I think that in the course of building nearly every major temple and palace in ancient China, a conversation like this took place.
Architect: “It looks great, but there’s something missing.”
Lead foreman: “What is it boss?”
Architect: “I just can’t put my finger on it … .”
Lead foreman: “Bigger Lions? Higher walls to keep the bad guys out?”
Architect: “No, that’s not it … I know! More stairs! We need more stairs. Immediately assemble 100 of your fastest working men and add an additional 1,000 stairs to every entrance of this temple.”
Lead foreman: (Sigh). Yes sir.
As beautiful as the Three Pagodas in Dali is – set against the dark green vegetation of Cangshan Mountain and crystal clear blue skies it’s a stunning sight – by the time I reached the last temple, I was ready to go. I had already climbed hundreds of stairs and all I wanted to do was sit and drool on myself.
I love history, but despise the StairMaster. Touring just about any ancient temple in China is like having an hour-long date with the StairMaster, and not the kind where it buys you flowers or gives you a peck on the cheek. I don’t know what century China’s love affair with stairs began, but it’s safe to say that’s it’s been passed down at least a dozen or so generations.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit all of these places. Just make sure you train, bring plenty of water and have a good doctor on speed dial.