On the weekend we went for a sunset drive to the mountains above Neihu to visit one of my favourite temples — Bishan Temple (Bishanyan, 碧山巖).
I last came here over thirteen years ago. A friend who had studied in Taiwan recommended Bishan temple as a must visit destination. I was totally entranced by the view out to Taipei city. Standing on the temple viewing deck, I wondered where ‘downtown Taipei’ was: I was amazed that Taipei could have several vibrant cosmopolitan areas, not just one main city hub. Of course, there was no Taipei 101 then so now it is a little easier to spot where the new commercial cluster in Xinyi District is. But still, it is amazing to see the extent of the fairy lights across the city.
We got a little lost on the way up the hill, so thankfully missed the throngs of tourists gaping at the sunset. There was, however, still plenty to see. I actually prefer to see the city all lit up in its neon and LED splendour, and also to enjoy the quiet calm of dusk, but I would imagine that the view of the sunset here would be spectacular. I think it must also be a place for romantics, because I saw several young couples sitting closely together enjoying the last throes of sunset. And there were also several young children running happily around, and even climbing on the stone lions.
I think Bishan temple is Daoist, although it is hard sometimes to make such hard and fast distinctions in Taiwanese temples. The temple worships Kāizhāngshèngwáng (開漳聖王), which is an honorary title meaning ‘sacred prince, developer of Zhangzhou’. The ‘prince’ is General and later Chief Magistrate of Zhangzhou, Chen Yuanguang, who lived from AD657 to 711. He is revered in Fujian and Taiwan, and there are over a hundred temples dedicated to him across the island.
I would like to come here again someday to walk up the hill, or at least part of it. On my first visit, we passed a pilgrimage chanting their way up as we made our way up in a taxi from Neihu station. It sounded very mysterious and spiritual, and I regretted taking the easy way up. There are apparently several hiking trails tha start at or near the temple. But with a baby to carry, the short walk from the car park was more than sufficient exercise for us this time around.
Bishan temple welcomes visitors, and they have basic accommodation available for pilgrims. We stayed at the temple thirteen years ago; we simply arrived late one evening and people at the temple kindly found a room for us. We were the only ones staying there that night, yet they were still very hospitable. Seven years ago Sam rang up to ask whether we could stay again, but was told that the temple only accommodated visiting groups. As the remote location was in any case not entirely suitable for our busy schedule of catching up with friends and family, we opted not to pursue the issue further. But I would be interested to hear from anyone who has had recent experiences staying at Bishan temple. It was to me one of the more memorable places that I have stayed.