Hong Kong: The Big Buddha & Ngong Ping 360
When speaking of Hong Kong, what immediately comes to mind is the fantastic skyline around the Victoria Harbour, with its brightly coloured buildings and neon signs. The next thing to come to mind is the wonderful shopping that the city has to offer to the tourist. The Big Buddha & Ngong Ping 360 located at Lantau island are not commonly known to Indians, which is really a pity, as they are landmarks which are definitely worth a visit.
I have been travelling to Hong Kong for several years, both as a visitor as well as for business. During my visits, I normally stay with relatives at Tung Chung – an area close to the airport on Lantau Island. Tung Chung is also the starting point for the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car that connects to the Ngong Ping Village, the Giant Buddha and the Po Lin monastery. The flat where my cousin resides in Hong Kong overlooks the sea and one gets a day-long view of the cable cars making the trips up and down from their living room window (see image in the gallery).
On each of the past trips I have been telling myself that I must take a ride on the cable car and visit these attractions, but somehow I never got around to doing it. But this last trip was different. This trip was purely a holiday along with my wife. When we arrived in Hong Kong, the trip on the Ngong Ping cable car was already on our list as a must do item, and so, on 07 October, we set off to experience the cable car ride to visit the Giant Buddha. The cable car boarding point was right outside the residential complex where we were staying. All we had to do was walk down and cross the road to reach there. However, for those staying elsewhere in Hong Kong, I would just like to mention here that the cable car boarding point is located just outside the Tung Chung MTR station, so the connectivity from anywhere in Hong Kong is no issue at all.
The 5.7 KM long cable car is among the longest in the world and the ride takes one across the sea as well as picturesque hilly terrain. As one boards, a photographer from the Ngong Ping group clicks pictures of each passenger in the cabin, which are made available to the riders for a price as prints when they arrive at the Ngong Ping Village. We rode the crystal cabin both ways, and boy, what a ride ! The crystal cabin, apart from having glass side walls, also has a glass floor. And, by the way, the other plus is that when you ride a crystal cabin, you bypass the long queues for the regular cabin.
When the doors closed and the cabin moved off the ground, we initially got a shock as the ground faded away into a distance under our feet as we climbed higher and higher. However, after a couple of minutes, when we had sufficiently adjusted to this initial shock, we started to enjoy the breathtaking views. Looking back over my shoulder I could catch a clear glimpse of the airport in the distance, and the movements of aircraft on the ground as well as take-offs and landings were absolutely clear.
Soon, when the cabin cleared the land mass, we found ourselves moving over the green waters of the sea – the vast expanse of the Tung Chung Bay over which the route of the cable car passes. We could see boats moving around in the sea right under our feet, mere specks in the distance leaving a white wake as they sped across the sea. After a few minutes we were moving over land – hilly terrain with dense foliage. Within the foliage, a cemented track was visible all throughout the ride over land. This is the track used by people trekking on foot to Ngong Ping village. The views were fantastic all through the ride, and no wonder it is named as Ngong Ping 360 – the crystal cabin offers a 360 degrees view of the surroundings. Breath-taking would be an appropriate term to use to describe the ride.
Shortly before the cable car reaches Ngong Ping, one catches a glimpse of the Big Buddha statue that emerges from behind a hillock as the cable car moves forward. The statue is HUGE, and awe-inspiring. No wonder every passenger in the cabin let out a collective “wow” on catching sight of it. Although the initial glimpse of the Big Buddha is a side view from a distance, there is no mistaking the size of the statue. One cannot but help wonder about the effort that it must have taken to build the statue, and that too on the top of a hill. What a Herculean task that must have been, considering the fact that even adequate water is not available at that height for construction purposes. In fact, on my previous trips years ago, while the complex was still under construction, one could see helicopters flying to and fro between the site and the see, with a giant bucket kind of container suspended below it. It would fly to the sea, lower down the container and scoop up water from the sea and then ferry it to the site, where it would be emptied out without landing, presumably into make-shift water tanks.
The ride itself lasted about 25 minutes, and we were actually sorry that it was over – this is something that one could do the whole day long. But all good things must come to an end, and so did this ride. Stepping off the cable car, we entered the Ngong Ping Village – a quaint village featuring a walking street running through its centre, with shops and attractions lining both sides of the street. The outlets on both sides include shops selling souvenirs of Ngong Ping as well as several restaurants. The food outlets are assorted and cater to almost every taste. There is a Subway, a 7/11 outlet and several other local food outlets. There is even an Ebeneezer outlet that serves Indian as well as Middle Eastern Cuisine. One can even eat a vegetarian meal at the Po Lin monastery itself, if one prefers traditional Chinese cooking.
Not being very hungry at that hour, we chose to explore first. The village offers three shows as well, namely the Stage 360, the Motion 360 and Walking With The Buddha. Out of these, we saw two of the shows before proceeding to see the Big Buddha. The first one, called Stage 360, was a theatrical show paying tribute to Bruce Lee and the action movie industry of Hong Kong. A Bruce Lee look-alike actor provided the action on the stage along with his co-actors, with a “director” narrating the history of action films in Hong Kong, and how it evolved over the years. It was a good show plenty of “action” sequences, and they even got the audience involved, with a good dose of humor thrown in. It lasted for about 30 minutes and was good fun.
After the Stage 360, we went on to see the next show – Motion 360. This is a special 4D production that takes the viewer on a flying craft for a tour of Ngong Ping and its surroundings. The simulated effects were excellent, what with the moving and tilting seats, with jerking motions simulating a bumpy ride touching the treetops, AND something tickling the feet while the “craft” scraped the trees. The 3D images were excellent, and the water sprays on the face while watching the marine life were too good. The “ride” took about 20 odd minutes. Our only regret was that we did not get around to seeing the “Walking With Buddha” show, thereby missing out on the “enlightenment”, I guess, but then, that’s something to be explored on the next trip.
Stepping out, we walked down towards Po Lin monastery, the site where the Big Buddha is located. Well, actually, the Buddha is located opposite the monastery. The walk itself takes about 10 minutes to get to the base of the hill where the giant bronze statue is located. However, one has to climb 268 steps to reach the base of the statue. And yet, it is worth the climb. We took it easy on the climb, stopping in between on the landings, which are themselves adorned with artefacts, and hardly felt any effort in reaching the top. The statue, known as the Tian Tan Buddha, is supposed to be the world’s largest outdoor statue of the sitting Buddha, and it has a magnificent presence. One cannot but help marvel at the craftsmanship that must have gone into building this 34 meter tall structure. The serene expression on the face of the Buddha engulfs one with a sense of calm.
The only negative is that as you are climbing the steps and look up at the face of the Buddha, the sun is directly behind the head, so if you try to capture a photograph of the statue from the steps, all you get is a silhouette, with the features not being discernable. I guess we chose the wrong time of the day to visit, and perhaps a visit early in the morning or later in the evening would afford a better view, with the sun not being directly behind the statue. I would have loved to capture a clear shot of the face.
Upon reaching the top, one can walk around the base of the statue, where there are several statues of Buddhist women, in poses of making offerings to the Buddha. Even these stone statues are beautifully crafted. Immediately below the statue is a 3-storied hall housing a museum of Buddha’s supposed relic and urns containing his alleged cremated remains. We, however, did not go into the interior, where one has to purchase a ticket to enter and make offerings to the Buddha.
After clicking several pictures at the top, and of the surroundings from the top, we descended down to the base once again, back to the Ngong Ping village to grab a bite at Subway. Post lunch, we went to the bus stand and boarded a bus going to the Tai O Fishing Village – a ride of about 25 minutes from Ngong Ping. The Tai O fishing village is exactly what its name suggests – a traditional village of fishermen living on houses made on stilts over water of a river flowing into the Tung Chung bay. Here one can take a brief boat ride that takes one for a trip through the fishing village for a closer look at the structures built on stilts. I might also add here that the smell of drying fish is quite prominent all through the area, and since I am not very fond of fish, or the smell for that matter, I opted not to take the boat ride.
We did, however, explore the village market on foot, walking through narrow lanes full of stalls selling a vast variety of live as well as dried fish and seafood snacks. The market itself was quite interesting though, if one does not mind the all-pervasive smell. On display are also several dried varieties of fish, and other forms of sea life. We happened to spot several packets of starfish and sea horses up for sale, as well as fish being openly dried on specially made grills. The live fish were kept in several shapes and sizes of open water tanks and open tubs, and one can pick and choose from these tanks. We even came across a small temple in the market area, which is where the local deity is housed.
Having had enough of the smell, I decided to cut short on the tour, and we soon found ourselves on the bus back to Ngong Ping. One has the option of boarding a direct bus to Tung Chung from here, but there was no way that we would have missed the cable car ride back to Tung Chung from there. The cable car service ends at 1800 Hrs, and we were back at Ngong Ping well before that. After another stroll through Ngong Ping, looking at curios being sold in souvenir shops, we soon proceeded back to the cable car boarding point for the return ride. Once again, we could bypass the general queues with the crystal cabin tickets, and soon after, we found ourselves sitting in the crystal cabin, sharing the cabin with a Chinese family with a small baby. The ride back was just as good as the ride in, and what added to the pleasure was the fact that the baby was fascinated with the glass floor, and spent most of the time lying on the floor looking down at the scenic views below. It almost made me wish that I could do the same ! In fact, my wife actually squatted on the floor to get a better view of the surrounding.
In between the rides up and down, I shot small video clips of the ride on my mobile phone and later, I just stitched them all together to form a single video, which would, perhaps, give some idea of what the ride up and down in a crystal cabin is like. The clip is without any editing whatsoever, and nei8ther am I an expert in shooting videos. In fact, I rarely take videos on my phone. But so impressed was I with the views from the crystal cabin, that I felt I just had to capture some of those moments, and hence this video clip.
Disembarking at Tung Chung, we grudgingly made our way back to my cousin’s flat. Although it was almost 1800 in the evening, we wished we had more time to explore. Nevertheless, it was a day well spent, though we did not actually cover all that the Ngong Ping trip has to offer. Still pending on our list for the things to do are a visit to the Po Lin monastery and the “Walking With Buddha” show. Perhaps we will get another opportunity to visit them in the future. My advice to other travelers would be to start out early, in case they wish to really explore all that this venue has to offer, and be prepared to spend the whole day there just doing that.
Rajiv Bajaj asserts his right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author. All copyright and pictures are the property of the author.