China is filled with cultural and historical treasures dating back centuries, even millennia, but it is a sad truth that the number of valuable sites and relics diminished greatly in the past 200 years, primarily due to war, the chaos of the 1960s and 70s or the country’s recent demolition spree.
The damage and loss of so many relics and sites makes the ones that still exist even more special. During a recent trip through Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan, we visited a Buddhist site that has stood the test of time: the Manfeilong Stupas.
Located on a hill above the tropical town of Manfeilong, the Manfeilong stupas – which are often incorrectly called the Manfeilong Pagoda – were built more than 800 years ago in the year 1204. It is the most important Buddhist structure in Xishuangbanna, where Buddhism is the dominant religion.
The origins of the nine-stupa structure, whose main stupa reaches more than 53 feet (16 meters) upward, are shrouded in mystery.
It is believed that Sakyamuni visited the site and left a footprint where the stupa now stands. A large statue of Sakyamuni next to the stupas looks outward over the valley below.
There is also a story that the Manfeilong stupas were built by local Dai people with the assistance of an Indian man who had come to spread Buddhism in the region.
There are eight smaller stupas encircling the main stupa. Before each of these 16-foot stupas is a small niche containing a Buddhist statue. Worshippers visiting the stupas leave offerings for the Buddha in front of the statues.
There is now a dirt road heading up from the quaint village of Manfeilong to the stupas, but perhaps the best way to appreciate the stupas is to hike up a small path from Manfeilong to the top of the hill, which takes 20 to 30 minutes.
In addition to the Manfeilong stupas, the site also offers excellent views of the valley below, with China’s border with Myanmar at the top of mountains across the way.