No. 121: Guanyin Cave, Wutai Shan, Shanxi

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on February 16, 2015.)

This small Guanyin Cave (观音洞) is on the side of a mountain on Wutai Shan, Shanxi (山西, 五台山).

August 25, 2012 - The driver who brought me back from Jinge Temple dropped me directly in front of my next destination, a temple named Guanyin Cave, on a road that was torn up for the repair of its drainage. Though summer is high tourist season, it's also the time to make repairs in areas heavily snowed-in in winter.

The temple itself was new-looking, with halls that looked Chinese on the exterior. The only Tibetan touch was the rows of Tibetan characters painted on the beams.

The interior, however, was another story. The Tibetan-style temples I've seen in China have been incredibly ornate, with lots of gold and numerous figures in something resembling mailboxes or cubbyholes lining the walls. Not being too familiar with Tibetan iconography, I gazed on their beauty with appreciation--but not much understanding.

And then I began the long, challenging climb to the titular cave itself. The cave and its environs had been a place of pilgrimage for monks and devotees from as far away as Tibet and Mongolia. Before modern transportation, it must have been unimaginably remote. My visit was easy by comparison.

On the way up I passed a few small halls before reaching a gated compound. Another hall with an ornate interior stood on a terrace, with a dwelling next to it; behind was the surprisingly small cave, with another nearby housing a spring.

While I rested I chatted as best I could with a monk from Tibet whose Mandarin was arguably worse than mine. Then something magical happened.

A family appeared, younger members first, followed by the older ones (still younger than I) a few minutes later. Though all of the adults were born in China, some had emigrated to Canada (but spoke only marginal English); a few of the kids, though, spoke excellent English and almost no Chinese.

One of these, a teenage girl, had come for a ritual dousing in the icy spring water. She couldn't really explain the ritual to me; when a monk and her parents explained it to her, she admitted that she didn't understand the key words well enough to translate them.

I watched the "baptism" with interest before making my way back down the stairs and walking out to the main road, where I caught the tourist shuttle that plies up and down through Taihuai.

GPS Info:
  • 38.98856, 113.59305


(Regarding problems with this map, please see the CHINA section on this page.)


More pictures can be found here.

The main hall rests below Guanyin Cave.

The ornate interior of the main hall

Tibetan writing on a beam

A Chinese-Canadian girl receives a ritual rinse near Guanyin Cave.

The tiny Guanyin Cave

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