as steep as walls. Thus the mountain was called ‘Iron-Wall Silver Mountain’ by the ancient Chinese.

At the ticket office is a Tourism Bureau whose only purpose in life appears to be to try to sell you guided tours. Worth avoiding!

But once I have my entrance ticket (20RMB) I enter the park proper.

There’s no sign of any pagodas as yet (although along the way there are the remains of former stupas with no signing on them whatsoever).

Here’s another stupa… Maybe it too was pagoda-shaped once upon a time?

Eventually the path makes a slight turn and all of a sudden is the sight that everyone comes to see.

This cluster of pagodas was where a former temple stood. The five multi-eaved pagodas were built in the Jin Dynasty and represent the largest and best-preserved of their kind in China. The five pagodas here are among the 100 still extant in the country.

There’s a diagram on display showing how the temple was laid out in former times.

In the early Tang Dynasty (618-907) , the Avatamasaka Temple with more than 70 rooms was built here; but the temple fell into disrepair over the centuries.

In the Liao Dynasty (907-1125), Man Gong, a Zen master, built the Temple of Precious Rock here. Later, three other Zen masters came to practice and preach Buddhism. The temple was then expanded in 1125 during the Jin Dynasty with personal funds from the empress, and renamed the Great Temple of Perpetual Holiness. It was renovated in the early 15th century. Many more temples were built around Yinshan Mountain during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

In 1428 it was rebuilt under the sponsorship of a eunuch called Wu Liang. It became a complex with three main halls lying on the axis as well as Jialan Hall and Zushi Hall, corridors and monks' dormitories on the two sides. In 1437, Emperor Yingzong visited Silver Mountain and gave the temple yet another name: "Splendour-of-the-Buddha Temple". Construction of 72 nunneries on the mountain was started.

But, the once-so-celebrated temple was ruined during the War of Resistance against Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. All that is now left are some pagodas, wells and broken tablets and walls. Amazingly you can find very little on the web about the demolition of the site. One can only wonder…

There are seven pagodas in the temple including two Lama pagodas (shown here on the right) and five multi-eave brick pagodas. In the five are enshrined relics of some of the earliest monks in the Jin dynasty.

Some of the wildlife up here is stunning, with beautiful blue butterflies of a kind I have not seen before, and this lovely green beetle who is much more happy to pose for me that his butterfly friends.

Once you have taken in the sights of the pagoda cluster, you will no doubt be looking forward to seeing how many of the other pagodas you can find in the park. A word of caution: from here on you will be walking up endless steps, some of which are well made, such as these ones, but of which the majority make for difficult climbing. You should take a walking stick with you if you have one. I can guarantee that your leg, calf and thigh muscles will be hating you by the end of the day if you try to make it to the top! Also take plenty of water with you! It’s a tough climb!

Just above the former temple is what is known as The Luoluo Cave. This was a place where the monks lived and practised Buddhism. It was once called the Cave of Multiple Layered Rocks; but Luoluo is a nickname given by local people, meaning ‘piled up caves’.

However, there is nothing to get excited about. You aren’t allowed anywhere near the cave entrance.

Further up the hill is another cave – the Sun Facing Cave, which used to be another place where the monks lived.

Monks' activities can be seen in the cave we are told without the notice going into specifics.

Yet higher up the hill we come to the Waist Turning Pagoda.

This Lama Pagoda was built in the Ming and Qing dynasties and only its base and parts of its body are left. (Was it knocked over by the Japanese, I wonder? Again we are not told.) It is the highest pagoda in the forest park, and legend has it that by circling this pagoda three times clockwise and three times anticlockwise one can get rid of pains in waist and legs (which you presumably wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t just climbed up the mountain to see it!) . This is why it was called Waist-Turning Pagoda.

But from it you can get excellent views of the surrounding hills … and if you look carefully you can just make out the ruined temple below you.

I like the way that have gone to great lengths to camouflage rain water pipes that have been laid by the paths. OK, it doesn’t fool anyone, but at least they made the effort!

Near the Waist-Turning Pagoda is what is labelled as The Preaching Platform. Legend has it that Deng Yinfeng, a celebrated monk in the Tang Dynasty, preached here. To which I can only say Big Deal! There is nothing to see except for some grass and the remains of a wall.

Sometimes one comes across unmarked stupas such as this one. I’m sure there’s a tale to be told, but the park guardians haven’t seen fit to share any details with us.

There’s also something called the Ancient Buddha Rock. Engravings and Buddha statues made by ancient people can be found on the rocks, one is told. But the graffiti looks pretty modern, as far as my untutored eye can tell. Either that, or the ancients had some very advanced inks they used in those days.

I climb down the steps once more, my legs giving my brain a piece of their mind! And just to the side of the five + two pagodas I saw at the start, I find yet another parked casually by in an adjoining field.

There’s also a cage with bits that have fallen off past stone masterpieces. Maybe this is all that is left after the baddie Japs inflicted the damage the blurb hints at?

In summary, you might feel that travelling some seven hours in a day purely to see seven pagodas standing in some ruins is somewhat pushing it. But, if you have any reason to be this far north of the capital, I can honestly say you’d be well advised to go and see Yinshan.

Oh, and a word to the wise… if you want to save yourself the 20 RMB entrance fee, simply enter where it says Road Closed, some 200 metres before the ticket office and make a loop around, turning right at every junction. That’s what all the locals appear to do.

Take the Changping line to Nanshao station and exit from B2. 100 metres ahead of you is a bus stop from where you take the local Chang 31 bus (two every hour). 16 stops and over an hour later you should get off at HuMenCun (the stop after Yinshan Lukou). Walk for about 600 metres under the archway and up the hill, and you will eventually arrive at the park entrance. The ticket office is another 200 metres further on.