Putuoshan, or Mount Putuo, is situated on Putuo Island, one of the larger islands belonging to the Zhoushan Archipelago, a group of in all some 1400 islands (these many small islands are believed to be the peaks of a partially submerged mountain range), the large majority of them quite small, located at the mouth of Hangzhou Bay, but quite close to the mainland, not far from the city of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.
The main island is Zhoushan Island itself, with Zhujiajian, the fourth-largest island, lying due southeast of the main island, and connected to Zhoushan via a highway bridge (National Highway G329). Just north of Zhujiajian Island lies Putou Island, which is not connected via a bridge either to Zhujiajian Island or to the main island, Zhoushan (few of the islands of the archipelago are connected via bridges, relying instead on ferries and/or speedboats).
Mount Putuo is one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism. It is also home to the most famous Guanyin Temple in all of China (Guanyin is the Goddess of Mercy and the patron saint, as it were, of seafarers). There exist many legends about how Guanyin Temple came to be erected on Mount Putuo. According to one such legend, a Japanese monk in CE 916 was enroute via ship to his homeland with a statue of the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin) on board when, near Mount Putuo, an iron lotus flower suddenly rose up from the sea, barring his way. The awe-struck monk took a vow to build a temple to Guanyin on the island, whereupon the iron lotus flower receded into the sea. Shortly thereafter the monk had a temple erected in honor of Guanyin on Mount Putuo.
Another legend holds that the woman who became the Goddess of Mercy, emerging from a long period of deep meditation on nearby Mount Luojiashan - a tiny speck of an island about 5 kilometers due east of the southern tip of Putuo Island - suddenly received enlightenment, becoming the deity, Guanyin. Guanyin immediately stood up and leapt across the expanse of water, landing on Putuo Island and leaving a footprint. In this "footprint" (a cave), a statue and a temple was built in honor of the goddess.
There are a number of temples on Mount Putuo. During it heyday, there were 3 main temples, 88 monasteries, and 128 thatched houses for various other persons engaged in work in support of the temples and monasteries on the island, and more than 4000 monks were in active service on the mountain. Mount Putuo was understandably a place of great reverence, being referred to as the "First Buddhist Kingdom in Zhendan".
Though the religious significance of Mount Putuo remains unchanged among Chinese Buddhists, the island has today also become a low-key tourist site that preserves the religious and historical significance of this famous sacred mountain. It is a tourist site for those in search of rare mountain beauty and tranquil walks among historical and religious relics. There are luxuriant trees everywhere on the island - especially a large number of ancient camphor trees - filled with a host of singing birds. The ground below is covered in season with fragrant flowers. Mount Putuo has been aptly called "A Botanical Garden on a South Sea Island".
Mount Putuo covers an area of some 12 square kilometers, most of which is pristine nature, i.e., the official scenic sites, though widely distributed, are for the most part confined to small, unobtrusive areas. There are fantastic vistas of the surrounding seascapes from Mount Putuo, and, as the devout Buddhist will insist, there are Buddhist views everywhere: every stone, every mountain cave, every tree and every leaf of the forests here, even the cool evening breeze, the bright moon of night, the puffy white clouds and the multi-colored rays of day, the chirping birds, the fragrant flowers, the babbling brooks and the crashing waves of the sea all collude to praise Buddha, and all communicate the spirit of Buddha to the visitor. The sense of spiritualism present on Mount Putuo is said to be almost tangible.