Basking in the shade of the majestic Song Mountain is one of the most important cultural and historical sites of China- the Shoalin Temple. Situated at the base of Mount Song, Dengfeng (which translates as “ascending to bestow honour”) is where the path to the ancient temple begins. With hairpin bends and winding mountain roads, it isn’t for the faint hearted, however it is well worth getting over your vertigo to step into the iconic Temple which has inspired films, games and TV shows.
What to Know
Located in Henan province, Shaolin is world famous for kung-fu. Known as the cradle of Zen Buddhism and martial arts, the temple has been shrouded in mystery for decades, but not for much longer. One of the five holy Taoist mountains, Song Shan represents the earth. It has stood proudly for 1500 years and is home to the honoured kung fu performing monks. Each pose imitates the movement of an animal or insect, and they were originally used for self defence to fight off thieves in the temple.
On the side of the Song Mountain, the Temple can get a little chilly with a lot of rainfall so remember to bring a waterproof jacket but it does see many sunny days. The winter sees snow fall making the frozen China view even more charming!
What to Do
Your visit to Shaolin will be action packed. Get introduced to Kung Fu culture at the Shaolin Temple, and then brush up on your poses with a Kung Fu class. See this art form come to life at the Kung Fu Show and then top it all off by visiting the local orphanage to bring the children school supplies.
The Shaolin Temple Wushu (Martial Arts) Training Centre has been included on UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List since 2010. Whether you are looking to embrace your inner warrior or broaden your horizons to a special part of Chinese history and culture, this temple will be a highlight of any trip around China. At the centre of the complex is the Mahavira Hall. This hall, complete with several different Buddha, is the area where important celebrations and daily prayers are held.
In keeping with Kung Fu customs, the Temple has a Shaolin Orphanage opened as a charitable outreach housing around 50 children all being taught the ways of the Shaolin monks. It is actually the children which have recently turned into a highlight of the Temple as they put on an electrifying Kung Fu show showing off their skills. The children of all ages spin and twist through the air whilst kicking, punching and lunging with spears in front of awe struck tourists. This style of kung fu is called Tong Zi Gong, which focuses on flexibility and strength, something which the children of the orphanage seem to be extremely good at!
After you have had your fill of kung-fu, there are several other interesting attractions to visit in the area. The Forest of Pagodas is an extensive array of multi-tiered tombs housing the ashes of monks who lived in the temple between AD 791 and 1803. 15 meters high on average, with many inscribed with descriptions of the lives and achievements of the monks they stand as a memorial to, the pagodas are definitely as eye-catching as they are thought-provoking. With a backdrop of astounding mountain scenery, the largest pagoda complex in China is definitely somewhere you will want to have you camera ready for.
Heading into Dengfeng town can offer an escape from the tourist and a chance to visit the lesser-known temples like the Taoist Zhong Yue Temple. Just north of the town is the Songyang Academy, one of China’s four “great academies” which is of huge importance to the followers of Confucianism. With an amazing view of the area and an air of peace and tranquillity, this is the perfect place to come and clear your head after enjoying a day surrounded by kung-fu fighters. Within this academy are two Cyprus trees which have been alive for over 2,100 years – the perfect time to get a photo taken with a piece of living history!
So whether it is back flips with the kung fu orphans, getting a peek into the daily life of a real life monk or sit and reflect in the Meditation Garden of temple that you want, Shaolin will undoubtedly be a memorable experience.