Monoliths

The weather takes a turn for the worse as dark foreboding clouds blanket a once blue sky. Marsh land bordering the wooden walkways quickly fill, eels slipping through shallow water, Chipmunks hopping from limb to limb seeking shelter amongst Old Mans Beard.

Through the trees we make out the hulking shape of a monolithic fortress. The entrance beckons us with a certain reluctance, alleyways dark and dusty, courtyards filled with artifacts of a life not ours.

The Temple of a Million Years

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Deep in southern China, enveloped in the clouds of an early afternoon thunder storm just outside Dali, I remember Ramses and his magnificent memorial temple as I point a lens at southern China’s dynastic architecture. The majesty of these structures is breathtaking in itself, but it’s the concept of constructing a temple to last for eternity that rings in my ears, and southern China does not disappoint.
This particular temple sits towards the back of the Three Pillars complex just outside Dali, in China’s Yunnan province. One would be forgiven if they missed it whilst visiting; the main thoroughfare takes you past the core attraction, three large pillars, and then on to a larger temple to light some incense and buy the obligatory wrist bangle. Venture off the beaten track however, and you’re rewarded with this majestic scene, and not a soul in sight. Okay, maybe one.

The North Gate

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A heavy summers rain sets in, all too soon filling the sunken stone passages to bursting. Water spills from the foreboding entrance of this stone-hewn labyrinth, oppressive dark clouds dissuading the dying light from illuminating what lurks within. Dancing shadows draw a maze of black twisting tunnels blocked and barricaded by rock-fall and mutant trees. At the centre of this Tomb-Raider puzzle stands a small altar surrounded by four abandoned passageways, each twisting off to black oblivion. Light particles break through a rupture in the stone ceiling, a single beam of amber illuminating the ancient stone shrine.
A child’s laugh echos momentarily somewhere within the underground maze, shrill sound waves bouncing off cold wet walls, beckoning me deeper. I pick a tunnel and venture down the causeway, knee deep in water following eerie echos from behind the gloom. Tripping hard on an uneven submerged stone I stumble through a dense curtain of wet vines and tree roots, falling through a small opening in the thick stone wall out to another world, the light of a mid-afternoon monsoon flooding my senses. The jungle here lays heavily over hidden red and green stone, a place of worship once devoted to monks and their daily routine, the entire area now laying derelict and eroded by zealous Fords and would-be Angelinas. Climbing large sodden stone steps, I make my way up to the tree line in an attempt to get a feel for the direction back out to civilization. I’m mildly lost, and it’s started to rain again.

Dragon Gate Bridge

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Standing adeptly at the water’s edge, women rake water-born adult Lotus plants from the still surface, hauling their quarry to piles as high as themselves. Towering above the motley crew of would-be sailers, an ancient temple adorns the central placement on a bridge scanning the width of the lake. Once a grand expression on the landscape, now a shelter from the vicious sun for local farmers and tourists.
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