When I first decided to go to Tianfang Pagoda I mistook the name and, thinking it was instead called Tianning, I was taken aback when I found something completely different than expected. Armed with the proper name and location of the actual pagoda I wished to visit, I set out again determined to reach the proper destination.
A bit further from the craziness of Tianyi Square, there’s Gulou station. While Gulou leads to the Drum Tower and the shops and restaurants in the alley within, there is a more secluded place nearby with more shopping options. Disembarking from Exit H and going south, one can eventually see a tall, thin bright red tower with black tiled roof and awnings rise up in the distance. Before reaching the pagoda, though, there is a large shopping center that must be dealt with. Formerly a Buddhist Temple, the Chenghuang Temple Market is a bustling complex of various knockoff clothing shops, fast food restaurants – think McDonald’s and Yong He Wang – and very little signs of its more humble past.
The Chenghuang Temple Market, sometimes called “Miao Mall” for short, is a smorgasbord of two stories of shops offering everything from designer clothes to watches and other devices. The only catch, of course, is that all of these things are knockoffs and fakes. This isn’t a bad thing though, because one can still find a good quality knockoff if they look for it. The other plus is that most shop owners will bargain with you on the price.
The main attraction, and the whole reason worth visiting the area if you aren’t interested in shopping, is the Tianfeng Pagoda. The Tianfeng Pagoda was originally constructed in 695 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was destroyed and reconstructed numerous times throughout the history of China, with the most recent reconstruction taking place in 1989. The tower itself stands seven stories tall, with another seven stories allegedly underneath. After paying a 5 RMB entry fee, entering the complex one is greeted by the hexagonal building looming above.
A trip to a pagoda wouldn’t be complete without a climb to the top, especially since Tianfeng is the tallest ancient structure in Ningbo. Since the structure is thin, it’s a steep climb up. Entering the pagoda is like being thrust into a small tube: the red walls of the hallow hexagon close in, causing people to get a little bit closer and cozier as they prepare for the climb upwards. The close quarters also call for steep, stairs, only built for one-way trips. While this may make the climb a bit longer if there are many people, the journey and the destination are equally rewarding. As you move up the levels, there are depictions of various Buddhist sages carved beautifully into black tiles on the wall. Also, further up, the pagoda opens up with windows, balconies, and breathtaking views of the city.
Getting to the seventh floor and seeing the surrounding city is the ultimate reward. All around are the skyscrapers, winding streets, shops, and other places that keep Ningbo running from the day into the night. If you’re lucky enough to go on a clear and sunny day, the views are even more to take in. For what it lacks in height, the Tianfeng Pagoda makes for an excellent trip and a great break above ground before returning below for other adventures.
Originally published in Ningbo Focus Issue 42, January & February 2015