Hong Kong Films

Shaolin

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

1 Watch a kung fu show


This is an absolute must. Shaolin is the home of kung fu and today there are close to 50,000 martial arts students training in the region. Only a couple of schools remain in Shaolin; most have been moved to the neighbouring town of Dengfeng so that Shaolin itself lives up to its official name of Shaolin Scenic Spot. The 100 yuan entrance fee to this scenic spot includes admission to a performance at the Shaolin Temple Wushu Training Centre, a government-run establishment comprising a kung fu school, performance hall, sword factory and hotel. There are seven 20-minute shows a day, beginning at 10.30am. The performers, aged six to 20, are the cream from the school and their ability is outstanding. Look out for the stunt that involves putting a needle through a sheet of glass to burst a balloon.


These students are among those who performed at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February.


2 Learn kung fu


For the super fit, don't just watch the show, take some lessons. The Shaolin Temple Wushu Training Centre, 700 metres down the road from the main temple, offers classes lasting from one day to a year, and will tailor packages for you. An introductory five-hour class will set you back 120 yuan and give you a taste of the kung fu life. Only a hardcore enthusiast would dare sign up to train with the local kung fu boys, whose day starts with a 5.30am run up a mountain and doesn't stop until long after dark. For course fees, including accommodation and food, go to www.wushuguan.cn.


3 Shaolin Temple


This temple has been around for more than 1,500 years, but it was the 1982 movie Shaolin Temple, starring Jet Li, that put it firmly on the tourist map. In its heyday, 2,500 fighting monks lived and trained here. Today, that number is closer to 50, and most of those you see are more interested in selling you a souvenir than meditating or training. It's a large temple, so allow a couple of hours to stroll around. Look out for the holes in the sides of the 1,000-year-old trees where monks punched their fingers into the trunks during training. Weekends are extremely busy.


4 Bodhidharma Cave


Bodhidharma was an Indian prince and Buddhist master who introduced Chan (Zen) Buddhism to China. He arrived on the mainland in about AD500 and met the emperor, but wasn't able to convert him to his own style of Buddhism. Undeterred, Bodhidharma made his way to Shaolin and spent the next nine years meditating in a cave. The lazy and those pressed for time can pay one yuan for a peek at Bodhidharma Cave through a telescope, but if you have the time it's worth the one-hour trek up the hill. You can't go wrong: the cave is directly below the giant white statue of Bodhidharma at the top of the hill and the path is signposted. The cave is six metres deep and cut into the edge of the cliff. Outside the cave stand Ming and Qing dynasty stone tablets inscribed with poetry in praise of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma is also credited with founding martial arts through the series of exercises he devised when he noticed that some monks were nodding off during meditation.


5 Pagoda Forest


Some pagodas serve as graves for monks and Shaolin's Pagoda Forest is the largest monks' graveyard in China. There are more than 250 brick and stone pagodas, some dating back as far as the Jin and Tang dynasties. Only high-ranking monks, or those with wealthy followers, are buried in the Pagoda Forest, although there is a Common Pagoda for those who can't afford to build their own. Look out for the most recently built, on the right as you walk in. This was erected for Grand Master


Su Xi, who died in March this year. The pagoda is hexagonal, has eight tiers and is made of stone, much like the others, but there is one big difference: carved into its six sides are various western symbols, among them a laptop computer, aircraft, camera, train and ship - testament to the rapid changes Shaolin is experiencing.


6 Vegetarian dining


Apart from pot noodles and ice cream stalls at the roadside there are few places to eat in Shaolin which makes the restaurant at the Henan Zen International Hotel an especially welcome retreat. After a year-long renovation the hotel has reopened and been upgraded from three to four stars. The menu is wide and the dishes reasonably priced, but especially recommended are the vegetarian specialities of the region. Because this is the only hotel within the scenic spot, it makes a good place to base yourself if you want to spend a few days in Shaolin. Reservations: [86] 0371 6274 5666


7 Walk in the mountains


Shaolin is in a valley surrounded by the Songshan Mountains, with Songshan itself known as 'the king of the five sacred mountains' of China.


The scenery is spectacular: in summer the valley is lush and green, and in autumn the area is awash with golden leaves. You might want to give it a miss in winter, when it snows heavily. There are many walks and you can climb most of the peaks in a few hours. It's worth taking the time to appreciate the natural beauty.


8 Five Dragon Lake


Slightly off the tourist track, the Five Dragon Lake, or Wu Long Tan, is worth a visit. Follow the road from the Shaolin Temple for about 20 minutes until you hit some concrete steps. After another 10 minutes you'll see a narrower set of steps leading to the lake. It's a peaceful spot and in summer you can take a dip.


9 Tagou School


This is by far the largest martial arts school in the area, with about 9,000 students on two sites. Although most have been moved to nearby Dengfeng, there are still 2,000 students training at the Shaolin site. When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Shaolin this year, thousands of students performed for him. You can see a similar spectacle daily from the side of the road.


10 Cable car


For 25 yuan you can take the cable car to Ancestor Second Shed, where Bodhidharma's disciple, Huike, went to recover after cutting off an arm to prove his devotion to Buddhism. The 'shed'


is actually a temple and the setting is stunning, although the monks are aggressive in their requests for funds.