Yungang Grottoes (雲岡石窟)

On the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain of Datong is Yungang Grottoes.  For 1 kilometer along the mountain were 53 caves and about 51,000 sandstone statues.  The Grottoes were started around 450 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-354).  The sculptures were heavily influenced by the Indian Buddhist art incorporated with the Chinese culture and the social features of that time. Not all caves were open to the public.  While we were there, a number of caves were closed for restorations.

The entrance park designed in accordance to the artwork found on the cave walls of Yungang Grottoes.

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A typical architect of the Wei Dynasty

 

 

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Sandstone caves.  These are either windows or entrance way.  Many served as temples for cultivation.

This is cave #20.  Although this giant Sakyamuni Buddha is exposed outside for all to see, it was once inside a cave when it was first built like the other caves with windows and entrance way.   Due to the window opening damaged the structure’s support stone over the doorway, the front of the cave collapsed shortly after it was built.  But, there is always a silver lining to this calamity, this Giant White Buddha exposed became the main feature of Yungang Grottoes.

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The big Sakyamuni Buddha, a perfect person.  One can see the influence of Indian Buddhist art here. Notice the intricate carvings behind the Buddha.

Cave 1 and 2, which are dual caves in stupa form.  In the middle of the Cave #1 is the stupa like column of 5.75 meters in height.

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square stupa like a pillar of cave #1

 

Around the cave were more carvings depicting the Buddha stories and other Buddhas.

Interconnected cave #2 also has a square stupa like column support of approximately 6 meters high.

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square stupa like a pillar in cave #2

Surrounding it were also more Buddha stories and Buddha carvings.

One can see these art relics are heavily eroded by nature.  Yungang Grottoes are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.

Cave #3 is the largest cave of Yungang Grottoes.  It is an unfinished cave which is lucky for us because it left indications of how they were made from the top first then continue down the cave.

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Main Buddha,  Amitabha Buddha

Cave #5  and #6  are another dual cave and are one of the richest.  The cave entrance is covered with eaves which made it look like a temple from the outside.  We were told that originally, every cave entrance has these eaves built extended from the cave.  This one was reconstructed during the Qing Dynasty.

 

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Temple-like eaves extended from the front of the Dual Cave #5 and #6

Inside the cave are covered with painted carvings.  In the center is a large column reaching 15 meters high into the ceiling.  Top of the caves were carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and celestial beings.  On the column were carved with stories of the life of Buddha Sakyamuni.  Around the bottom portion of the wall were carved with stories from the scriptures.  The painting was done many times over by each Dynasty so it would be hard to identify the original color scheme.

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The upper level of the center column against the backdrop of the walls of carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and celestial beings.

The lower level of the column depicting the life of Buddha Sakyamuni.

One needs to spend a lot more time to study these cave carvings.  These are only a minute few just to tickle your interest.

We can see from the outside through the window of Cave #18

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Outside of Cave #19

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You can see what a herculean effort would be required to maintain and restore these treasured relics.

The Wood Pagoda of Ying County, Shanxi

The  Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple (佛宮寺釋迦塔)

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Observe the 2nd level.  It is a little tilted, but still standing strong

This wooden pagoda was built by Liao Emperor Daozong(遼道宗耶律洪基)  in around 1056 at his grandmother’s home town.  The pagoda sits on stone platform of 13 ft. and the pagoda itself is 207 ft tall.  Add together is 220 ft tall.  It is the oldest completely wooden pagoda in China, without even a nail, standing on its own for million years.  It has survived at least 7 earthquakes.  This octagonal pagoda appears to have 5 levels but it actually have 9 levels because hidden from outside view are four mezzanine levels.   Its structure is an architecture wonder worth further studies.

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A closer look at the eaves shows how it spread the weight of the beams.
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This plaque on the third level, carved “The Pagoda of Sakyamuni” was carved in Jin Dynasty (1194) to date about 800 years old.

Many Buddha statues are in each level of the pagoda.  On the first floor, of course, is Buddha Sakyamuni sitting of the lotus.  The statue is 11 meters tall.

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Legend has it that there used to be 8 local devils who caused havoc here.  Buddha Sakyamuni transformed himself into a handsome scholar who bet the 8 devils that they could not lift him up.  The devils tried but was forever stranded under his lotus pedestal.

For the 20 centuries the Pagoda stands, it only required 10 minor repairs, but the last repair done in 1974 was more extensive than the previous due to the 200  more rounds of ammunition fired by the Japanese soldiers into the pagoda during the second Sino-Japanese War.  However, during this repair, ancient Liao’s Tripitaka, block printing and hand written scripts were found along with a Buddha tooth and other ancient relics.

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Block printing of the Liao Dynasty  in the year 1003

 

A Section of the Great Wall in Guangwu(廣武)

The Ruins of the Great Wall

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A panoramic view from the foot of the Great Wall looking down the north side towards the nomads territory in ancient times

The Great Wall scatters in the northern region of Shanxi.  They were built as an important military outpost to prevent the nomads from the north from invading China in the south.  During the Waring States (475-221 BC), each kingdom built its own section of the wall until Qin Dynasty, it gets connected as a single  Great Wall.  further constructions and restorations made to the Great Wall were by all the subsequent dynasties that follows til finally its use became obsolete during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  Due to its disuse, its been neglected.  The Wall has fallen by natural erosion and from World War II during the Japanese invasion.  The province of Shanxi is trying to preserve parts that is still relative standing but the project is massive.  We visited the Guangwu section of the Great Wall which showed the part of the wall that has not been recently repaired, revealing how it was originally built.

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the foot of the wall at Guangwu Section
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The view from below .  One can see far away above the mountain a section of the Great Wall
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looking down from the foot of the Great Wall at Guangwu Section.

One can see the original building materials of the time.  It does not consist any metals, steels or any cement.  Only the local yellow mud grass and grains for the inner wall which they said were first steamed so it won’t decay or invade by insects.   The it was sealed with outer wall of stone and mud bricks also steamed before applied.  This section of the Great Wall is not far from Yanmenguan (雁門關).  Guangwu section is where the once famous Moon Gate stands but unfortunately it collapsed on the night of  Oct. 3rd, 2016.

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This wall will reach ultimately to Beijing and each post would send fire message if an invasion occurred.

Luyashan (芦芽山) Mountain Ningwu ice cave of Shanxi

Million Years Ice Cave

Entrance to the ice cave. The trees were green

This ice cave is on Lu-ya Mountain. It’s entrance is located at an altitude of 2300 above sea level.  This ice cave is naturally maintained at a temperature of -4 degree centigrade.  The temperature is not affected by the temperature outside.  In fact the ice cave is open to the public only from May to October.  The cave estimated to be formed 3 million years ago and because of it’s bowling pin shape kept the outside air out.  The cave is 278 ft. deep and the width is between 32 ft. to 65 ft.  This wondrous ice cave believe it or not actually has an inactive volcano not far behind it.  Inside the cave is a sight to behold.

 

GuanYin Tang in JianJie, Shanxi

GuanYin Tang of JianJie

There is a little temple rarely known in rural JianJie, Shanxi Province of China.  This little temple is only 350 square meters but contains a huge amount of statuettes, carvings of the Ming Dynasty.  Presently, the temple is under the protection of Shanxi Province Arts and Culture Heritage.  Therefore, cameras were prohibited inside.  The temple is locked up majority of the time.  If you knock, the doorman would open for you to visit.

The entrance to the temple grounds which is approximately 7500 sq. meters

The main temple, GuanYin Tang was build from 1581 to 1583 during the Ming Dynasty.

The name plaque is a work of Gao Qin, Assistant minster of Ministry of War in Ming Dynasty
The right cypress

The two, thousand year-old cypress guarding the GuanYin Temple.  Inside the temple contains carving and statuettes hanging from the ceilings.  The three main Statues facing the door is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Manjshri Bodhisattva and Samanabhadra Bodhisattva.  Covering the walls from top to bottom are carvings including 18 Arhats, 24 levels of heavens, 12 Prayekabuddha.  One can also find statuette of immortals of Taoism and 72 virtuous individuals.  Above the entrance, one can see three statues of Laozi, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Confucius.

Confucious, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Laozi

There are a total of 500 statuette ranging from 2 meters to 2 millimeters plus intricate carvings are truly a treasure trove.

This village temple, although small but still made room for different religions, shown that even during Ming Dynasty, people respect different religious beliefs and teachings.

 

Han Yang Ling(漢陽陵)

Han Yang Ling(漢陽陵)

An underground Mausoleum of Western Han Dynasty, the tomb of the fourth  Han Emperor Jing and Empress Wang located in Xianyang City of Shaanxi Province, China.  The tomb was built around 153AD.  Each pit was arranged according to the different departments in the palace so that life would be able to continue after death as usual.  There is a pit of the kitchen with kitchen utensils and terra-cotta figurines of cooks and workers.   All the figurines found were without arms or clothes because the arms were made of wood so they along with the clothes had decayed.  There were approximately 50,000 terra cotta figurines found so far along with different artifacts.   The burial ground covers an area of 20 square kilometers but only a portion has been excavated and open to the public.  The rest will still be preserved underground til a later date.  There are figurines of sheep, goats, cows, pigs, chickens, and dogs kept in the pit for food storage.  Another contained actual grains and vegetables had all turned to black powder like coal.    Picture taking was not allowed so these are only pictures found on the internet to give my reader a visual impression.  Below is the pit of the concubine figurines

Below are samples of the different artifacts found

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Anshun, Guizhou, China

Located in the middle of Guizhou (貴州) and next to Guiyang (貴陽) is the city of Anshun.  It is a prefectural city covers 9,256 sq. kilometers and 30%  of its populations are of the 55 Chinese ethnic minorities.

night view of Anshun
night view of Anshun
Anshun bridge at night
Anshun bridge at night

There is a museum with collections of different artifacts of the ethnic minorities of China.  They demonstrated that the ethnic minorities of China have a rich culture as well and quite skilled in embroideries, silver smith, music and etc.

silver headdress
silver headdress
silver headdress and accessories
silver headdress and accessories
musical instruments
musical instruments
Miao’s dress
Yao’s dress

 

 

 

The famous feather dress
Yao’s drum tower

The drum tower is to summon the Yao’s people that a meeting is required or visitors are coming or danger is approaching.  Yao’s woman works in the fields while their husbands go out to work as silversmiths.  Each year the husband works as a silversmith, the woman would cut a length of their skirt until a certain length has been reached and then the husband stay home and take care of the family.

Near Anshun, about 40 minutes away,  we come to the largest village of Miao ethnic minority.  There is about 1250 household settled here.  The name is One Thousand Household Miao Village of XiJiang(西江).  It is under construction to retain its original structure.  To enter, we need to buy an admission ticket.  Inside one can find the village winding paths and many stores that offer food, silver trinkets, crafts, and hostels.  It has changed to a tourist attraction and the Miaos here has entered into the business of tourism.

an oveerview of the Miao Vaillage
an overview of the Miao Village

 

another overview of the village where rental costumes are provided for picture taking
another overview of the village where rental costumes are provided for picture taking
village street with stores on both sides
the village street with stores on both sides
typical Miao's houses build along the hill sided to preserve the more level ground for agriculture.
typical Miao’s houses build along the hill sided to preserve the more leveled ground for agriculture.
A bridge in the village

Due to lack of flat ground for planting crops, The Miaos learn to step cultivate the side of the mountainside for planting.  It is also good for irrigating the crops.

step cropping on mountainside
step cropping on mountainside

 

 

 

 

 

 

A welcoming performance showed off their traditional dance and gorgeous costumes.  Started with greetings by offerings of wine and tea.  Also included a world class performance of music by blowing on a piece of leaf.

chicken dance
chicken dance
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chickens are very important food source for the Miao.
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About an hours away by bus from Anshun is Huanggoushu Waterfall (黃果樹) the translation is Yellow Fruit Tree.  Yes, that is because there are a lot of trees around the fall that bears yellow fruits that turn the whole mountain yellow.  It is the largest fall in China.  It is about 74 meters tall and 81 meters wide.  It is special that one can view it from the top, bottom, left, right and behind, on foot.  The water falls from Baishui (白水河) River. So one can walk along the trail by the river to see where the fall begins.  There is a Pavilion beside the Rhinoceros pool where one can see from the bottom of the fall.  Behind the fall is a natural cave named Water Curtain Cave, that have openings where one can experience the waterfall from behind it.  While walking up and down the mountain to the Water Curtain Cave, one can get the view of the waterfall from the sides.

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Up river from Huanggoushu Waterfall is the Doupotang (陡坡塘) Waterfall.  It is about 105 meters wide and 21 meters high.

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The Doupotang Park has many picturesque sights.  Many scenes were used to shot the movie Journey to the West (西遊記).  These scenes may jog some memories.

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The monk and his 3 disciples met with temptations. Above is piggie surrounded by spider maidens.
The monk and his 3 disciples met with temptations on their journey to the west to collect scriptures. Above is piggie surrounded by spider maidens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

chicken standing upside down
Greeting Lion at the entrance of the Cave

Our next stop is the Dragons Cave of Gods.  It is located within the Huangguoshu Park.  It belongs to the Buiyi ethnic minority of China.  BuiYi people worship Dragons.  This cave used to be their gathering place.  It is about 38 sq. meters and length are 4640 meters although only 1600 meters are open to

can you find the large and small dragons?
twisting dragon on a pole

the public.  The average height is about 21 meters.  It is connected to the underground water source of Haugguoshu Waterfall.  If you look closely and with your imagination you will find lots of dragons hidden, lurking in the background.

The gods looking down

Before I leave this page.  I must mention that Guizhou is also well known for its wine.  It is said that Guizhou has the natural climate for good wine and most noted is Maotai.  Maotai is scarce and expensive but try other wine of Guizhou, one will find it to be of good quality also.