Ngong Ping on the scenic Lantau Island is a careful recreation of a period Chinese village, which offers
market-driven tourism with old-world charm, writes Tanushree Podder
Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong and is recognised as a place of great ecological value. The island, Hong Kong’s so-called green lung, is absolutely stunning in its pristine glory. Majestic peaks, wooded mountains and valleys, untouched streams, spectacular waterfalls, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches make the island an exciting prospect for visitors.
The Ngong Ping Skyrail offers spectacular cable car experience between Tung Chung Town City Centre and Ngong Ping Village on Lantau Island. It glides smoothly over the South China Sea and verdant mountainous terrain.
The panoramic beauty unfolding beneath as one traverses 5.7 km is mesmerising. The 25-minute journey starts at Tung Chung Terminal running across the Tung Chung Bay, along the Tung Chung valley and Ngong Ping plateau.
From a distance, the Tian Tan Buddha sitting meditatively on the peak of a hill brings peace to the mind. It is the world’s largest seated, outdoor Buddha, crafted from 202 pieces of bronze. It took 10 years to sculpt the 34-metre-high Giant Buddha, seated on a lotus throne. Millions of tourists toil up 268 stairs to be photographed under the statue.
Ngong Ping, a careful re-creation of a period Chinese village, is geared to grab tourist attraction. It offers an "enlightenment" package which includes a light and sound programme called Walking with the Buddha, an animated version of a famous Jataka story called the Monkey’s Tale, dozens of souvenir shops and eateries providing different kinds of cuisine.
Very few people venture into the two mini theatres save those who have already bought an all-inclusive ticket, costing HK $145, for "enlightenment". Curious to know what exactly it was about, we found ourselves inside the hi-tech presentation hall with a group of elderly Japanese. The story of Siddhartha’s life and how he attained realisation unfolds with the help of a multimedia presentation in a series of rooms. Visitors follow the Buddha’s story in seven steps, beginning with a Bodhi Tree experience in the courtyard. Passing through prayer flags and a Buddhist shrine in the second scene of the story, visitors are transported to a grand palace in ancient India. Undulating path through trees, boulders and with simulated rain to add to the special effects, spectators are taken into a dark cave illustrating the obstacles Sidhartha encountered on his path to enlightenment and finally the realisation of his dream under the Bodhi Tree where he becomes the Buddha.
The show ends with a walk`A0called the ‘Path of Enlightenment’ which leads through a hall with a crystal Buddha. Visitors are instructed to pick up one leaf from a basket and make a wish. Thereafter, the leaf is inserted in a slot in the semi-transparent statue’s feet and it moves dramatically through the statue accompanied with a ray of light.
‘Your wish has been granted by the Buddha,’ proclaimed the young usher.
We exited, slightly dazed by the experience. Almost immediately, we were ushered inside the next hall where the Monkey’s Tale was being presented in an animated form. Done up like a forest, the hall had wooden blocks and logs for seating and the roof was covered with plastic leaves. The whole effect was that of a giant Bodhi Tree with its canopy of leaves and branches.
After this computer-generated and interactive session, it was time to do some real thing. Climb up the 268 steps to see the bronze Buddha. The Po Lin (Precious Lotus)`A0Monastery is one of the best known monasteries at Ngong Ping, an upland basin flanked by Lantau’s highest mountain, 934-metre Lantau Peak. In the main hall, the floor is adorned with lotus patterns, and three Buddhas sit on three lotus flowers. By the courtyard is a small pond, with lotus plants growing in stagnant, muddy water. Monks take this symbolism to mean that each of us has the potential to attain enlightenment and purity. Huge brass urns for incense sticks adorn the courtyards. The serenity of the place, however, is shattered by the footsteps of visitors that ring on the paved paths of the monastery. With taped, traditional Chinese music playing from loudspeakers, and tour groups led by guides with megaphones, Ngong Ping today would astonish but probably not delight the reclusive monks of yore. It is not unusual to find some of the serene-faced monks practising Tai-chi in the square beyond.