The Lesser Explored Gems

This page is dedicated to the lesser explored sights in various places. In my opinion, broadly speaking, there are three types of places

- Sights which are well known and touristy, and justifiably so, for example, due to their history or uniqueness, such as the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Colosseum in Rome

- Sights which are very famous and touristy but hard to justify their popularity, perhaps due to a large range of alternatives, for example the Mona Lisa

- Sights which are often historically or otherwise significant but which haven't made on the tourist radar, sometimes known as "hidden gems."

This page will focus on the last kind of sights. Enjoy!

The Beijing Dongyue Temple, founded in 1319 during the Yuan Dynasty, is a Taoist temple dedicated to the God of Mount Tai, the holiest of the Five Sacred Monuments of Taoism.

The temple is a sanctuary onto itself, in a world undisturbed by the offices and shopping malls just around the corner. Heck, the temple is located right opposite a Walmart! Beautifully restored, the temple is a great place to leave the modern world behind for a while.

One of the halls is dedicated to the founder of the temple, Master Zhang Liusun (1248-1321). Taking up Taoism from a young age, he was favoured by the Yuan emperor, who titled him "Master of Taoism" in charge of the religion. He then bought a piece of his own land and built the temple.

The mall halls give you the excitement that many temples give, with the beautiful ceilings with their attention to detail. However the main highlight of the temple is the various departments, with beautifully done clay statues, many of them a mix of human and animal.

Some of the departments are eerie and fascinating at the same time. Look up the Department of the Hell, Hell was associated with the Hell of Mount Taishan and it was believed that the Hell gave fair trials which would reverse unfair cases in the mortal world.

The Department for Implementing 15 kinds of Violent Death believed that the evil-doers would fall victim of their own evil deeds and some of the ways of death include outbreaks of madness and tricks of evil person as well as others such as death by starvation.

Some of the fairer departments include the Department for Determining Individual Destiny which incentivises people to do good deeds as soon as they can to avoid ending up in a low class of society. The Department of Official Morality demands officials be fair and honest and sets a standard.

Some of the fascinating statues
So if you're a little tired of the crowds at Beijing's premier tourist attractions, make a visit here. We visited on a July Saturday morning at about 10 am and found nearly nobody. Located on the main road Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, the temple is a 15 minutes walk from the Chaoyangmen metro station. The temple is open TUE to SUN 8.30 to 16.30. Entry fees Y10 per adult.

Dalian at first impression is a typical modern city: a mishmash of buildings of all sizes plonked down on the same street, fast-flowing traffic down wide avenues etc. However, if you want a quiet escape, the Heng Shan Temple is not far away,

Located at the outskirts of town, the Heng Shan Temple is one of the biggest temples in Liaoning province. A wide green expanse comprising several halls, the temple is an ideal place to simply admire the hilly scenery around.

Entering the complex

The setting is indeed beautiful and refreshing from big-city bustle

During my visit, the only sound was one Buddhist music going on- very calm. There were just a handful of people around.

A Buddha statue

To tell you how relatively untouched it is, there is a grand total of 1 (one) review of it on Trip Advisor (and no, it's not by me, sorry to disappoint you). 

To read more on Dalian, including other sights, please have a look on my blogpost.

Hyderabad is very famous as a tourist destination for its Islamic monuments, a result of the Islamic dynasties through the centuries, till Indian independence in 1947. Historically a very rich city, there is a large array of monuments and the collections at the museums deserve some time too. (To read more about Hyderabad, please see my blogpost.

But there is one particular sight which is not on the tourist radar. This is the British Residency, a grand building which housed a British resident who served as adviser and ambassador to the Nizam, the ruler of the Asaf Jah dynasty.

The Residency building

A look at the roof
Access may be tricky. While the location is well-known (on Koti Main Road, in the district of Koti, just north of the Old City), the building is part of the Osmania University (Koti Women's College) and you may not be let in easily. Visit on a holiday if possible.

Check out this amazing blog for more information on the Residency, which gave me the inspiration to visit the place.

Chennai is not a very touristy city, many like to leave its sprawl behind and head for the beaches or hills not far away. However, if you happen to have some time in Chennai, I would suggest visiting the Fort St George, close to the neighbourhood of Georgetown.

Located in a green area not far from University of Madras, Fort St George was the first fortress founded by the British in India, in the year 1644. Presently housing the seat of the government of the state of Tamil Nadu, the Fort has a church and a museum which will be of interest to the visitor.

The oldest Anglican church in India, the St Mary's church is located in the Fort. It was built in the latter half of the 17th century.

The interior of the church

The museum, Fort Museum, houses weapons, coins etc from England, France and Scotland during the colonial times. The items, in my opinion, which stand out are a statue of Lord Cornwallis and letters written by him. Barring us, there were just a couple of people at the museum.

Ooty, now knows as Udhagamandalam (Anglicised to Ootacamund) is a popular hill station well-known for its lake and botanical garden. However not many tourists that there is a beautiful colonial-era church right in the centre of town.

St Stephen's Church, Ooty

Built in 1830, St Stephen's Church features among the most beautiful stained glass I have seen in any church in India.

Stained glass in the church
Getting to the church is simple. Autorickshaws (3 wheelers) are the main mode of transport in Ooty and they generally know of this place. Being central, you can walk here if you're in the city centre.

For more information on Ooty, please see my blogpost

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