A popular stop on Yangtze River cruises has been the Fengdu “Ghost
City.” It used to be a burial area with scores of temples and
shrines and a small ancient town. Due to the construction of the 3
Gorges Dam, the ghostly city is underwater. However, a hill and
dozens of temples remain in the big artificial lake behind the dam.
So that part can still be visited. It is a large burial and temple
area. The area above the “Door of Hell” remains. It is interesting
that Chinese have traditional conceptions of hell that are somewhat
similar to Western ideas. At the site, people can see statues and
frescoes about hell with brightly painted images of demons and
Fengdu is where the devil lives, according to Chinese legend. They
say that spirits go to heaven, and evil goes to Fengdu. The town
was overlooked by Ming Shan Hill that was said to be the home of
Tianzi, the King of the Dead. A temple on the top of the hill is
dedicated to Tianzi. The whole place had an eerie feel to it with
deserted streets, tower blocks, and empty shops before the lake
rose. Now the city is underwater.
However, Ming Shan Hill is now an island. There are a lot of tombs
and grave sites there because Fengdu was a large burial ground. It
was and may still be one of the major Taoist burial grounds, where
the people who don’t achieve immortality are buried. There are also
scores of temples and shrines. There is a temple on top.
To get to the temple, there is path that takes about 15 minutes to
climb. There is also a cable car. Around the temple are brightly
painted statues that depict visions of hell: demons eating people,
people suffering. The demons have interesting characteristics and
colors. There are three toed demons and blue demons, etc.
One of the fun activities at the temple is physical tests such as
running up stairs while holding your breath or crossing a bridge in
the fewest steps. These physical tests, though they might be
considered fun now, actually stem from a Taoist tradition about how
to enter the area in peculiar physical ways that would make people
have good Taoist fortune.
Location: Fengdu Ghost Temple is about 160 kilometers or 100 miles east of
Chongqing in the Three Gorges Lake. It is usually the first
location that a cruise ship going east from Chongqing will come to
unless it stops at the ancient city of Fuling that is about 25
kilometers west on the river.
Like other old cities in the area along the bank of the Yangtze,
the history of Fengdu goes back thousands of years. It is said that
the city got its reputation as a place for dead people and the king
of hell during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). It is said that two
men named Yin and Wang arrived at the place in the time of the Han
Dynasty (206 BC to 220 BC).
They became Taoist recluses, and it is said that they became
immortals. “YinWang” means “King of Hell” or “King of Darkness.”
Somehow, during the Tang Dynasty, people started to say that the
king of hell lived there. It became one of the famous Taoist burial
grounds in China. There is a temple complex on the summit and
It contains some construction or carvings dating back to the Tang
There was a town on the shore of the river before the dam was built
with 50,000 people. The construction of the dam has made the site
an even more popular tourist site than it was before, perhaps
because travel to the site is now easier.
- A temple at top and sculptures of demons torturing people.
- Pathway to the top of the hill.
- Physical tests at the temple.
- See a Chinese view of hell.
- It is a 15 minute walk up the hill, and this might be a good way to
stretch your legs during a cruise.
Close to Fengdu are Shibaozhai and the Wulong Karst area. Traveling
west on the Yangtze about 130 kilometers, one arrives at Shibaozhai
Temple that looks like a pyramidal-shaped pagoda. About 60
kilometers directly south of Fengdu is the Wulong Karst area with
good hiking among spectacular natural karst scenery, natural
bridges and big caves and pits.
The Wulong Karst area is a natural preserve area with many
endangered animals and plants. You can travel to Wulong Karst
overland or take a boat on the Wu River that is another tributary
of the Yangtze. You can hire boats at Fuling that is an ancient
town at the spot where the Yangtze and the Wu River merge.
To the east of Fengdu are the Lesser Three Gorges and to the east
of the Lesser Three Gorges is the Three Gorges Dam. The Lesser
Three Gorges are north of Wu Gorge that is the middle gorge of the
Three Gorges. The Three Gorges are quite big compared to the Lesser
Three Gorges and are probably the main scenic highlight that can be
seen on a cruise trip between the Three Gorges Dam and Chongqing.
The dam itself is interesting, but not scenic. To the east of the
Wu Gorge is the Xiling Gorge and to the west is the Qutang Gorge.
The Qutang, Wu, and Xiling Gorges are the Three Gorges.