Sacred mountain to get massive facelift

Updated: 2012-03-05 07:31

By Sun Ruisheng and Li Yao (China Daily)

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TAIYUAN - A massive facelift will be given to one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China, as North China's Shanxi province plans to inject 1.8 billion yuan ($286 million) to boost tourism in the area.

Wutai Mountain, located 240 km from the provincial capital of Taiyuan and enrolled as a cultural landscape on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2009, will get the investment to improve its infrastructure, relic protection and tourist facilities in the next few years, Wang Jianwu, director of Shanxi culture heritage bureau, said on Feb 27.

The number of domestic and overseas tourists to the mountain has risen steadily in recent years. During the week-long Spring Festival holiday this year, 86,900 visitors came, said Liu Binglong, director of the mountain's administration bureau.

Sacred mountain to get massive facelift

Tourists pray and burn incense at a temple in Wutai Mountain, one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains, in Shanxi province. [Wei Liang / China News Service]

Wutai Mountain, literally the "five-terrace mountain", is identified as the place where Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom (Wenshu Buddha), once lived and taught Buddhism.

It is the only holy mountain where both Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism were practiced, and it is commonly regarded as the most prestigious of the four sacred mountains.

The mountain is home to a rich legacy of temples and shrines, life-size clay sculptures, statues and paintings, and has traditionally served as a summer resort with the alternate name "Clear and Cool Mountain".

The hefty investment pledge is part of the Shanxi government's broader development strategy to strengthen the cultural sector and promote eco-friendly energy use, long overshadowed by a robust coal industry.

Under the plan, 665 million yuan will be allocated to improve environmental and housing conditions on eight major projects, including river treatment, installation of a waste disposal and sewage system, central heating and gas supply, and forest and wetland protection, Liu said.

About 80 million yuan will be used for the construction of a Buddhist culture museum, a geological museum, an exhibition hall presenting the mountain's bid for UNESCO world heritage listing, and a 4-D cinema. More funding is planned for forest-fire surveillance, shuttle-bus terminals and light-rail tracks.

Another 300 million yuan will be used for the relocation of two villages, Taihuaijie and Wayao, involving 512 people from 137 households, Liu added.

In view of such a big investment, some National People's Congress deputies from Shanxi attending the annual plenary session in Beijing, have called for favorable policies from the central government.

"I hope the central government could agree to raise the ticket price for Wutai Mountain from the existing 140 yuan to 190 yuan to ensure sufficient funding for better protection of the sacred place," Ma Linfeng, a deputy from Shanxi, said on Saturday. She said she will submit such a proposal to the top legislature this year.

Ma said she had compared the ticket price at Wutai Mountain with other similar tourist sites in China and found most were much higher. "For example, the peak-season ticket price for the Yellow Mountain in East China's Anhui province is 230 yuan."

Local people living at the foot of Wutai Mountain also look forward to more business opportunities arising from the ambitious development plan.

Liang Bin, 23, runs a souvenir shop near the mountain and, during the peak season from May to October, also works for a travel agency. He earns around 40,000 yuan a year.

New roads are being built, Liang said, that authorities had promised to finish by May.

"It is good news for the mountain. There were no pipes for running water, no sewage system. Electric wires used to be randomly connected," Liang said. He expects to see more modern conveniences, wider and safer roads and a greener mountain.

Given these improvements, Liang said he is also hoping to see more tourists and business booming.

Zhu Zhe contributed to this story.