Xuan Zang, in front of the Big Goose Pagoda
I woke up the next day to discover it was raining. Hard. Infuriatingly this was the most rain I’d seen in China in my six months here, and I’d left the incredibly expensive raincoat I’d bought in Beijing at home. I set out to catch the bus to the Big Goose Pagoda, assuming that I’d be mobbed by umbrella vendors as soon as I stepped outside the door.
Not so. At the bus stop, I discovered there was no covered area, and of course, whilst I was waiting for my bus, I seemed to see every other bus in Xian come along at least twice. Eventually, the 603 turned up, but I got off at the wrong stop, because foolishly I’d looked at the map of stops and got off at the one that had the picture of the Pagoda next to it.
a slightly sodden temple complex
After accosting a very helpful Chinese lady, I established that I actually had to go another six stops until I got to the Pagoda. Again, I stood shivering in the rain, watching all the other buses go by.
When the bus had finally turned up and I’d managed to alight at the right stop, I realised I had a long trek across a square and down the length of the Pagoda complex until I reached the entrance. Still, torrential downpour and still, no umbrella vendors.
The Big Goose Pagoda gets its name from a Buddhist saying: ‘Bury the wild goose, build the pagoda.’ And no, I have no idea what that is actually supposed to mean. Any suggestions are more than welcome!
It was built in 652 A.D. to house the Buddhist sutras which had been brought back from India by Xuan Zang, who had taken an extended gap decade or two in which he snuck away from Xian and travelled to India. He eventually returned with said sutras, was forgiven for going and spent the last 19 years of his life translating the sutras with a team of linguistically inclined monks. After he died he became a legendary figure in Chinese culture and a good example to all those inclined to bum around the world.
I climbed up inside the pagoda, observing the rainswept temple complex. On the way up I noticed an elderly woman leaving an offering of walnuts in front of one of the Buddha statues but on the way down the nuts had gone. Do the staff remove any votive offerings, or had someone purloined Buddha’s walnuts?
There was a very attractive garden area, filled with blossoming trees and statues, but it was far too inclement to give it more than a cursory inspection, although I did manage to get my photo taken in front of the golden lucky Buddha. Fortunately the halls around the pagoda contained lots of beautiful statues and friezes depicting various Buddhas and Xuan Zang’s journey, and there were so few people visiting owing to the terrible weather that often I’d have an entire room to myself to enjoy them in peace.
After visiting the Pagoda I decided to head off for Shaanxi museum, which was only a block away and had the immeasurable benefit of being indoors!