48 Hours or Less: A slice of peace in the city

Article by Thabo Jaffe

Most of us work, some of us study, and the rest are in that “grey” area. We work hard, we play hard, we sometimes go to sleep at 6am. We unknowingly push ourselves to consume life at unsustainable rates, always looking for that “next exciting thing to do”. This sure is a great release, as some of us really do work hard and need this monthly or weekly (daily?) way to blow off some steam. Sometimes, however, we need some peace and quiet.

One evening while having a casual beer after a stressful day, a friend suggested that we visit a temple the next day. As I’d never gone to a temple in the city I duly obliged. “It’s a Tibetan temple,” she said. I was a little puzzled as to why Xi’an would have a Tibetan temple – the only one in Shaanxi. After some research I found that it was built in 1705 for the Grand Lama of the Northwest and Tibet, when he passed through Shaanxi along the road to Beijing, to meet with Emperor Kangxi. It also represents the unity between the Tibetan and Han ethnicities.

Located on the inside of the absolute northwest corner of the city wall, Guangren Lama Temple (aka Guangrensi) is placed well away from the hustle and bustle of our often staggeringly noisy city. As you happen upon the entrance you’ll see the ubiquitous coloured prayer flags and little pagodas. After paying an affordable 20RMB entrance fee and entering, you’ll immediately notice how empty and quiet the temple courtyard is, save for the occasional tour group. Making your way slowly north, you’ll pass some centenarian trees and golden prayer wheels, before reaching the main hall, which houses the ‘Thousand-hand Buddha’. We sat for a while, letting the Tibetan monks’ chants and serenity wash over us, watching smoke from the incense swirl up into nothingness. After that, it was a short walk out Yuxiang men (the closest gate) to the park along the wall, for some sunset wine in the grass.

Next, we went to the (Taoist) Baxian Temple of the Eight Immortals (aka Baxian’an), located about 250m east of Xiao Dong Men. Said to have been built in the Song Dynasty, the reason for the name is twofold: firstly, the Eight Immortals (which you might research after reading this), and secondly because when the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded Beijing in 1900, Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Cixi escaped to Xi’an and lived here.

Having been rebuilt and expanded plenty of times, Baxian Temple is currently the biggest Taoist temple in Xi’an. Entering from the south, you will walk along a short alley full of antiques, pungent incense, and souvenirs. After a payment of just 3RMB, you’re in. As you enter the courtyard, you’ll see a little bridge surrounded by some fervently green ferns. Under the bridge, you can throw some money in and make a wish, or better yet get your coin through a little “target” for extremely good fortune. Pass the bridge and you’ll enter a complex of different annexes and smaller shaded courtyards. I thought the real beauty here was the park in the back, with lots of greenery and places to sit, and, most importantly, solitude.

Be mindful of others, and remember that photos here might be intrusive for some.For those seeking silence, serenity, solitude, and a break from the norm, this is suitable. For those looking at this in a spiritual sense, more so. Find your slice of peace.