Yonghegong Lama Temple
The Yonghegong Lama Temple is an island of Buddhism in the heart of a concrete jungle. Monks in wine-coloured robes live, study and pray in its pleasant gardens and halls. Decorated with delicate scrolls and massive icons, its buildings are a hybrid of Tibetan, Mongolian and Han architectural styles. The Lama Temple is a tranquil spot, except during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) when it seems all of China's Buddhists rush to burn bushels of incense and pray for good fortune.
This compound was originally built for Count Yin Zhen who resided here until 1723 when he moved to the Forbidden City to become Emperor Yongzheng. After his death, his devout son, Emperor Qianlong, converted the site into a Buddhist lamasery of the Yellow Hat sect, a sect that's mainly associated with Tibet.
A walkway leads from the ticket booth through the garden and several archways to the temple grounds. After passing through the gateway at the end of the garden, visitors will notice a small bell tower on the right, and the drum tower on the left. Ahead is the first of five worship halls, the Hall of Heavenly Kings that contains a large statue of Maitreiya, the Future Budhha with the four Heavenly Kings on the side. In the courtyard behind the hall is a pond with a bronze mandala depicting the Buddhist paradise. Next is the Hall of Harmony, which is filled with prayer wheels and Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future, flanked by statues of 18 arhats, Buddhist "saints" who have reached Nirvana but have returned to help others. Formerly the emperor-to-be's living room, the Hall of Eternal Blessing houses statues of the Buddha of Longevity and Buddha of Medicine, to who believers appeal for long lives and good health.
The fourth hall, the Hall of the Wheel of Law is where the monks study scripture and pray in the presence of a 12m-tall bronze statue of Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Yellow Hat sect. Behind this statue is a sculpture of a hill on which stand 500 arhats made of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. Elegant frescos illustrating the life of the Buddha adorn the east and west walls and there's a rare sand mandala preserved under glass on the west side of the building. The Lama Temple's crown waits in the Pavilion for 10,000 Blessings and is the last and tallest worship hall. Inside is an extraordinary statue of Budhha standing 18m-tall, with an additional 8m underground, which was carved from a single Tibetan sandalwood tree. Satin prayer scarves flow from his giant hands.
As you retrace your steps to the entrance, pop into the minor halls that flank the courtyards, some of which contain Tibetan Buddhist deities covered in scarves to conceal their passionate embraces.
Winter (November 1 - March 31): 09:00-16:00
Summer (April 1 - October 30): 09:00-16:30
How to get to Yonghe Lamasery:
Take subway Line 2 or Line 5 then get off at Yonghegong Lama Station
Take Bus 116 or 117 then get off at Yonghegong Station