Grouped on the eastern and northern slopes of the Mountain Resort, this collection of temples offers a powerful insight into Chengde's role as not just a royal getaway, but as a political arena. Each temple was built to reflect the architectural style of a different minority, so when meetings with rival border groups took place, they provided handy diplomatic currency (the large Tibetan influence was for the benefit of the Mongols, who were devout Lamaists).
of the dozen monasteries originally built during the Qing Dynasty, only eight survive today in good condition (two were destroyed, two are now dilapidated). Just a few are open to the public. Buses No. 6 and 10 take visitors from the Mountain Resort to the eastern and northern temples respectively. If you're strapped for time, though, it's worth prioritising Pu tuo zong cheng Si (aka Temple of Potaraka Doctrine), which is a stunning replica of Tibet's Potala Palace, and Puning Si (aka the Temple of Universal Peace), which is still in use by monks and has a handy hotel attached.
Temple of the Potaraka Doctrine. Started in 1767, the largest of the eight surviving temples in Chengde is modeled on the Potala Monastery in Lhasa, which is why it is known as the Little Potala. Inside the imposing gate is a pavilion housing three stelae, the largest one inscribed in Han, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan languages. Shizigou Lu, 067000. 0314/216–3072. Apr.–Oct. Y80, Nov.–Mar. Y60. Apr.–Oct., daily 8–5; Nov.–Mar., daily 8:30–4:30.
Temple of Universal Happiness. The imagery of Tibetan and Mongol Buddhism played an important role in the political and cultural arenas, especially in court circles, when this temple was built in 1766. The architecture of the main building, the Pavilion of the Brilliance of the Rising Sun (Xuguangge), is similar to Beijing's Temple of Heaven. Look for the high, square, boxlike ceilings with a wooden Tibetan-style mandala motif. On top of the building's outer walls were eight brilliantly painted pagodas supported by lotus flower stands, only one of which remains. The lotus traditionally represents purity, and is a common motif in Buddhist temples. East of Mountain Resort, 067000. Y50. Apr.–Oct., daily 8:00–5:30; Nov.–Mar., daily 8:30–5.
Temple of Universal Peace. This structure on the western banks of the Wulie River is an interesting blend of traditional Chinese temple and Buddhist monastery. The temple was built in 1755 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong and modeled on the Samye Temple, the earliest Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Particularly awe-inspiring is the 72-foot-tall statue of Guanyin, a Buddhist deity of compassion. Puning Si Lu, 067000. 0314/205–8209 or. Apr.–Oct. Y80; Nov.–Mar. Y60. Apr.–Oct., daily 8:00–5:30; Nov.–Mar., daily 8:30–5.
North of the Imperial Summer Villa, Chengde, 067000, China