Note: Check out a visit to the Tian Tan Big Buddha for the first part of this journey.
Despite staggering up and down 268 steps in sweltering Hong Kong humidity to enjoy the sight of Tian Tan Big Buddha at close range, a visit to the Wisdom Path is warranted. Separate from the Po Lin Monastery and only a short walk away past a teahouse, the path is marked by 38 wooden poles in the shape of an infinity (∞ – like a sideways eight) symbol. The Chinese characters written at the top of each pole represents the most popular of Buddhist scriptures, the Heart Sutra regarding a path to enlightenment.
The walk leads up a slight rocky slope weaving in a symbolic figure-8 past the various posts. Numerous folks bump into each other as eyes look skyward soaking in the scripts at the top of the poles rather than watching their path. From the peak of the tiny slope, hiking paths snake off in various directions including the sapping walk up Lantau Peak or Sunset Peak, the 70 kilometre Lantau Trail and shorter paths of a few kilometres to several other monasteries (Kwun Yum and Tsu Hing to name two) or the coastline of Lantau Island. I’ve never had a chance to undertake any of these other walks apart from a short stroll away from the main monastery area.
The main gate beautifully frames the Big Buddha and is carved in Chinese calligraphy. The other side of the delicate gate is Po Lin Monastery, an impressive collection of halls, temples, gates, gardens and shops that bustles with people. It lacks the quiet and tranquil feeling that other Buddhist temples carry.
Incense burns continuously from a small urn outside the main hall while some escape from the crowds are possible in the gardens that include a peaceful lotus pond and an orchid garden.
The monastery’s kitchen past the main shrine is packed with diners having purchased coupons for lunch. While the hall is chaotic and noisy with chatter, the vegetarian meals are filling and nourishing and include soups, rice, vegetables and deep-fried treats.
Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are a worthy day trip from the hectic centre of Hong Kong, especially when coupled with the spectacular Ngong Ping cablecar ride. Avoid weekends as it gets ridiculously busy and also the audio-visual themed shows that are right next to the unloading area of the cablecar. Try to get away from the temple complex and walk a short distance along the paths with wonderful sweeping hills to feel a little of the serenity that the monastery must have had before overrun with visitors.