Guest Post by Clare Appleyard
South Africa is a country full of startling contrasts. Abject poverty yet ostentatious wealth; barren deserts yet lush forests; extreme heat yet bitter cold. However, no contrast surprised me more than the sight that caught me unawares one day as we drove down yet another stretch of mundane South African highway. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a huge, colourful Chinese-styled temple appears out of nowhere, dominating the landscape and leaving you staring in awe.
“What the hell is that thing?” I ask my partner, struggling to keep my eyes on the road whilst at the same time wanting to stare at the intricately detailed and colourful architecture.
“It’s the Nan Hua Buddhist Temple”, Davina replies, “haven’t you heard of it?”
Apparently I hadn’t.
Near the town of Bronkhorstspruit, a typically Afrikaans residential area, lies one of the most striking cultural and architectural anomalies in South Africa. The Nan Hua Buddhist Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the entire Southern Hemisphere and is the African headquarters of Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan’s largest monastery. When you consider the generally conservative outlook of the Afrikaner locals, the temple seems entirely out of place in this part of South Africa.
Bronkhorstspruit is a small farming town, located close to the border of South Africa’s Gauteng and Mpumulanga provinces, and has its origins back in the 1850’s with the settlement of a group of Voortrekkers (immigrants to the interior of South Africa from the Cape Colonies). In 1992, a local city council executive and church minister, interested in promoting Taiwanese investments in his town, donated the land upon which the Temple was built.
The Nan Hua Buddhist Temple is now a significant tourist attraction in this part of South Africa, and its attached seminary attracts students from around Africa for a 3 year period of study. The Temple actively promotes Buddhism within Africa and functions as a non-profit charity/religious organisation, with a goal of becoming financially self-sufficient.
The temple is most popular each year at the time of Chinese New Year celebrations. It is at this time that visitors flock to the Temple in their thousands, for tea ceremonies, traditional vegetarian Chinese food, fireworks, dragon dancing and stalls selling traditional Chinese handicrafts.
There’s no need to wait for Chinese New Year to head on through to Nan Hua though; the temple regularly holds Temple Tours and, each Sunday you can sample a vegetarian lunch in the dining hall. Nan Hua also offers meditation retreats for beginner and intermediate-level students and personally, I cannot think of anything more quirky than studying meditation and Buddhism in the heart of the South African Christian heartland!
Whether you fancy meditating or not, a trip to Nan Hua certainly calms the soul. You can spend hours strolling through the gardens, or just admiring the phenomenal colours and architecture whilst taking advantage of the abundant photographic opportunities. Impressive? Yes. Quirky? Definitely!
Author: Clare Appleyard
Clare is a fun-loving corporate refugee living in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a travel activist and diamond entrepreneur, she is fortunate enough to have visited 5 of the 7 continents on her travels, and plans on growing that list. Clare owns both a diamond business and and frequently shares her love of travel at EarthTravelUnlimited.
Follow her on Twitter: @clareappleyard