Probably one of the most incredible places you’ve never heard of, find out why is it worth visiting this Buddhist park in Nanjing.
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about China, is the number of incredibly beautiful and developed places I’ve never heard of. During a recent trip to Xuzhou, for example, I visited the gigantic tombs of two kings from the Han dynasty that were built digging inside two hills. The tombs are magnificent and the parks built around them are beautiful, yet before heading there I had never even heard about them.
The Usnisa Palace in Nanjing is probably the best example. Maybe by the time you read this article this place has somehow become famous also outside of China, but at the time of writing this article not many people have written about it.
Located in Niushoushan Park in Nanjing it’s probably as grandiose as the White Mosque in Abu Dhabi. They are both relatively new and no money has been spared to build these structures.
Niushoushan Cultural Park 牛首山
Niushoushan 牛首山 is a newly-developed park in the southern suburb of Nanjing. This place has been a holy Buddhist site since the Tang dynasty (618AD – 907AD) although the original temple was destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion in the 1850s.
After the alleged discovery of a fragment of the Siddhārtha Gautama skull, the government decided to spend over 600 million USD to create a touristic spot worthy of the Buddha himself: and they did.
The palace, the garden, the pagoda, and the decorations are nothing but incredible. They really didn’t spare any money in completing this structure.
The park itself it’s pretty big and is built around the “Ox Head Mountain”, a hill that somehow reminds people of the shape of the two horns of an ox.
The main attraction of the park is the Fuoding Palace (Usnisa), which goes 6 stories deep underground. Unfortunately, the park closes quite early, at 5:30 pm.
Visiting the Usnisa Palace
The heart of Niushoushan Park is without any doubt the Usnisa Palace. Built to resemble the Buddhist head covering, it’s located over an ancient iron mine and the actual relic of the Buddha is displayed only once a year.
The whole Palace covers an area of 136,000 square meters. Most of it is built underground.
Chan State Scenery (禅境大观)
As soon as you enter the main door you’ll find a gigantic room with a huge 7.5-meter rotating statue of the reclining Buddha made of jade and an artificial misty fog to get you into the right mood.
Besides the statue, you’ll find several alcoves with other Buddha statues and some fake trees. From time to time this hall is also used to perform Buddhist rituals.
This area of the palace is called Chan State Scenery.
Great Usnisa Hall (舍利大殿)
Before getting into this new area you’ll have to wear some shoe covers, to protect the marble used for the floor. To say that the area is gorgeous is an understatement.
Just keep following the escalators taking you several floors down and you’ll get to the Ten Thousand-Buddha Corridor.
Right after that, you’ll enter the magnificent Great Usnisa Hall. I honestly didn’t do any research about this place, since I didn’t plan to visit Niushoushan, so I had no idea about the scale of the palace.
Take all the time you need to appreciate the beauty of this Palace and think about how much money was spent building it. I can’t help but think that this might become one of the landmarks of Nanjing in the future decades or even further.
Remember that all of this has been built 6 floors underground, which makes this Palace even more incredible.
To get a better view of the Hall, look for one of the doors leading to the small balconies overlooking it. One of the doors is usually open.
To get a better view of the park you can visit the Usnisa Pagoda. It’s 88-meters tall and, like the rest of the park, it’s new. It has been built in the style of the Tang dynasty.
How to get to Niushoushan Park
You can get a taxi from downtown and it will take about 40 minutes to get to the park entrance. From there to the actual palace is a quite long walk. If your time is limited you can pay an extra 20RMB to get one of the electric cars that will take you right to the palace. A cheaper option would be to take the subway and then the bus n° 755 to 牛首山风首区. The ticket to visit the park costs about 100RMB.
Nanjing is well connected to the rest of the country via high-speed trains and regular flights. On Trip.com you can book train tickets, flights as well as hotels. It’s the best app to use while traveling in China since Booking.com and other aggregators don’t have many options.
Is it worth visiting the Niushoushan Park? This is a legit question considering that maybe your time in China is limited and there are plenty of ancient and interesting places to visit.
Personally, I think that it’s worth it especially if you are planning a trip to Nanjing a city that has a lot to see. I always have mixed feelings when I travel around China because most of the “Old Towns” you’ll see are not old at all and they have been recently rebuilt. But this is different. This place doesn’t pretend to be ancient. It’s a brand new Park that has all the modern amenities you’ll need and it’s built using top-notch materials.
I have no doubt that in the future generations people will visit Niushoushan and consider this park a place that can’t be missed. We just happened to be early. 🙂
Here you can find my travel guide to China. If you are planning a trip to Jiangsu Province and are looking for other places to visit don’t miss my guide.