Well my visit to Hong Kong almost feels like a distance memory already, although it was just a few weeks ago. So, it is about time I put pen to paper and start writing about some of my experiences during my stay. This first article is about my visit to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island.
The day started off with an early morning peak out of the window of the apartment I was staying in, in the wonderfuly 'local' part of Hong Kong called Sai Ying Pun. A magical and bustling part of Hong Kong Island that is full of local people and away from the expensive "corporate" shopping centres, and instead is full of small stalls and markets selling local trade (and you can catch some amazing noodle places there too, if you are looking for something to eat!).
As you can clearly see from the photographs of the view from the apartment, space is at a premium on Hong Kong Island, so any construction tends to be upwards rather than outwards.
The temperature was already approaching 30 degrees C and feeling very humid, so it was definitely shorts, shirt and sandals weather. I enjoyed a glass of boiling water (I know that sounds strange, but you are dehydrating so much in the heat during the day that you really do resort to drinking water as much as possible, and boiled water really does have a nice appeal!), along with a yogurt and some grapes for breakfast.
No sooner as I had eaten, I made my way down the elevator, waved good morning to the friendly security guard of the apartment block, opened the screen door and headed out into the bright sunshine. It was reasonable early and already people were hurrying around... taxis and trucks were rumbling past and the grinding, banging and crashing of construction sites resonated around the concrete jungle.
One of the great things about Hong Kong is the choice of transport. Hold out your hand and you can catch a taxi within just a couple of minutes to take you anywhere (and the prices are amazingly cheap compared to the UK!!). However, sometimes you miss out on seeing the spectacular sights, hearing the amazing sounds and smelling the stunning aromas of Hong Kong whilst sat in an air conditioned taxi. The alternative is to jump on one of the local trams that are continuously running from one end of the island to the other (this is made much easier by there being a fixed prices of $2.30 HK irrespective of how many stops you are on for... just hop on and drop your money in the machine when you jump off). The best method of all, if you have the time, is to go by foot. Either weaving your way through the streets and markets, or heading down to the harbour front and walking along the coast.
I soon arrived at Central station and worked out the best way of heading up onto the mainland and over to Lantau Island. One thing you will notice in Hong Kong is how reasonable the prices are for travel. Even riding the trains around the area are ridiculously cheap compared to back home in rainy England. I purchased my ticket along with a sneaky savoury roll (delicious!) and headed to the train. I am not sure how they manage to do it in Honk Kong, but every train seems to arrive to the very second that it says on the timetable (no hanging around with delays).
As I stepped off the train at Tung Chung on Lantau Island, I walked out to an attractive, glass fronted shopping mall. A short walk from there was the entrance to the Tung Chung Cable Car Terminal. This is where my adventure for the day really starts...
There was a choice of tickets to purchase.... As this was going to a special day for me, I wanted to do it in style, so decided to book the full package which is a 360 Sky - Land - Sea Day Pass. This allowed me to go up to (and return from) the Big Buddha by Cable Car, enjoy a walk around Ngong Ping Village (a 1.5 hectare culturally themed marketplace) and take a coach trip to Tai O Fishing Village, enjoying a boat trip through the old part of the village and into the open sea.
After a short queue, I had purchased my ticket and headed into one of the cable cars. Before I could blink, the ground was moving away from me at some speed as we headed up into the mountain.
The cable car climbed further and further into the mountain... the terminal no longer even a dot in the distance. It is surprising how quiet it gets when you are hanging in mid air, with barely a rumble from the cord and wheels of the car. The suspense building in my heart for my first glimpse of the Buddha sat on the peak.
And then it happened... that first glimpse. The car carried on nonchalantly towards its destination, but my eyes opened wide and my face beamed as I saw in the distant haze, this elegant wise and powerful figure sat so serenely in amongst the trees.
The rest of the cable car journey went past in a flash. The doors swung open and I stepped outside. After a short walk I arrived in Ngon Ping Village. Music was playing all around and I grabbed the opportunity to wander around the buildings admiring the Big Buddha from a distance.
The trip to the fishing village had a finish time of 4pm so, rather than risk of going there and running out of time, I decided to go there before heading up to the Big Buddha, Then I knew I could spend as much time as I wanted, wandering around the amazing statue.
The buses that take you to and from the Tai O fishing village run frequently through the day, and as I made my way to the pick up point there was a bus waiting ready to go, so I haded the drive my voucher and hopped on for the short journey down to the village.
Tai O (Chinese: 大澳) is home to the Tanka people, a community of fisher folk who’ve built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island for generations. These unusual structures are interconnected, forming a tightly-knit community that literally lives on the water. Their enchanting world is a photographer's paradise.
The first thing on my agenda was to jump on one of the boats (if you didn't book this as part of the 360 Sky-Land_Sea day pass, you can negotiate a rate with one of the boatmen. Expect to pay around $20 HK).
We headed down through the raised village. I could immediately see why it had been called the Venice of Hong Kong. It was a mash of wooden stilts, boats and boarded huts. A far cry from the high rise skyscrapers of the city. Fishing is in decline in Tai O and the tourist trade is becoming ever more important to them.
The journey was full of rickety old ladders, plastic barrels, worn ropes and twine. Occasionally you would see a head pop out of one of the windows as people carried on their daily chores... hanging out their washing or repairing fishing nets. As far as the eye could see stood countless fragile old structures.
We soon turned around, back along the village waterway and out to sea. The boat's throttle opened up as we headed around the rocks and cliffs. There was one point where the guide switched off the engine and pointed out a rock formation jutting out from one of the cliff edges. After a few inquisitive stares and a little poetic license I could see what he was referring to. Have a look at the photograph below (before reading the text below the pic) and see if you can work out what it was.....
If you look very closely you can see a man leaning against the rock....
The boat turned around and we headed back to shore. After climbing out of the boat I found myself in the middle of a little market of food stalls.
As if all of this wasn't enough culture and heritage, one of the other 'must visit' parts of Tai O is the local monastery. So I followed the signposts and walked past a varied collection of shacks and houses. All different shapes and sizes, and made out of many different kinds of materials from brick to steel to wood and even plastic. Hanging outside many of them were rows upon rows of drying fish.
A short while later I arrived at the temple. It was much smaller than many I had seen around Hong Kong but was still interesting and somewhat humbling. Outside there were some beautiful statues and carvings. This was made even more mystical when an enormous butterfly flew around my head for a few moments before disappearing into the summer sky
Sitting by this statue reminded me of the main reason I had come out on the day trip to Lantau Island, so I headed back to the bus and before long was back at Ngong Ping Village.
The walk towards the Tian Tan 'Big' Buddha starts at the foot of a large set of pure white gates, standing elegant and proud in the glare of the mid afternoon sun. The moment I walked through the gates I could see an avenue of statues guarding the way to the steps of the Tian Tan Buddha,
And then I stopped. I had reached that magical moment where I could glance up and see the Tian Tan Buddha sat there, graceful, serene and dignified at the top of the steps.
1) The Tian Tan Buddha is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolise charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana.
2) The Buddha is 34 metres (112 ft) tall, weighs 250 metric tons (280 short tons), and was the world's tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007. It reputedly can even be seen from as far away as Macau on a clear day.
3) His right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction.The Buddha's left hand rests on his lap in a gesture of giving dhana. The Buddha faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south.
Standing at the feet of the Tian Tan Buddha provided one of those moments where I just had to stop and absorb the setting. The sun was high and hot, the scenery was breathtaking... mountains and forests as far as the eye could see, and staring down at me was one magnificent statue. During my normal (non travelling) life, I work in a very stressful and fast paced environment - lots of noise, tight deadlines, pressured meetings and ridiculous volumes of work. So it is even more important for me to grasp these moments and absorb them. Here am I, Graham Ettridge, standing at the feet of the Tian Tan Buddha. Yes, I did have to pinch myself.
I turned around and looked down the steps and over the horizon.... what a wonderful worldly location this is, with lush green mountains sprawling out as far as the eye can see and the calming Tian Tan Buddha peering over my shoulder.
Alas, the day was drawing to an end... And what day full of experiences it was. It all started with that peek outside the window of the apartment early in the morning and finished with this wonderful view of the Lantau Island skyline. A day that involved a journey in a cable car in the air, a boat trip around a fishing village on stilts, and a climb up a mountainside to stand at the feet of the Tian Tan Buddha.
The final stage of the journey was to head back down the steps and into the Po Lin Monastery. In keeping with the rest of the day, the Po Lin Monastery was exquisite in every way. The elegant golden steps lead up to the intricately carved doorway. Over the balconies of the monastery was a stunning abundance of flowers and plants.
The outside of the monastery was elegant in its stature and design. However, when I stepped inside the doors a whole new world opened up. The interior was carved all in wood and decorated with vivid golds and reds. The ceiling was draped with intricate designs weaving in and out of each other. Hanging from the ceiling were the most beautiful material lanterns and on the table in front of the shrine was abundance of flowers and fruit, that had been left as offerings.
A perfect and relaxing way to end the day. All that was left was to head back to the cable car and enjoy the journey back down the mountainside to the train station and head back home. This was definitely one day I will always remember, another location, another civilisation, and another memory.
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