Visiting Lingyan Mountain Temple during the Ghost Festival
On Sunday it was not too hot so we decided to visit a temple on the outskirts of Suzhou: 灵岩山寺 or Lingyan Mountain Temple. It is a Buddhist temple located on the top of a hill, so you need to do some exercise before getting there. But don’t worry, you won’t need hiking boots or anything, as mountains in China are paved and have stairs:
After 20 minutes or so of stair-climbing, during which you can see a bamboo forest and enjoy the view of the surrounding villages if the pollution is not too bad, you reach the temple. I decided I liked this temple even before getting in: the entrance fee was just one RMB! One RMB!! Everything is so expensive and overpriced in Suzhou that I almost burst in tears of joy.
The place was pretty crowded, at first I thought it was because of the cheap entrance fee but there was another reason: it was the Ghost Festival! (Also called Hungry Ghost Festival). It is the one day in the year when the ghosts get to roam the realm of the living! It seems I had unknowingly celebrated this festival on Saturday with my boyfriend’s family: we had dinner at his parents’ place with a bunch of relatives and before eating they lit some candles, put the food on the table and placed the stools around the table. Then instead of sitting they all went outside and stayed there until the candles burned out. I didn’t know what was going on (in my defense I have to say no one explained it!) and tried to put a box of macaroons we had bought on the table, but C.’s aunt prevented me from doing so. Afterwards I read about the Ghost Festival and I understood that it was an offering for the spirits (they get to eat before us and I guess they didn’t like macaroons). BTW the macaroons were very expensive (8 RMB for one) and we had to tell C.’s grandma that it was 0.5 RMB for one or she wouldn’t have eaten it.
So, as I was saying, the temple was full of people preparing their offerings for the ghosts.
The temple has a lot of things to see: two main halls, a pagoda, a pound with turtles, a garden… There are a lot of monks living there so you can also get a glimpse of their canteen, praying rooms and private rooms. Well I guess we were not supposed to see that but as everybody was very busy we could get inside until a monk kindly told us to leave.
When we were leaving we passed by a man doing grass figurines by the gate of the temple. A made-to-order grasshopper cost just 3 RMB! I had to buy one.
If you are around Suzhou and want to visit Lingyan Mountain Temple, you can ride the subway (line 1) until the last stop (Mudu) and then take bus number 65 until 灵岩山 (6 stops).