Hangzhou’s most famous Buddhist temple, Lingyin Temple was originally built in AD 326, but has been destroyed and rebuilt no fewer than 16 times. During the Five Dynasties period (907–960) about 3000 monks lived here. The Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings is astonishing, with its four vast guardians and an ornate cabinet housing Milefo (the future Buddha). The Great Hall contains a magnificent 20m-high statue of Siddhartha Gautama (Sakyamuni), sculpted from 24 blocks of camphor wood in 1956 and based on a Tang dynasty original.
Behind the giant statue is a startling montage of Guanyin surrounded by 150 small figures, including multiple luóhàn (arhat), in a variety of poses. The earlier hall collapsed in 1949, crushing the Buddhist statues within, so it was rebuilt and the statue conceived. The Hall of the Medicine Buddha is beyond.
The walk up to the temple skirts the flanks of Feilai Peak (飞来峰, Fēilái Fēng, Peak Flying from Afar), magically transported here from India according to legend. The Buddhist carvings (all 470 of them) lining the riverbanks and hillsides and tucked away inside grottoes date from the 10th to 14th centuries and are as appealing as Lingyin Temple itself. To get a close-up view of the best carvings, including the famed ‘laughing’ Maitreya Buddha, follow the paths along the far (eastern) side of the stream.
There are several other temples near Lingyin Temple that can be explored, including Yongfu Temple and Taoguang Temple.
Behind Lingyin Temple is the Northern Peak (Běi Gāofēng), which can be scaled by cable car (up/down/return ¥30/20/40). From the summit there are sweeping views across the lake and city.
To get here, take local bus 7 from anywhere on the north shore of West Lake (¥2, 20 minutes, frequent). A taxi costs about ¥25.