My first day in HongKong was spent elbowing my way through the throngs of market goers, wandering through the busy streets of Hong Kong with a dead camera battery and my mouth agape at the colours, lights, noise, smells and everything that was being offered to me.
Day two, I took a more tranquil trip to the Island of Lantau to pay the Buddha a visit.
The 34 metre Buddha, on the top of the mountain took 12 years to construct and towers 34 meters high, facing north to offer Hong Kong and China his blessing. Out of the hustle and bustle of the busy city, Buddha sits calmly on the mountain top, unbothered by the tourists rushing to have their photograph taken in front of him and creating a sense of calm and serenity as soon as you catch a glimpse of him.
But with all things religious of course, it’s not just a pilgrimage for Buddhists to visit: It’s also, rather unfortunately, a money creator. A “village” has been built to cater for the hordes of tourists, with restaurants to feed you, shops to tempt you and a well marketed cable car to get you there.
A sucker for heights and seeing things from a different point of view, I opted for the cable car to get there. Little did I know the rest of the world would be doing the same thing. It was a Sunday after all, and I guess everyone had the same idea. Queuing politely, we waited over an hour just to buy the tickets. In countries such as Hong Kong people queue politely – It’s wonderful! After buying the ticket, you then stand tantalizingly close to the cable cars, but realise that the line snakes back and forth and you have at least 30 minutes more to wait. There are two options: the standard car or the “crystal car”, which of course is much more advertised and twice the price of the standard car. It’s got a glass bottom. I do not what want to be swinging over a mountain with no solid floor thank you.
When it was time to get into the car, I clambered in with 9 other people who were a family together. Once in, then broke out the cakes: eating and talking with their mouths full, crumbs spraying everywhere as we swung up the cable, over the waterways, past the airport and up over the mountains.
On arrival, you are accosted by people wanting to sell you a photo they took of you as you got into the cable car. There it is, ready printed and in a frame, or wait for it, in a snow globe! You are told how beautiful you look and what a great Christmas present it would be. Really?? Do my family want a snow globe with a picture of me sitting in a cable car that is still in the station?? Doubt it, but thanks anyway. Next there is a stream of restaurants and gift shops with Buddha paraphernalia offered to you before you have even him.
Breezing past all of that, I made my way to the monastery. At the foot of the steps to Buddha, as I passed glass window, I was asked if I wanted to have lunch. I had been recommended to do so, so I complied and bought my lunch ticket. Instead of visiting Buddha, I was redirected to the Monastery Restaurant. Now, I had imagined a quiet, zen-like place to eat a beautifully cooked vegetarian mean surrounded by monks. Instead it was a clangy canteen restaurant, where I was quickly parked at a table for one, my chopsticks and crockery plonked on the table in front of me, all the time being barked instructions in Cantonese. Not very Zen. A friendly couple caught my eye from a few tables away and invited me to join them, so I gingerly moved tables, upsetting the staff furthermore. Oops sorry.
There are 254 steps to get to Buddha. He’s worth it, but it’s not an easy hike to get there. Once there, you are rewarded with what I can only describe as a majestic presence and despite the tourists getting in each other’s way for photos, a sense of calm descends upon you. In front of Buddha you can see the lush green mountains and behind him, the outlying islands sitting in the haze. There are bronze statues of other gods presenting their offerings to Buddha, with signs in English and Cantonese asking you not to throw coins. Everyone was throwing coins to be caught in the hands of the gods. You could see areas where the statues are starting to be worn, after 20 years of having coins tossed at them.
In the area also, there are options for hiking the island, which if I had had company and better shoes I would have loved to have done. The Path of Wisdom is on at the start of one of these hiking trails.
There are a number of stray dogs wandering around the monastery. I guess they are safe here, as the Monks are vegetarian.
To get back to the metro, I decided to take the bus, rather than pay another $94HKD for the cable car back down the mountain. The bus ride is an attraction in itself, as you wind around the island up and down steep mountain roads and hairpin bends, in a crowded bus. I tried to put my seatbelt on, of course, but it was stuck. So I clung onto the seat in front of me for dear life.
Here’s a selection of photos that show a totally different view of Hong Kong.