Places in Nanjing – Qixia Mountain

Qixia Mountain (栖霞山 Qīxiáshān) with Qixia Temple (栖霞寺 Qīxiásì) inside of the complex, is, in my opinion, one of the best tourist attractions of Nanjing and one of my favorite places in the city. It is particularly famous for its autumn scenery when the leaves of maple trees turn red. I have visited the area three times in total, and every time was in the autumn. This year I was especially lucky because even though the weather in Nanjing is notoriously rainy in the autumn, I had an opportunity to witness and admire it in a beautiful sunny weather.

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Qixia Mountain is located in the Qixia District of Nanjing in the eastern part of the city, over 20 km from the city center. The area, previously called the Qixia Town (栖霞镇 Qīxiázhèn) resembles a Chinese countryside and is filled with low buildings, restaurants and stores run by local people (however, it’s certainly going to become more and more developed with time; I saw that the area has already changed compared to what I saw three or four years ago – so it’s changed within a relatively short period).

qixia location
Qixia Mountain – location on Baidu Maps

First, you need to buy tickets in the tourist center located on the right of the entrance or purchase them using Wechat. After that, you can head to the main entrance, behind which the Qixia Temple is located.

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It is a Buddhist Zen temple, originally built in the period of Southern Dynasties (420-589). During Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the temple was destroyed by a fire and then rebuilt. Upon entering the complex, visitors receive three sticks of incense free of charge and can light them and put inside an incense burner (香炉 xiānglú) as an offering to the deities. Incense burners can be rectangle-shaped and long, like in the picture below (you can see two of them behind the stone rails in the center of the picture), they can also be round, like the one in the middle and in the next picture:

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The incense burner in the picture below probably has only a decorative function. The characters on it say “Ancient Qixia Temple”. In some places, people like to throw coins inside of the orifices in the top part of the burner – it’s supposed to be a good charm (and of course, there’s some money for the temple if anyone takes time to fish it out).

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At the entrance of the temple there are two statues of elephants. This is one of them:

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The thing that the elephant is holding in its trunk is called “ruyi” (如意 rúyì, meaning “as one wishes” “according to one’s wishes”). Ruyi has a long history in China, originating around 2000 years ago, supposedly either as a tool to scratch one’s back that later was fused in one with a Buddhist symbol, or having been brought to China by monks from India, who used it as a ceremonial scepter (a staff symbolizing authority).
As ruyi was supposed to bring good luck and repel bad spirits, it later became a popular gift, often given by officials to members of the imperial family, and with time grew to be a symbol of wealth and power. Being often beautifully ornamented, ruyi was treated like a piece of artwork and was often admired and collected by Chinese scholars. It was made from different materials, such as jade, porcelain, copper, metal, wood.

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Behind the temple, there’s an old stone stupa. It was originally built in the 7th century, but then destroyed and rebuilt in the 10th century. It is said that going around the stupa three times in the clockwise direction will bring you good luck for the next year, so many people go around it (and so did I). After the third lap one may hang the red ribbon (许愿带 xǔyuàndài) with their wish on the stupa (you have to buy the ribbon from the monks; I’m not sure about the price but it’s usually not high, around 10 yuan or more if you wish to make a bigger contribution to the temple). Walking around a stupa three times to bring good charm is quite common in China.

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Surrounding the stupa there are many grottoes with statues of Buddha carved in white stone. Many of the statues heads are missing or seem to have been replaced recently. I’m not quite certain why that is. Some say that the statues might have been damaged during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when many people were swept away by the government-induced rage against the old culture and traditions, and many relics of the past were destroyed. However, others say it’s not very likely to have happened because the temple is far from the city; and the explanation behind the missing heads would be that they were taken away by local farmers, avid believers of Buddhism. The reason why they did it would either be that they wanted their homes to be protected by the Buddha and believed that the head’s presence would provide that, or they wanted to save the holy Buddhist figures from being damaged by rain. Also, as I noticed in other places such as Longmen Grottoes, many people, unfortunately, like to caress figures’ heads and hands for good luck, accelerating the damage of the stone.

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After taking a look at the stupa and grottoes, one can take a hike in the park. There’s a path and a concrete road that go around it with numerous road signs and map stands allowing you to check your location and decide where to go next (unfortunately, many people touch the maps with their hands so it’s often hard to tell where the “you are here” mark is). There are a few peaks in the park and the one I went to, situated in the northeast part of the park, is called “Fengxiang Peak” (凤翔峰 Fèngxiángfēng; it could be translated as “Peak of Soaring Phoenix”).

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When approaching the peak, you can either walk the road that bends up the hill, or climb the stairs. From the peak you can see the Yangtze River; unfortunately, that day the visibility was quite bad, probably because of air pollution:

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On the way leading to the peak I walked in the eastern part of the park and going back I took the western route; that way it’s possible to walk around the whole park.

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Address: 南京市栖霞区栖霞街88号
How to get there:
Take metro line 2 to Nanjing University Xianlin Campus station (南大仙林小区) and change to bus no 326 going to the vicinity of the park entrance;
During the red maple season, on weekends you can take the metro line 2 to go to Yangshan Gongyuan station (羊山公园) and go through exit 2; there was a sign saying that on the weekend there is a free bus going to the park entrance;
Bus no 207 goes directly from Nanjing Railway Station (南京站) to the vicinity of the attraction. This bus line also stops at metro line 3 stop – Changfujie (常府街);
Admission: 40 yuan for a full ticket
Is it worth to go there: absolutely! Especially in the autumn, when you can admire the red maples.

Sources: [1] [2] [3]

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