Advice for Shooting Temples and Palaces in Yunnan

monastery or temple is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayers. Monasteries vary greatly in size, comprising a small dwelling accommodating only a hermit, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community.

The monasteries and temples were initially built to be used for storing sutras of Buddhism. However, it has undergone several renovations since then. Capturing photos is like an indispensable routine for travel lovers. Of course, shooting temples and palace is an indispensable part in Yunnan Travel. Yunnan with its beautiful scenery and unique culture gives you an opportunity to make a collection of wonderful photographs. Yunnan is a place which is worthy of taking photos. But a few of the tourist’s sites, tourists may not be permitted to take photos like in monasteries especially. You should never click pictures without taking permission from the locals. Here we will introduce the beautiful temples and palaces in details.

Songzanlin Monastery

Built in 1679, the monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple complex in Yunnan province and one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region, which belongs to the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelukpa order of the Dalai Lama. It is reputed as the Little Potala Palace due to its complex of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Located in the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, it is also the most important monastery in southwest China.

1. How to Get There

By bus

There are autobuses in Shangri-La City which can take you to Songzanlin Monastery directly, and the buses No.3 at the front of Moonlight Square can also take you there without stop.

By minivan

Many minivans are available at Moonlight Square that travelers can hire to go there. You need to discuss the price with the drivers before you get on the van.

By biking or walking

Tourists can get to Songzanlin Monastery by biking or by walking, individually taking about 20 minutes and 1 hour.

You should use a telephoto lens that will compress the field depth when you are taking the complete view of the palace. For an exaggerated display, use a fisheye lens. You can take the best pictures of Potala Palace during sunrise as the palace faces south. Making east side angle is the best to shoot during sunrise, while the western angle is best during the afternoon. There is a music fountain event during 8 pm to 9 pm at the Potala Square where you will make the best use of spilled water on the ground as that will give you the reflection of the palace.

2. Best Time to Visit

From March to May and September to November is the best time to visit Songzanlin Monastery when the scenery of Shangri-la is beautiful. From June to September is the rainy season of Shangri-La and winter is very cold with snow. So take enough clothes to keep warm if you visit it in the winter times. During every Dec.26 to Dec.29 by Tibetan calendar, the grand Gedong Festival is held to  worship and also to witness the religious mask dances –the Cham dance, which is a rare chance in Shangrila to experience the Tibetan Buddhism culture and religion.

3. What to Photograph Around Songzanlin Monastery

Main Scripture Hall

In the main hall of the monastery, more than 1500 monks congregate to recite the Buddhist scriptures. This hall houses a plethora of scriptures written on palm leaves, a gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha which is 8 metres (26 ft) tall at the main altar along with paintings depicting the life of Buddha. The altar has permanent decorated by yak butter lamps.

Dratsang Basilica

Covering an area of 1500 square meters and 39.6 meters tall, it is one of the earliest constructions in Songzanlin Monastery built in 1697 A.D, 18th year in Emperor Kangxi period in Qing dynasty, the period when the 5th genealogy of Dalai was reigned. Dratsang Basilica is the place for monks chanting together in Songzanlin Monastery. And inside the Dratsang Basilica, there are enshrined the 5th genealogy of Dalai Lama Jwasang, Zongkeba Buddha, Jamba Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, the 3rd genealogy of Dalai, the 7th genealogy of Dalai, the 10th genealogy of Panchen Jwasang.

Sakyamuni Basilica

Built in 1697 A.D, 18th year in Emperor Kangxi period in Qing dynasty and covering an area of 556 square meters, it is also known as Wenshu Buddha Basilica. Inside there are enshrined Wenshu Buddha with the height of 13.58 m, and Sakyamuni Buddha with pictures described his life around him.

Zha Laju Religious Rituals Magic Basilica

Being one of the earliest constructions in Songzanlin Monastery and covering an area 159 square meters, it was also built in 18th year in Emperor Kangxi period in Qing dynasty. Inside, it enshrined custodian of immortals.

Zong Keba Basilica

Built in 1697A.D and covering an area of 789 square meters, it is 36 m high with 4 exceedingly high posts known as Gold Tile Temple for the flammule-flashing gold tile which could be seen a few miles away. Inside, there is enshrined The First Buddha in Tibetan Areas  ZongKeBa master Jwasang with the height of 18 m.

Lamuyangcuo Lake

Located in front of the Songzanlin Monastery, it is a holy lake dwelled by the soul of Goddess Bandanlamu, a guardian goddess of universe. Lamuyangcuo, means the Soul of Heaven Fairy Lake. The celestial burial platform is standing in its south. In every important Buddhist ritual or the occasion of making major decisions, the monks and believers led by the Rinpoche chant sutras and pray around the lake.

4. Recommended Tours Including

Dongzhulin Monastery

Dongzhulin Monastery is the largest one of the three Gelu Sect monasteries in Deqin County and one of the religious cultural activity centers in Kangnan District. The housed treasures include gilded Maitreya , statue of White Drolma, Buddhas of Three Worlds, the ruler of the hell, Manjusri,  18 Arhats statues and Tangkar scroll paintings depicting Buddhist stories. There are also a great number of Buddhist stupas and religious instruments and props, being a Buddhist cultural treasure house for the pilgrims.

1. How to Get There

By bus

There are buses running from Shangri-La to Deqin, tourists can take off at the Dongzhulin Monastery.

By car-rental

Renting a car to Dongzhulin Monastery from Shangrila is also available.

2. Best Time to Visit

It is suitable to visit Dongzhulin Monastery all year round.

3. What to Photograph Around Dongzhulin Monastery

The Assembly Hall of Dongzhulin Monastery is designed in earth and wooden structure with 4 floors and 82 thick pillars. On the first floor, Tsongkhapa and his two disciples named Damarenqing and Kezhujie are enshrined. Some other enshrined Buddhism deities on the same floor are Sakyamuni, Avalokitecvara (Goddess of Mercy), Bhodisattva Manjusri, Bhodisattva Samantabhadra and Drolma. The 2nd and 3rd floors mainly serve as chanting hall, Buddhist chapels and chambers for pilgrims. Each floor is magnificently decorated.

4. Recommended Tours Including

Zhiyun Monastery

Zhiyun Monastery is situated in the west of Lijiang near Lashi Basin. It was built in 1727 during the Qing Dynasty and was made up of thirteen different structures. However only six structures remaining intact today.

1. How to Get There

►By car-rental

From Lijiang Ancient Town, hiring a car to Zhiyun Monastery is highly recommended. Hiring a car to Zhiyun Monastery for a single journey costs about 25 yuan.

►By cycling

If you are a cycling lover, cycling from Lijiang Ancient Town to Zhiyun Monastery is also feasible.

2. Best Time to Visit

It is suitable to visit Zhiyun Monastery all year round.

3. What to Photograph Around Zhiyun Monastery

Facing eastwards, Zhiyun Monastery consists of two courtyards. The main architectures are the entrance (gate), the Buddha Hall, the side halls and the Chanting Hall, etc. The Buddha Hall, as wide as 5 rooms, is a 3-storeyed double-eaved pavilion; its first floor is a preaching hall; while its second and third floors serve as a Buddhist library (Cang Jing Lou).

In the past, Zhiyun Monastery complex had altogether 13 Buddhist halls of which only 5 are surviving. In the monastery, one can find rare and precious plants such as centuries-old gingko, Sophora japonica (locust tree) and Prunus cerasoides (Yunnan cherry) etc.

Three Pagodas and Chongsheng Monastery

Three Pagoda of Chongsheng Temple is located 1.5 kilometers northwest of Dali Old Town. It is situated at the east foot of Yingle Peak of the massive Cangshan Mountain and faced the west shore of Erhai Lake of ancient Dali. There are two rivers flowing through, one is Tao Stream in the east and Mei Stream in the north.

1. How to Get There

By bus

Take No.19 bus at north gate of Dali Ancient Town to Three Pagodas Park.

►By mini-bus

Take mini-bus from Xiaguan, 3 yuan per person.

►By walking

Walk from Dali Ancient Town to Three Pagodas.

►By coach

Take a coach, 4 yuan per person.

2. Best Time to Visit

The Three Pagodas and Chongsheng Monastery is a place which is suitable to visit all year round.

3. What to Photograph Around Three Pagodas and Chongsheng Monastery

Three Pagodas (三塔)

The Three Pagodas are made of one big pagoda and two small pagodas, forming a symmetric triangle. The Three Pagodas are made of brick and covered with white mud. The purpose of Three Pagodas, as so often in China, is to magically guard against natural disasters, particularly earthquakes and floods, as per the four-character inscription on the tall pagoda: “Forever Control Mountains and Rivers.”

►Chongsheng Monastery

Chongsheng Temple complex is located behind the Three Pagodas which was the royal temple of Dali and one of t6he largest Buddhist centers in Southeast Asia. There are many sites to explore in front of Chongsheng Monastery and in the monastery.

4. Recommended Tours Including

Read more about

Feilaisi Monastery

Feilaisi Monastery is a place for Tibetans to pay homage to the sacred mountains. The monastery also serves as a center for many of the activities and festivals held by local Buddhists. Facing the main peak of the Meili Snow Mountain – Kawagebo Peak, it is famous for its viewing deck for amazing scenes of the sun rising over snow covered mountains. Most travelers and photo-lovers choose to gather in this location also for the convenient parking and accommodations.

1. How to Get There

► By scheduled bus

Tourists can take a scheduled bus from Deqin County to Mingyong Village and get off at Feilaisi Monastery.

By car-rental 

Tourists can also rent a car from Deqin County to Feilaisi Monastery. It takes around 20 minutes.

2. Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Feilaisi Monastery is winter and spring time from January to May. While from October to December is the best time to shoot the golden sunrise of Meili Snow Mountain.

3. What to Photograph Around Feilaisi Monastery

The whole temple is consists of Zisun (Descendants) Hall, the Hall of God, Haichao (Sea Tide Hall), Liangxiang (Wing-rooms) Hall, Liang’er (Two Ears) Hall, and Sipei (Side) Hall, which has the characteristics of three religions- Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The buildings are distinctively scattered, with halls and houses echoing with one another.

The most impressive feature lies in the sculpture art of the main construction of Feilai Temple – Haichao Hall. The construction structure of the hall is of a single eave hanging on the top and seven pieces of wood supporting the beam. With a horizontal distance of 3 Jian, the beam is of a clear and regular structure. It is made of a large round piece of wood.

4. Recommended Tours Including

Read more about Buddhist Monasteries & Temples in Yunnan

Advice for Photography in Yunnan

1. What Equipment We Need for Photography

  • Digital camera: Films are less useful at high altitude than digital cameras and the photos quality are lower and tend to blur at near-freezing temperatures.
  • Batteries: In general, the batteries can only last for a lot shorter period of time. So please take more batteries.
  • Tripod: A tripod is a kind of support frame used to stabilize the camera to achieve some photographic effects. The positioning of the tripod is very important.
  • Lens: After the light reaches the  retroreflector through the lens of the camera, it is refracted to the upper focusing screen and formed into an image. Different lens can meet the different requirements of the photographer.
  • Body: A body with good ISO performance is best here and can get the best photos possible.
  • Recharger: Ensure very batteries are in full of energy.
  • Filter: It can help us produce the best imagines.

2. Notes

  • Keep enough memory cards at hand.
  • A UV lens should be used to protect from the UV rays.
  • It might be a little hard to find points to recharge your battery.
  • Ask permission before taking pictures of the locals and the shrines.
  • Extra fully charged batteries as batteries seem to drain out soon in low temperatures.
  • It is better to take small tripod and photoflash lamp for a steadier and better photography.
  • When it comes to high altitude photography, it is preferable to carry wide angle camera and lenses.
  • Try to keep your gear as light as possible, as most of the places require trekking and a lot of walking.

3. Keep reading more

Exciting, isn’t it? Yunnan is full of many such wonders and if, like me, you cannot wait for many such mysteries to unfold before your eyes, and your camera, plan up your Yunnan photography tour now! You will love it here.