Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Xian: Big Goose Pagoda

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.
see how far the water has risen up the walls of the pagoda
It was only after a good half mile of soddenness that the long awaited vendor appeared, around the corner from the temple entrance. I could have kissed her, and felt tempted to say that she could easily have charged me five times what she did and would still have thought it a bargain. So, sheltered under my natty silver and purple brolly I went in to explore the complex.
of the many Buddha statues, this one looked chirpiest

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!

a very Indian looking elephant

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 loved this dragon relief

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?

a print of a Buddha's feet, displayed inside the Pagoda

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!
To take a day trip somewhere new, visit My World Tuesday.


  1. Looks like a wet day but a fun day out without the crowds. Great photos and story. Thanks for visiting My World too.

  2. Thank you for your visit my blog and being so kind by offering to us your help!
    Yes, we will visit China for two weeks Beijing ( four days ) - Xi`an - Guilin - Hangzhou - Shanghai ( four days ). Our flight to Beijing is April 22th and a flight back is May 6th.
    We are an old couple, but we are coming with a Finnish group and guide. Everything is planned, but surprises always happen, I have learned that :)
    I will ask many things before our journey, thank you!
    Now I will read your blog at first, this will be very interesting!
    Have a nice day!

  3. Sorry you were drenched, we had a lovely time in Xi'an and China generally.

  4. Great post !
    Even if it's a little watery ;)

  5. I think blogger just dropped my comment, but I wanted to know, is the rain cold? Here in Niger it isn't, so we never mind getting all showered down, as long as there is no torrent nearby! What a cool place to visit though!

  6. THanks for braving the rain for this. It's wonderful, but I'm not sure I would have thought it was QUITE as wonderful had I your experience.

  7. Glad you had a good time despite the soaking! Always worth the effort to brave the weather for something that interesting.

    I guess umbrella sellers are like buses hey... there's not one for ages, then three come along at once! lol x

  8. I love the dragon relief, too. It's so intricate. I'm glad you braved the rain to bring it to us. The pagoda is beautiful.

  9. I'm glad I went out too - I had so little time in Xian (I'd love to go back but probably won't have the money), and was determined to make the most of it!
    leejeeta - sounds like a great itinery. :) the guilin area is incredibly beautiful. two pieces of advice: 1) take toilet paper everywhere, 2) bargain for everything!
    ishtar - the rain was freezing. we've had a cold snap here in northern china the last few days (it snowed in shijiazhuang yesterday). there was a cold wind too. brrr!

  10. The elephant does look Indian..missing the rains..getting hotter here

  11. An exceptional post, and your photos are equally so. I have enjoyed my visit, thank you. Going back to read again :)

  12. That was a fun story, at least to me, maybe not you. That dragon relief was very enjoyable thank you. Bum around the world...hah hah!

  13. What a great tour, post and captures. Too bad the weather wasn't better. Thanks.

  14. Great post!
    The dragons are cool, we get to see hem in eastern part of India.

  15. enjoyed your post...the plump little buddah was cute.
    have been to china twice but not yet to XIAN.one day i will get there...
    have a wonderful week.

  16. You managed to be cheerful even in the rain. But not quite as cheerful as that Buddha!