Tag Archives: religion

The Big Buddha

The heat wave finally broke. After almost three weeks of faily temperatures in the upper nineties, things have cooled down. It couldn’t have some soon enough. I was beginning to catch a serious case of cabin fever. When I wasn’t working all I’d be able to do is lay at home next to the fan and try to avoid drowning in sweat. But now that the weather has turned I’m able to get out again and enjoy myself.

 

I’d been wanting to see the Grand Buddha at Lingshan for a long time. Someone had mentioned it to me a while ago and I was seriously interested. The center of the Buddhist universe someone said. I’m pretty sure they were exaggerating just a little bit. But even so, with that kind of recommendation how could I skip going since it’s so close?

 

One morning I gathered my things and was planning to head out. I ran into one of my friends here so we sat and had coffee like we often do and just chatted for a few hours. By the time we had finished it was just about noon. No problems I thought, plenty of time left in the day.

 

Getting there: Take bus 88 from the Wuxi train station all the way to the very last stop. The ride is about an hour and half or so.

 

I was on the bus listening to my headphone and dozing off a couple of times since it was such a long ride. Eventually I began to think I had the wrong information and was on the wrong bus. Right about then I looked out the window and saw the Grand Buddha. At 88 meters tall it dominates the surrounding landscape. Eighty-eight because in Chinese eight and rich sound very similar so eight is a lucky number. Anyway that lifted my spirits knowing I was on the right path.

 

At the final stop I hopped off of the bus. By now I was the only person left. I found my way to the ticket booth, bought a ticket (210 RMB, kind of expensive) and began my visit.

 

I was surprised, there was so much more to the area than just the giant statue. In fact, Wuxi Lingshan Buddhist Wonderland is a sprawling complex made of Buddhist museum, temples, gardens, and other attractions. It was built only a few years ago to host the World Buddhist Conference. It was also built with tourists in mind so there are plenty of things that make it convenient like easy to find bathrooms and air conditioning to beat the heat in the buildings. The newness detracts from the sense of history and awe many famous religious sites have, but still 88 meters! That’s huge! It’s twice the size of the Statue of Liberty. The whole park is no different than any other religious construction built through history, it just happens to not be hundreds of years old yet.

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When I purchases my entrance ticket I got a map and another small ticket with a bar code and time printed on it. Obviously it was a ticket to some special event in the park, but I didn’t know exactly what. Turns out I got pretty lucky here and happened to be inside the museum at the right time. The time that’s stamped on the small ticket is for a live show with dancers in masks inside the museum. If I had arrived fifteen minutes later I would have missed my one opportunity to see it.

 

Unfortunately not everything was so wonderful. I didn’t learn until after I had entered the park at around 3:00 that it closes at 6:00. Seriously, 6:00 in the afternoon. I assumed I’d have at least until dark to be there. If I had known it closed so early I would have skipped coffee or just not even gone that day. Because of that and the live show that was about forty-five minutes long I ended up not seeing about half the park. I’ll return with some friends at another time, but that was kind of a downer.

 

Basic Information:

 

Cost: 210 RMB

Hours: 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM (5:00 PM winter)

Directions: Bus 88 from Wuxi train station to the very final stop.

The Churches on the Hill

One of the most popular tourist draws to Armenia, churches can be found all through the mountainous region. Dating back hundreds, even a thousand years, some churches are run down and decrepit, others have been rebuilt for posterity. A person could easily revolve their entire trip to Armenia and not be disappointed. However if you are not one of those people, don’t give up reading just yet. There’s an easy trip to the shores of lovely Lake Sevan that gives you just a taste without being overwhelming. I’ve recommended this to every person who visits the country because it hits three quality sites and can be done in a few hours. So far they haven’t complained. At least to my face.

Before touring the sites, it’s pretty important to get there. You have a few possible options available. The first would be to hire a taxi from Yerevan for the day. In theory you negotiate a price upfront after telling the driver what you want to do. In reality if you don’t speak Armenian or Russian the odds of this happening without a huge markup are pretty low. The second option is easier, contact a tour company and work with them. One of the best in the country is Envoy Hostel. The extremely helpful staff run a wonderful hostel in Yerevan for your accommodation and they can set you up with a packaged tour or even one you create yourself. With the hostel being very popular with Yerevan visitors, finding a few others to go with should be easy. And finally if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous (read: cheap) you can take a mixture of public transportation and hitchhiking. Take a morning marshutni to Sevan from Yerevan, hitch down to Gavar, then marshutni or hitch back into Yerevan.

On to the sites.

Now you’ve covered a decent tourist area, maybe had a transcendental experience like I did, what’s next? Time for a superlative. ┬áNoratus is the largest collection of Armenia’s famed khatchkars in the world. Previously that title was held Julfa in Nakhchivan until the khatckars there were bulldozed by Azerbaijani authorities. So now Noratus is the place to see the evolution of the stone cross.

Evolution is not a stretch when it comes to what you’ll find through the field of khatchkars. There are extraordinarily old stones that have been worn smooth with nothing more than a cross etched on to them using a harder stone. Some are covered in lichen and moss. Others are beautiful examples of medieval Armenian art. Still others tell stories. There are a lot of them.

This is the sad story of two young lovers. There once was a young man in the village who was a tailor (represented by the scissors near his head) and caught the attention of the most beautiful girl in the area. When the two decided to wed there was great rejoicing because she was so lovely and he was a well brought up and responsible young man. Although the two families were poor they were able to provide enough for a large wedding party (the food and wine jugs) and invited the whole town. The young couple were standing in front of the priest staring lovingly into each other’s eyes when a force of marauding bandits (man on horse) swept down from the hills and began to slaughter the populace. The couple were violently butchered along with many of the other people, but somehow half of the population was able to survive. The groom’s younger brother vowed revenge, and as he marched to the blacksmith to turn his plowshares to swords, his mother begged him to reconsider. She could not bear the idea of losing her only remaining child. After the rage subsided, the brother understood the wisdom of his mother and apprenticed himself to the town’s stone cutter. After three years of apprenticeship he carved out this scene to remember his brother and would-be sister in law and placed it over the place where the two were killed.

Most recently in order to help Armenia preserve its cultural heritage as well as promote tourism, USAID sponsored a project to install sign posts and make information available to Noratus visitors.  Visit to show USAID and governments that cultural heritage is worth saving.  Preservation can be a viable source of income if we as travelers do our part.