Huashan plank road to monastery

Monasteries built on life threatening terrains on high mountains

Have you seen or visited a monastery built on unbelievable terrain in dangerous mountains? Then, you must have thought that after all why and how it was built at such a place!

Why are monasteries built on mountains?

A question always comes to mind why those people built monasteries in dangerous mountainous terrains? Why they couldn’t make these beautiful structures in a place with easier reach? Actually, these places were built by deep spiritual practitioners, who were no longer interested in the outside world. They used to choose a secluded place to go ahead with deeper meditations and didn’t wanted anybody to reach there.

As far as the risk element was concerned, some such people must have died also. But, after a certain level of spirituality, death doesn’t scare the meditator. They become ready to die any moment and consider death the other side of life’s coin and accept it as an inevitable happening. If someone is born, then its death is certain. Rather, only one thing in life is certain and that is death. It’s a mysterious world, it’s not only that much which the modern science knows.

So, these meditators reached a secluded place where nobody could easily reach, neither humans nor animals. The purpose was to avoid any type of disturbance, as they needed complete silence. Then, they practiced meditation and other deeper rituals. Some of those expressed themselves by drawing sculptures out of mountains and stones. A lot of such places remain in seclusion forever and the life of the meditator ends and nobody knows about that place.

Who lived in monasteries later?

While, some meditators made/got followers, or they decided to teach those methods to certain deserving souls. Thus a monastery-type place starts developing. As the original meditator is not willing to leave that place and the followers want to be with him, so those followers start developing that place. It’s just one scenario, a lot of other things and purposes may be there.

Thus, thousands of monasteries developed worldwide in the high mountains, where deep spiritual practices are performed and taught.

Xuankong hanging monastery

Xuankong means hanging in the air! This temple is famous as a hanging temple. A monk named Liaoran built it around 1500 years ago. It is located in the middle of the mountains and 75 meters above the ground. However, later many repairs and extensions have been done.

Xuankong hanging monastery

According to Wikipedia, it is the only existing temple with a combination of 3 Chinese traditional philosophies viz. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The oak crossbeams fitted into holes chiseled into the cliffs are keeping the structure in place. The main supportive structure is hidden inside the bedrock.

So, it’s very dangerous from every angle. Just imagine, that person lived here for a long time. The place was hanging so high above the ground, and situated in the middle of the mountains. This means that death was ready and waiting for him from all sides. Any fall, crush, or landslide would have been sufficient to kill him. So, he was moving forward in his life dancing with the death.

Larung Gar monastery

In 1980 a charismatic lama named Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok established the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in the hills of the Sichuan Province in China-occupied Tibet. It started with just a few students but soon more than 40,000 Buddhist monks and nuns settled around it.

Larung Gar
Image Credit: Jesse Rockwell for Tibet Watch

They all started making very small wooden make-shift arrangements for living in that mountain region. These very small wooden houses on the mountain slopes look very risky and a few fire incidents also took place, but the devotees are undeterred. Thus this once-secluded site converted into a bustling monastic town.

Huashan plank walk

Huashan Plank Walk called Changkong Plank Road or Plank Road in the Sky is located in Hua Mountains in China. A Tao meditator He Zhizhen carved this 130 meter long path with stone nails carved into the cliff supporting the wooden plank for walking.

Huashan plank walk
Image Credit:

Despite some deaths every year, crowds come for adventure & to feel the adrenaline rush. They pass through this path and reach the temple. However, here the path is itself important because one doesn’t find any big temple at the top. There is just a little structure at the top, but that does not reduce it’s importance. It’s not necessary that some very big establishment has to be there at the top.

Now it has been improved with metals considering safety issues, but the path is still very narrow and reputed as the most dangerous hiking trail in the world. It is very steep with only one safety rope to protect you from the bottomless abyss.  Many tourists come here to challenge themselves while others are just curious about this place.

What doubles your thrill & fear is – the walk does not lead to other paths on the mountain, which means you have to return from the same path!


So, next time when you visit such a place, try to look at it from a different angle. These are not tourist places built to attract the outside world and earn money. Those monks never knew whether anybody would ever visit these places or not. They made them for themselves to express their inner self.

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Do not visit those places only as an adventure to challenge yourself or look them as an engineering marvel. Instead, try to understand their philosophies and practice their meditation methods. Then only you will start understanding the real thing and touch the soul of these places.

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