On a clear day, the Ngong Ping 360 cablecar offers superb views over the variety of Hong Kong’s islands, the Hong Kong airport and sparkling bays and waterways. Peacefully gliding between Lantau’s waterfront and the Tian Tan Buddha, a remarkable 25 minute, 5.7 kilometre cablecar ride takes passengers across a large bay and forested hills to Lantau’s most treasured sight.
Craggy mountains form a backdrop as the scale of the 250-ton, 34 metre Buddha becomes apparent. The Po Lin Buddhist Monastery, a dizzying complex of colourful temples and buildings radiate across the valley below the Buddha while various dusty paths branch into the surrounding hills.
In the damp of Hong Kong’s tropical heat and draining humidity, groups of people stagger up a seemingly endless flight of 268-steps towards the towering Big Buddha (built in 1993). Some stride confidently while others droop over railing gasping for a little more air so they may continue their relentless trek. Some devout followers crawl patiently up the large staircase. Graciously and serenely seated on the crest of a hill in a familiar relaxed pose, Buddha appears to blissfully gaze over all of Hong Kong from his ideal vantage point.
Under the giant Buddha are three floors of halls displaying various relatively uninspiring artworks and paintings associated with Buddhism. One room contains a valued relic – a small amount of the supposed cremated remains of Gautama Buddha himself. A grand bell intricately inscribed with Buddhist teachings and scripts rings 108 times every day (which is once every few minutes) symbolically cleansing 108 human failings. Around the Buddha are six devas or gods presenting various offerings that lead to nirvana and enduring happiness while the view from the top platform offers a wonderful panorama of Po Lin Monastery and the hills of Lantau Island.
While the area has an unfortunate palpable commercial feel to it, the surrounding walking trails provide a peaceful escape while the Tian Tan Buddha radiates an aura of power and tranquillity that acts as a balm against the intense crowds and general hustle and bustle of daily life in Hong Kong.
The journey continues with the Wisdom Path and Po Lin Monastery.