The arid landscapes of the Shanxi province are home to some of China's finest temples. From the provincial capital, Taiyuan, the road winds northeast through increasingly barren landscapes, twisting and turning upon itself. At the south peak of Mount Wutai is a panoramic view of China's greatest temple complex.
Mount Wutai, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is said to be home to the Bodhisattva Manjushri, a spiritual entity of wisdom in Buddhist culture and often considered the greatest of China's Buddhist "Four Sacred Mountains" (the others being Mount Emei in Sichuan province, Mount Putuo in Zhejiang province and Mount Jiuhua in Anhui province).
Stretching in a broad arc around the village of Taihuai, there once were more than 200 temples. Now, some 110 temples still remain, of which about 50 are open to visitors. Travelers should allow at least a few days to explore this area, and it is best to avoid weekends, when visitors from Beijing descend upon the site in droves.
A good start to an exploration of Mount Wutai is at Bodhisattva Summit's Pusading Temple, the highest point on the hill overlooking Taihuai village. Pusading was established by Tibetan Buddhists at the behest of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhuang, founder of the Ming Dynasty and himself a former monk. He was eager to get the Tibetan and Mongolian minorities of the Chinese Empire on the same side.
Located down a steep staircase from Pusading, where devotees make prostrations during their ascent, the huge expanses of Xiantong Temple are both mightily impressive and quietly moving. This huge temple of more than 400 halls, pavilions and monks' quarters is the oldest and largest at Mount Wutai—ranking slightly below Beijing's Temple of Heaven in size.
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