Bamboo Temple


Tucked away atop a winding mountain road up the forested hills northwest of the city centre, this serene temple is definitely one to be visited by sculptors as much as by those interested in temple collecting. Raised during the Tang dynasty in 639 AD, it was refitted in the Qing Dynasty by master Sichuan sculptor Li Guangxiu and his apprentices, featuring 500 luóhàn (罗汉, arhats or noble ones) in a fascinating mishmash of superb realism and head-scratching exaggerated surrealism.

Li and his mates pretty much went gonzo in their excruciating, seven-year attempt to perfectly represent human existence in statuary. Check out the 70-odd surfing Buddhas, riding the waves on a variety of mounts – blue dogs, giant crabs, shrimp and turtles. So lifelike are the sculptures that they were considered in bad taste by Li Guangxiu's contemporaries (some of whom no doubt appeared in caricature), and upon the project's completion he disappeared into thin air.

The temple is about 12km northwest of Kunming. Take a bus to Huangtupo (黄土坡, Huángtǔpō; Bus 2 runs here from the Confucian Temple bus stop), from where minibus C61 (¥8 per person) runs to the Bamboo Temple. If you visit around midday the temple kitchen prepares a simple vegetarian lunch for ¥10 per person, and the all-day teahouse on-site makes a pleasant stop as well.

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