The view of Dajue Temple from the bridge. Photo taken by William Wang for CRI, April 2012.
As the weather fast forwards into spring and summer, leaves spontaneously unfurl out of skeletal branches, and flower buds suddenly explode into colour. Oddly, one of the best places to witness this change of the seasons is in Dajue Temple: a spot at the base of Yangtai Mountain where Buddhists have managed to overlook austerity in order to create temple grounds which are a dream for botanists and landscape architects.
In early April, the white magnolias draw the flower aficionados. These sensual and fragrant blossoms appear in abundance for a tantalizingly short window of time, voraciously eating up camera memory cards. If visitors miss the magnolia bloom, they can enjoy other flowers and a lovely terraced garden that may be short on greenery depending on the time of year.
Even if Dajue had no flowers, the thousand-year-old temple is still well-worth a visit. A series of five halls scale the mountain, housing some of Beijing's most beautiful and well-preserved Buddhist statues.
Large scale and disturbingly spooky representations of gods such as Vaisravana and Dhrita-rastra occupy the first hall, protecting the grounds.
Trios of serene bronze Buddhas await devotees in both the Mahavira and Amitabha halls. The oversize Buddhas are elegantly crafted and life-like. Life-sized figures line the sides of the Amitabha Hall, also lovingly detailed by the hands of craftsmen.
It's not uncommon for temples to have Buddha statues that look like they just came off the plastics assembly line, but at Dajue, each statue is particularly well-preserved, while maintaining a sense of the ancient.
In the 1400s, the temple did have several renovations which helped to maintain the temple's original structures and contents. More recent renovations have turned the uppermost halls into a painting store and an information exhibit. They're not exactly historic, but they're comfortable enough.
The whole place is, actually. There's even a reasonably posh restaurant and teahouse courtyard where spring water bubbles down a canal system. Admittedly, the environment may be a tad opulent for ascetic-minded Buddhists, and the food isn't exactly vegetarian either.
Dajue temple may not be the most devout place of Buddhist worship, and it's a bit of a trek to get there, but the beautiful flowers, garden and grounds as well as the incredible religious art work on display definitely make the trip out worthwhile. Dajue's name means "Temple of Great Awakening," and if monks aren't attaining enlightenment here anymore, at least the flowers are finding their own great awakenings.
Admission: 20 rmb Getting there: Bus No. 346 from the north gate of Summer Palace. Get off at Zhoujiaxiang and walk 1.5 km northwest.