Tanzhe Temple (Tanzhe si 潭柘寺 – Temple of the Pool and Mulberry), at approximately 30 miles from Beijing, is an ideal daytrip for those planning a longer stay in the Chinese capital. It is also a must for anyone with a love of Chinese temples, dramatic mountain scenery decked in misty knarred pines.
A local Beijing saying: “First came Tanzhe Temple, then Beijing”, harks back to its origins under semi-nomadic Liao dynasty rule.
Beijing’s Tanzhe Temple enjoyed royal patronage since it became a favourite the empress dowager of the Wanli emperor Madame Li during the Ming Dynasty.
The main temple complex is on several levels up the side of a steep mountain, with a hall devoted to a different deity at each level, along with the ubiquitous array of josh sticks and incense burners.
Here visitors from fervent believers to Beijing businessmen can purchase incense coils of varying sizes and prices, depending the length of time one needs blessing, from 10 RMB for a day to 500 RMB for a month!
Thanks to the paranoia of court eunuchs in Beijing, Tanzhe temple attracted them in great numbers due to the mulberry’s traditional links with fertility.
In China, much importance is placed on producing a son and heir to worship you in the afterlife. As most eunuchs were the victims of early castration, the hope of fathering any child at all was eliminated.
This prompted 75 eunuchs down through the centuries to have small stupas (mini-pagodas) constructed in a yard by the side of the temple, so as to store their amputated manhood and allow the monks of Beijing to worship their souls in the afterlife, in place of their offspring.
Given the relative remoteness of the Tanzhe temple, it is advisable to start out quite early and to save a bit of cash, hop on the metro. Take line no. 1 (red line) out to the westernmost station, Pingguoyuan 苹果园.
As the rural bus takes forever, the best option is to hire a driver from outside the metro stop. Agree on a price before setting off and make sure he/she will wait for you at Tanzhe temple and bring you back (in Chinese: lai hui 来回). A reasonable price per car is around 100 RMB.
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