If you only have time for one temple in Beijing, make it this one –Yonghe Lamasery, the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside the historic lands of Tibet and most perfectly preserved lamasery in China.
Situated on the east side of Yonghegong Street in the northeastern corner of the city, the Yonghe (Harmony and Peace) Lamasery, popularly known as the Lama Temple, is the largest and best-known lamasery in Beijing, covering an area of 66,400 square meters.
The Yonghe Lamasery was actually built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty to serve as a residence for Emperor Kangxi’s son, successor to the throne – Yongzheng. In 1725 it became the Yonghe Palace where secret activities were held for the feudal governance of Emperor Yongzheng. In 1735 the Emperor Yongzheng demised and his coffin was placed here for worship. From then on, the place became the sacrificial hall for the Qing emperor to worship his ancestors. Lamas with the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism were invited to recite sutras for the purpose. In 1744 Yonghe Palace was formally turned into a Tibetan Buddhist lamasery.
The Yonghe Lamasery features both imperial splendor and religious holiness, which make it distinctive from other popular tourist highlights in Beijing. The principal components of the Yonghe Lamasery are three exquisite memorial archways, Zhaotai Gate and five large halls, namely Hall of Heavenly Kings, Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghe Hall), Hall of Eternal Blessing, Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Hall of the Dharma-cakra), and Hall of Infinite Happiness (also called the Hall of Great Buddha), all of which stand on a north-south axis.
(The Hall of Harmony and Peace or Yonghe Hall is the largest hall in the lamasery.)
The magnificent buildings in Yonghe Lamasery house a large number of rare cultural relics. Of them the Hill of Five Hundred Arhats made of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin, a high statue of the Maitreya Buddha and a nanmu niche are the three wonders of the lamasery.
The giant statue of the Maitreya Buddha is located in the three-story Hall of Infinite Happiness, which is the principal building in the rearmost courtyard and tallest building in the lamasery. Standing in the center of the hall, it is 26 meters (85 ft) in height (8 meters below ground and 18 meters above) and eight meters in diameter. Carved from a single trunk of white sandalwood tree, the statue is the largest of its kind in China. It was a gift for Emperor Qianlong from the seventh Dalai Lama and took 3 years to ship it to Beijing.
The lamasery also functions as an active Tibetan Buddhist centre. The collection of Tibetan items in the Yonghe Lamasery include wheels of the law, scepterlike dorjes, bells, effigies of Buddha, and a multi-armed statue of the goddess of Guanyin. The collection is also a fascinating aspect of the temple.
ADD: No. 12 Yonghegong Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing.
Opening Hours: 9:00 to 16:30 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); 9:00 to 16:00 (Nov. 1 to Mar. 31)
Transport: Take public bus or trolley bus No. 13, 116, 117, 684 and Te 2, or Subway Line 2 or 5, and get off at Yonghegong Station.