Dragons nestle in the mountains outside Beijing

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Beijing is home to a wealth of ancient temples and historical sites, which is part of the reason I was so drawn to the city. After living here for over 3 years, with minimal travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can safely say that I have visited and photographed a large majority of the temples in the capital and one thing that I have come to realize is that they all have a number of visual and architectural similarities. This isn't a complaint, as the red walls and glazed tiles that adorn the bulk of these locations in the city never lose their charm. However, after recently learning about a temple with a strikingly different style just outside the city limits, I jumped at the opportunity to visit it.

Baipu Temple, or White Waterfall Temple, so named because of two waterfalls at the site, was first built during the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) and is located deep in the mountains in Beijing's Mentougou district. The temple has a history of more than 900 years, though very little of the original structure now remains.

The drive to the temple, though picturesque, was somewhat perilous, with the only access being a narrow road that passes through the mountains. On the final approach to Baipu, the cliffs on either side of the road are adorned with dozens of golden Buddha statues, secured to the rock face at almost impossible angles. Arriving at the car park of the complex, I was greeted by an imposing figure, baring his fangs and a variety of weapons in his six arms. This statue, one of the many Buddhist figures at the temple, is unlike anything I have seen in any of the other temples I have visited.

This figure in particular, whose name I wasn't able to discover, is a popular point of pilgrimage for many drivers, especially those who ride motorbikes. Apparently, this god will bless drivers and give them safe passage. Although I'm not sure how powerful such blessings are as, later in the day, we witnessed a small collision between some of the aforementioned motorcyclists and a car leaving the temple.

The temple complex itself is home to many such statues, which never cease to amaze me with their massive scale and colorful paintwork. Unlike many temples with perhaps more subtle sculptures of serene and peaceful gods, Baipu's statues are of wrathful-looking warriors, wielding deadly weapons, and vast dragons encircling a huge bell in the center of the complex.

This central structure, with its waterfalls and golden koi carp surrounding the entanglement of dragons, phoenix and somewhat creepy golden babies, is undoubtedly the most popular. Visitors are given the chance (for a small fee) to ring the central bell, and if they do so three times, their names will be engraved on a small Buddha and placed in a grotto further up the mountainside.

In stark contrast is the remaining pagoda, which survives from the earliest iteration of the temple. This structure seems to pale in comparison to the grandiose architecture that now overshadows it. Its plain stonework and simple carvings give a very different impression than that of the golden gods and goddesses just a few meters away. This contrast did make me wonder about the decision to give the temple such a drastic visual change of direction, but unfortunately there is little information available about why this happened-at least in English-so it's my hope to visit this incredibly unique place again and try to learn more about its history, both ancient and modern.

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