108 carved granite steps (the same number of beads on a Buddhist rosary) lead to Dailuo Ding (dàiluó dǐng 黛螺顶), the temple that houses statues of five different forms of Wenshu Pusa, each of whom supposedly live on a different peak. Legend has it that a young monk suggested statues representing the five incarnations of Wenshu be built here to save visiting emperors from a grueling trek. For those who want to visit the bodhisattvas but don’t have the time to make a house call; this is the place to ask Wutai Shan’s guardians for a blessing. To make things even easier, there’s now a cable car from the foot of Wutai Shan to the temple. Piety with convenience – if only the early pilgrims had it this easy.
Xiantong Temple is the largest and oldest temple on the mountain and is also conveniently located in the heart of town. It houses the amazing Beamless Pavilion (wúliáng diàn 无梁殿), which contains no beams and is supported through a complex set of interlocking pins. The impressive Bronze Pavilion (tóng diàn 铜殿) is made from 50,000kg of bronze; it’s a perfect replica of a wooden pavilion, the interior houses thousands of tiny Buddhas. Continuing on the bronze theme, the Youming Bell (yōumíng zhōng 幽冥钟) is the largest bronze bell in the region. The 2.5m high bell was built in 1620, weighs 9999.5jin and has a diameter of 1.6m. A Buddhist sutra of over 10,000 Chinese characters decorates the body of the bell.
Behind the Xiantong Temple is the largest Lama temple on the mountain, the Pusa Ding (púsà dǐng 菩萨顶). Climb the 108 stairs to this temple and gaze out on the expansive views of Taihuai and the surrounding countryside. Tibetan and Mongolian Lamas stayed here during the Ming and Qing dynasties, believing that Wenshu Pusa once lived in the same place. The Wenshu Pavilion has an interesting feature: water is stored on the roof when it rains and on sunny days it drips down the roof.
The 50m high Tibetan styled White Pagoda (bái tǎ 白塔), designed by a Nepali in 1301, has become a symbol of Wutai Shan. It stands on the grounds of Tayuan Temple (tǎyuàn sì 塔院寺), also in Taihuai. A marketplace forms around it with vendors selling incense, prayer beads, Buddhist booklets and bronze Buddhas.
Just 10 minutes away from Tayuan Temple is Shuxiang Temple (shūxiàng sì 殊像寺), which features a 6m tall statue of Wenshu riding a lion, the temple itself was last rebuilt in 1487. Take a short 10 minute walk southwest and the Puhua Temple (pǔhuá sì 普华寺) will come into view, the buildings here feature intricate carvings. About 3km southwest is the South Mountain Temple (nánshān sì 南山寺) where 18 Ming dynasty arhats statues reside. Follow a packed earth trail down the hill for about 5km and you’ll arrive at the Dragon Fountain Temple (lóngquán sì 龙泉寺), where 108 steps lead to an elaborate marble entrance with carvings of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, dragons and flowers. In the main hall is an exquisitely carved Puji Dagoba (pǔjì chánshī tǎ 普济禅师塔) with a laughing Buddha looking out from each cardinal direction. In the courtyard hundreds of small chimes tinkle in the wind.
Not far from the Tayuan Temple is the Luohou Temple (luóhóu sì 罗侯寺), the present structures date from 1492, the temple features a unique circle altar where a lotus opens up to with a Buddha carved inside. The statue was made from a tree where an emperor saw a divine light. When the tree died during the Qing dynasty, it was carved into this lotus – a mechanism underground allows the lotus petals to be raised and lowered.