Our tour started early in the morning because we had to take a 50-minute bus ride from Kunming to Anning (安宁). Before we planned our visit to Caoxi Temple (曹溪寺) in Wenquan town, some friends recommended the popular rose plantation tour in Bajie Town some 30 km from Anning, but in the end we decided on the Temple, because we wanted to try the vegetarian lunch there and visit some sites around Wenquan town.
After arriving in downtown Anning at about 09:30am, we transferred to Bus No.12 to Wenquan Town which was about 20 minutes' ride. The temple is not far from the town, and we walked along a shortcut uphill, encountering some locals on the way who might have been returning from the Temple. On the roadside is an old, abandoned building said to be a cable car station constructed in the 1980s.
After about 30 minutes walking, we reached the gate of the Temple. It was very quiet and nearly no tourists were present except for a few local families from the town, burning joss sticks in the large burner in front of the Heavenly Guardians Hall.
Along the steps connecting the Guardians Hall and the main courtyard are 18 clay sculptures of Buddhist Arhats, protected by glass to prevent damage.
The steps to the Majestic Hall (Baohua Pavilion) are flanked by old, towering cypresses and a pair of stone lions with the male playing with a ball and female taking care of her baby.
Beside the cypresses is a centuries-old plum tree and a Magnolia delavayi plant said to be planted by an Ancient Indian monk. Normally the Magnolia delavayi bears flower with 12 petals but is mythically said to be 13 in a leap year. Yang Sheng'an (1488-1559), a famous scholar in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), praised it saying: "It is from the fairy land". Later, Fan Chengxun (1641-1714), the governor of Yunnan in the Qing Dynasty, built a cottage to protect the Magnolia delavayi. In a poem, Fan wrote: "I've been so pre-destined with mountains and rivers that I encountered the famous flower in Yunnan, witnessed its magic beauty and fragrance, and I couldn't help marveling".
In front of the Hall is a stone container holding water for visitors to drop coins for good luck, and a polished old sundial which is really a miracle in a Buddhist temple.
As the highlight of the temple, the Majestic Hall is a wooden structure designed in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) style, with gables and high roofs, arched beams, and glaze-tile roof displaying the simplicity and grandeur that one can find in most Chinese architectures of the Song Dynasty. The "three saints" in Huayan World (a Buddhist realm) enshrined in the hall feature exquisite workmanship in the Song style. In 1956, Mr Zhou Shujia, deputy director of the China Buddhist Association, visited Caoxi Temple and spoke highly of the Three Saints sculptures.
After seeing their mention in a travel guide, we tried to have look at the famous wooden sculptures of the three saints (the Buddha, Bhodisattva Samantabhadra, and Bhodisattva Manjushri) deemed priceless treasures inherited from the Song Dynasty, but discovered they are stored somewhere in the Temple unopen to the public. What is more interesting is the legend of the scene Moonlight Shines on the Belly of the Buddha. It's said that on the night of the autumn equinox or the Mid-autumn Day in each Chinese Year of the Rooster, the moonlight shines on the Buddha from the forehead to the navel through a cavity set on the dormer in the roof. Only a lucky few people can witness this in their lifetime.
At around 11am, we had the vegetarian lunch in the Temple's canteen and at midday we continued our tour to Yunnan Buddhist College, which is only several hundred metres from the Temple. Constructed from 2002-2004 and later enlarged, this quiet place nestles in verdant vegetation and plenty of fresh air, and there are temples designed in the Chinese Buddhist and Southern Buddhist style.
The Chinese Buddhist Temple was under restoration, so we had to ascend along the walkways to the Southern Buddhist Temple the stepway of which is flanked with two giant glazed dragons. The brilliant façade of the Southern Buddhist Temple drew much of our attention. From the front of the magnificent Temple, I surveyed the pleasant views of the mountain landscapes and took some nice shots. I think it must be a really nice place to enjoy a cool breeze on a summer day.
We walked along the path down to the town. Unsurprisingly, we found some resort hotels that are nearly hidden in the forests, including Jinfang Forest Spa Resort and Sheenjoy Spa Resort. On many adverts one can see people soaking in hot springs as Wenquan town enjoys much fame for its natural hot springs.
On the way to Hot Spring 1 which we had come specially to visit, we walked by Wenquan Square where few elders were chitchatting in the pavilion. Around the hot spring, where hot bubbles continuously pop up from underground, there are rooms with pools for visitors to enjoy the full spa experience.
Historically, this small town was once home to many Chinese politicians especially in the Republic of China, including Long Yun (1884-1962) and Lu Han (1895-1974). Now, their former residences have become historic sites under protection of the government.
About 1 km from the Spring is the historic site "Inscriptions on a Precipice" just on the roadside. Enthusiasts of Chinese calligraphy can spend an hour or two observing the works on the rock. Another 1 km south of this site is the Bus Station where we took the bus back directly from Wenquan to Kunming.