International tourists know Hong Kong (China) as a bustling special economic zone and a busy and modern place to visit. Hong Kong has been dubbed “Asia’s World City.” But there’s a different side to Hong Kong, with a colorful patina of culture. Surprisingly, it is home to a famous religious destination: Po Lin Monastery atop Ngong Ping Mountain.
A pilgrimage to Ngong Ping
It was a beautiful morning during Hong Kong’s gentle autumn, ideal for a walk along the famous pilgrimage route. We chose a track that was not too difficult to sightsee and pay our respects to the local Buddhist wonders: Po Lin Monastery, the Big Buddha on top of Ngong Ping Mountain, and the Wisdom Path. As we went, we enjoyed the fresh air and the flourishing nature of Lantau Island. It took us five hours to complete this 10km walking trail. While this was a bit challenging, we were happy to temporarily trade the stifling megacity for a peaceful atmosphere and cool ocean breezes.
The first and most important stop on the route is Po Lin Monastery, home to a Big Buddha statue enthroned on a lotus. As one of the five largest Buddha statues in China, the Big Buddha on Ngong Ping Peak is 34m tall and weighs over 250 tons. Visitors must climb 268 stone steps to reach this majestic Big Buddha on the mountaintop.
As we entered the front yard of Po Lin Monastery the sky was still cloudy and Ngong Ping Peak was wreathed in fog. The sun’s rays radiated weakly in the east, the world came to a standstill, and time seemed to slow down. The Big Buddha faces north, distinguishing it from the rest of the Buddha statues in Po Lin Monastery, which all face south. Some claim that the statue’s seated pose partly reflects generosity, compassion, and sacrifice, as the left hand rests calmly on the thigh, while the raised right hand symbolizes casting off sorrow and approaching the boundaries of nirvana.
As the fog began to clear and the sun illuminated our surroundings, Po Lin Monastery lay quietly in the narrow valley below. The silvery light cast on the red-tiled roofs highlighted the mountain’s endless greenery. Po Lin Monastery has played an important role in Hong Kong Buddhism for the past 100 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, a small Zen Buddhist pagoda was founded by three monks from Jiangsu, China. Over the last century, the pagoda has been expanded and embellished to become one of the most important gathering places – not just in Hong Kong but also across Southern China.
Tai O fishing village – a peaceful corner
We arrived at the ancient fishing village of Tai O after a 20-minute bus ride from Po Lin Monastery. The route from Ngong Ping Peak to Tai O Village was conveniently designed to enable tourists to worship at the Po Lin complex and discover one of the Fragrant Harbor’s most famous fishing villages on the same day.
Tai O Village has existed for over 300 years. Initially, it was home to the Tanka, a community of fishing folk who built stilt houses on shallow beaches where the tide came in and out so they could easily catch fish according to the lunar cycle. Today, Tai O Village is one of Hong Kong’s cultural heritages and proof that ethnic minorities once lived on this island.
In addition to touring heritage sites and places of worship, visitors to Tai O Village also have the opportunity to enjoy seafood caught around Lantau Island. This ancient fishing village is famous for its delicious dried fish, sold everywhere in shops packed with tourists. After a long journey, nothing is more enjoyable than strolling down streets interwoven with a web of canals and ancient stilt houses, then stopping at sidewalk cafes to enjoy street food made with fresh and flavorful seafood while sipping a beer and watching the sun set over distant waves. All worries and cares melted away like the tide, which carried the bay’s water back to the great sea.
While Hong Kong is a vibrant city, there is no shortage of small corners offering peace and serenity. This is truly a vivid cultural mosaic!