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Mount Putuo (Putuoshan), Zhejiang Province, China (中国浙江省普陀山)
Photo Travel Guide

Introduction

Main photographic interest: landscape and seascape; Buddhist temples and related relics

Mount Putuo (Putuoshan, 普陀山; click here for a map) is one of the islands of Zhoushan Archipelago (舟山, click here for a map) near Ningbo and one of the four Buddhist Mountains in China (others are Wutaishan, E'meishan and Jiuhuashan; each of the four Buddhist Mountains is said to be dominated by a major Buddha and Putuoshan is regarded as the sacred mountain of Guanyin (观音), the Goddess of Mercy; roughly one third of the island's population are monks and nuns). Apart from boasting a very unique cultural heritage it also is a source of natural beauty and a great destination for outdoor photography; on top of that, the island has two very nice beaches. All of this makes Mount Putuo an exceptional destination that provides a great opportunity to combine two different types of photography (cultural and landscape) with recreation.

Mount Putuo (Putuoshan), Zhejiang Province, China

Transportation

Putuoshan is reasonably easily accessible from Shanghai and there are many ways to get there. You can fly from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport (上海虹桥机场) to Zhujiajian Island (朱家尖岛) and then take a ferry to Putuoshan (note that this is neither most efficient nor the cheapest way; return flight times are far from perfect, too). You can also take an overnight boat from Shanghai Wusong Passenger Pier (上海吴淞客运码头; note, however, that the pier is quite far from central Shanghai). Alternatively, you might consider taking a bus from Shanghai Southern Passenger Station (上海南站长途客运站) to Zhoushan Shenjiamen (舟山沈家门) and then further taking a ferry to Putuoshan (note, again, that the bus ride is over six hours and you might have to stay overnight in Shenjiamen, which is highly unlikely to be particularly thrilling).

Having tried all of the above I find that the most efficient way to get to Mount Putuo is taking a bus from Nanpu Bridge Bus Station (address: No. 1588 Waima Road; 南浦大桥长途汽车站;地址:外马路1588号) to Luchao Port (芦潮港) and then a speed boat directly to Putuoshan. You only need to buy one combined ticket at the bus station and there is a direct transfer to the boat with practically no delay. The whole route on the average takes about four hours and allows for two full days of photographic exploration (including two sunrises and two sunsets) if you set out early in the morning of day one and come back by the same means in the afternoon of day three.

Admission ticket to Putuoshan, which you have to buy immediately upon arrival, is RMB110 (RMB130 during Chinese national holidays); apart from this you will have to pay for entrance to temples, which is cheap and ranges between 5 and 6 yuan.

Accommodation and where/what to eat

There are many hotels on the island; having tried booking one before arriving in Putuoshan I, however, found that it is more flexible and cheaper to do so upon arrival (unless you visit during one of the major Chinese holidays, of course). I suggest looking for a reasonably priced hotel as close to the two beaches (Baibusha, 百步沙 and Qianbusha, 千步沙) as possible as this will be most convenient for sunrise photography. Accommodation prices start at about RMB200/day/standard double room on weekends; on weekdays prices are somewhat lower. Avoid staying in southern (near Jinsha beach, 金沙) or western part of the island for the reason of inconvenience.

While finding a place to eat is not problematic, beware of the fact that food, generally, is quite expensive and, in most cases, represents a poor value for the money. Opposite to what logic dictates, seafood is very pricy (some sea fish go for about RMB160/500g!) - make sure you understand what you are in for before you order.

Photographic tactics

You will be mostly photographing along the eastern coast of Putuoshan near the two beaches if you favour landscapes and in central parts of the island if you are there to take pictures of temples, nunneries, statues, bridges, etc.; with the only and partial exception of sunset photography (see below) western coast does not seem to offer anything interesting photographically (there also is a military base and in some areas, at least in theory, taking pictures is prohibited).

In my experience the following approach allows doing both landscape and cultural photography in the most efficient and meaningful way: wake up early enough to have sufficient time to hike to Chaoyang Pavilion for sunrise photography; after photographing sunrise continue shooting landscape/seascape along eastern coastline for another couple of hours while ambient light is suitable; upon that, move to the areas with temples (with, possibly, a quick breakfast on the way) and photograph there until about 10 a.m. (at about this hour sunlight becomes too harsh for any sort of photography and the only thing left to do is going back to the hotel to rest and have lunch). In the afternoon do the opposite - first photograph temples and other cultural relics while the sun is still relatively high and then switch to shooting landscape/seascape; make sure you allow enough time to hike to Huijichan Temple for sunset photography. If you can keep this relatively hectic pace, two to three full days on the island should suffice to cover most of the places of interest for both landscape and cultural photography.

Best time of the year to visit

May and early June and then late September and October are probably the best months to travel to Putuoshan. I do not envision winter being a very pleasant time to go because of the low temperatures and frequent rains; in summer, on the other hand, it is very humid and hot, not to mention the fact that hours suitable for landscape photography are relatively short.

Sunset and sunrise

The best place to photograph sunrise at is Chaoyang Pavilion (潮阳阁), which is located between the two beaches and the easternmost point between them; it also is on a hill and thus offers a better view of the sea.

For sunset photography you will need to go to Huijichan Temple in the northern part of the island (慧济禅寺; note that it is quite a bit of a hike uphill) and then continue downhill along the road around the top of the hill in southwest direction until you find an opening in the bushes on your right.

Local contact

Not applicable.

Photo and other gear recommendations

Putuoshan does not require any special equipment, so simply bring what you normally take with you when doing landscape/seascape photography or taking pictures of temples. Keep in mind, though, that despite the fact the island is quite small you are more than likely to do a lot of hiking and I would advise against bringing too much gear (but a tripod is a must, of course!). Also, beware of sand when photographing near the beaches.

Issues to be aware of

  • The area, generally, is very humid and in summer it feels a lot hotter than the temperature would suggest;

  • Beware of mosquitoes when photographing near seaside in the morning - bring loose-fitting long pants and long-sleeved shirts and/or anti-mosquitoes cream/lotion;

  • Do not also forget to bring sunglasses and sunblock;

  • Check the weather before you go - I suggest postponing the trip if rain is expected; one time I could not go as all transportation to Putuoshan was temporarily stopped due to a storm moving in the direction of the island.

Other notes

  • Photographs taken in Putuoshan can be found here and here;

  • Photographing monks is possible and doable but please do not push it when they feel uncomfortable with it or directly object to their picture being taken.