TRAVEL: SUNDAY HERALD/THE LANTAU BUDDHA

                                                        



When big really is beautiful

Sheila Kumar, May 29, 2016
Lantau Island


You glimpse him from a fair distance away. It`s a hazy day and on high in the cable car coming up from the Ngong Ping 360 cable car station, the first sighting of the seated figure, majestic in its very stillness, is not the clearest one. The 25-minute cable car ride is a very enjoyable one, affording views of the lush forest cover beneath one, divided neatly into two by the trekking trail. Look harder and you will find tiny stick- like figures down there, some carrying umbrellas because the haze has not really reduced the heat. Far to one side is Hong Kong Island with its vast sprawling airport area and planes taking off and as well as landing. Down in the waters of the Pearl River, sits a couple of boats, one a sampan.


Lantau Island is chockablock with people who are here to pay their respects to the Enlightened One atop a hill. Down in the plaza below, red flags with the Hong Kong orchid  and as well as the five golden starts on the People`s Republic of China`s flag,  flutter madly in the hot breeze. The shops and restaurants that line the plaza are full with people moving in and out of them, buying knick- knacks, postcards, silk purses, artwork and such, before going on  to eat lunch at one of the many eateries.




We make straight for the hill atop which the  Sakyamuni sits. He sits on a lotus on top of a three-tiered platform and looks  north, facing China; this is apparently unusual , given that Buddha statues usually face south. This then, is the Tian Tan Buddha, its base modelled after the Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  To get a closer look at his supremely serene face, you need to climb up 268 steps; as you do so, you notice an angelic little girl all of four of five years old, zipping up the steps with an enviable speed, humming a song just below her breath. Some distance behind,  an old man climbs with palpable effort, stopping every few steps to raise his hands to the statue in supplication, in prayer.




The statue is 112 ft tall and weighs over 250 metric tonnes. Constructed 22 years ago,  it was uptil a few years ago,  the world`s largest outdoor Buddha. What is more important, however, is that he has one of the most tranquil expressions to ever grace a Buddha statue anywhere. His right hand is raised in benediction, the other lies palm open, on his lap. To one side are the statues of six devas, who pay obeisance with  offerings of  flowers, incense, ointment, lamp, fruit and music to the Buddha. These devas  symbolise the Six Perfections: generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom. Inside is a relic of the Sakyamuni, allegedly  some of his cremated remains. Only visitors who purchase and take an offering to  the Buddha are allowed to see the relic.




Back at  the base of the hill, a short walk away lies the Wisdom Path with its 38 wooden steles upon which are inscribed verses from the Chinese version of the Heart Sutra.  
The Po Lin monastery  sits on the crest of another hill nearby, and its temple houses three bronze statues of the Buddha,  representing his past, present and future lives.
Lantau Island holds other attractions  like the South Country Park, the largest country park of Hong Kong,  the Tai O  fishing town with its stilt dwellings and waterways, the Trappist Haven Monastery and a pink dolphin sighting site, too. However, to no one`s surprise, the main attraction continues to be the Tian Tan Buddha.


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