Shaxi Xingjiao Temple in Sideng Square
Unique in the fact that iconography from each the major Asian faiths are all featured here, this is also one of the best preserved temples in the whole country. Originally constructed as an Azhali Buddhist shrine in 1415, during the Ming Dynasty, the courtyard buildings were commandeered and used as a local government headquarters during the twentieth century's Cultural Revolution. Ironically, this saved it from the widespread destruction that befell many other traditional places of worship. The painstaking restoration process of the SRP has ensured that this site became a must see site on the Tea Horse Tourist Trail. Valuable Chinese medicine trees such as Delavay's Magnolia and the Chinese Privet thrive in shaded courtyards. Cleansed of the soot that actually protected them during more turbulent times, original murals can still be seen on the walls of the Hall of the Heavenly King, and the intricately interlocking beams of the interior ceilings are breath taking in their complexity. At the rear, in the temple building itself, five of the most beautiful golden Buddhas sit serenely beneath ornately carved auras. Without doubt these are some of the most aesthetically pleasing deities that you will see in any Chinese temple today.
The lower courtyards currently hold displays of the SRP's long term action plans for the valley, along with the highly detailed botanical illustrations of acclaimed English artist Caroline Frances-King, showing local medicinal herbs in glorious full color.
Directly opposite the temple is an equally impressive open air theater stage, with an exquisite dragon and phoenix ceiling mural. On the very top floor is a shrine to the 'Kuixing' deity, similar but slightly less impressive than the portrayal in the Duan Village Temple Theater The building is also home to a tiny Chamagudao Exhibition, which is really still a work in progress, but already has some impressive examples of local woodcarving skills.
The legend of Princess Wencheng
There is a Chinese legend that the Tang emperor Taizong sent his niece, the Princess Wencheng as part of a tribute caravan to Tibet from the Tang capital of Chang'an (Xi'an), in order to form an alliance with the Mongols in the north. As part of an an urgent peace settlement, she was to become the second wife of Songtsän Gampo, King of Tubo, what used to be Tibet. The enormous caravan was made up of many gifts to form part of the dowry, including solid gold bookcases, 360 volumes of classic sutras and of most interest to us, a large consignment of pu'er tea. Like many Tang nobles, Princess Wencheng was a Buddhist, and it is claimed that she took her faith with her to Tibet, where it flourished and developed its own particular traditions. The Chinese even claim that it was the Princess who founded the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
While this is an attractive story, the tea trade more likely began way back in the Han dynasty many centuries the princess's time, but it does show us how important pu'er tea had already become to the Tibetans. In the last fifty years, Chinese authors have taken advantage of this myth to create many dramas and dance epics, which include songs with titles such as "Liberated Serfs Sing," and "Emancipated Serfs Turn Toward the Sun."