Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Datong - Yungang Grottoes

View Inner Mongolia Trip in a larger map

The next stop on my trip during the October Holiday was in Datong, which is located in the northern part of Shanxi province, right next to Inner Mongolia. Datong and Shanxi province are mostly known as big coal mining areas and Datong has previously been ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world, although recently it has been cleaned up a bit. Upon arrival at the train station, I could definitely tell that the city was a lot dirtier and less developed than other cities I had been to in China. At night they didn't have many lights on, so on some streets, even in the downtown, it would be almost completely dark. The hotel I stayed at was one of the few reasonably priced hotels I could find, but unfortunately it was close to the train station. Whenever I went outside I would constantly get harassed by the hawkers and other people who normally lurk about train stations in China, offering rides in unlicensed cabs, selling crap, or anything else. Something else I noticed was the large number of guys just peeing on the streets or right out in the open. You might see that here and there in other parts of China, but in Datong it was literally all over the place. Needless to say, my impression of the city itself is pretty poor.

Despite all the negatives, Datong has two big tourist attractions that make the visit worthwhile. The first is the Yungang Grottoes, or sometimes called the Cloud Ridge Caves. The grottoes are around 1500 years old and contain thousands (51,000 according to wikipedia) of Buddhist carvings, some of which are quite small and others that are huge. It's amazing to think that people were able to build something like that so long ago.

Yungang Grottoes

Grottoes with Buddhist Carvings

Giant Buddha (Notice Man Holding Up the Arm)

Close Up of Small Carvings

Hall of Many Buddhas

Wall of Buddhas

Big Buddha

Large Section of Grottoes with Fellow American Tourist

There were several sections or caves to enter, over 50 in all, but unfortunately in the two best caves they didn't allow pictures. I tried to sneak a few pictures, but got yelled out. Despite my best efforts, the forbidden pictures turned out pretty blurry.

Inside Cave

"Illegal" Picture

There was also a series of smaller "caves" that were basically little squares cut into the stone with small sculptures inside. These were less of a tourist draw and fewer people were there, but you could go and take a closer look at some of them without being hurried along or being crowded by people, which was nice.

Small Caves

At the very front there was a large Buddha that was exposed to the outside world. Apparently, the cave had collapsed awhile back, so now it's out in the open. It was one of the more interesting things to see and also a good chance to get a good full view of one of the Buddhas.

Buddha with Collapsed Cave

Side View

Some People Who Asked to Take a Photo with us "Foreigners"

While the Yungang Grottoes might not be a full day visit, it's definitely worth a trip to the area outside the city to see some of these historical relics. Some of the carvings are crumbling and show their age, but to me that makes them even better than something that has been restored in a poor way and has an artificial look.

After going back to Datong city, we got some lunch at a Chinese barbecue, which is basically an array of different meats, tofu, and vegetables on sticks, including full fish with head, fins, and all.

Chinese BBQ for Lunch

For more pictures, see the picasa album: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/Datong#


Phil Dawsey said...

I like how they carved it straight into the stone (or at least that's how it seems) instead of importing stone. Do you know what the little holes in lots of the carvings are?