It is 11 am and I am surrounded by what seems like a million people. At least half were here when I arrived at 8am. Sticky, hot and humid, yet many of the women are in dazzling dresses and high heels. It is a day when a mere act of breathing will have sweat rolling down your forehead. Still, there is an excitement in the air. The atmosphere is far removed from what you would find at a holy place in the western world.
Nanputo, or South Temple rests at the base of Wulaofeng mountain. It is one in the chain that runs through the Island of Xiamen known as the Five Old Men. Stunning pagoda style buildings make up it's campus. This has been a holy place for over a thousand years. The first buildings were erected in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Waring during the Ming Dynasty some 400 years later destroyed them. A naval officer during the Qing Dynasty established new structures between 1662-1772.
Around every corner and all the way up the mountain are places to stop and worship. Caves are crowded with hundreds, possibly even thousands of Budhist figurines and mementos left to celebrate the lives of loved ones. The belief is that death is not the end of life, it is simply the end of our time in this body. Spirits move on and seek out new experiences. Where one is reborn depends on karma.
To get to the top of the mountain is an intense trek. I always think I am in shape, until I do something like that. I would stop and take a short break to be passed by a well dressed woman in impractical shoes.
At the summit of this stairway to heaven is a modern structure, where care takers live and provide refreshment to those with enough stamina to reach the top. A flock of free range chickens and group of Chinese women playing cards seemed a bit out of place amongst the Buddha's and prayer flags. Or perhaps it was me who was out of place, the curiosity people wanted their picture taken with. I even had an escort down the mountain to make sure I arrived at the a base without harm.