knock, knock, knock.
It was 5:30am. The employee of China Railway company knocked the door and woke us up. We shared the small room with another couple from Barcelona. We hardly slept 5 hours and were tired after four full days discovering the capital of China, Beijing. We put on our clothes, went to the bathroom and closed the luggage. The train arrived to its destination, Datong.
When we went out the Datong Train Station, Nancy was waiting for us. She was the guide that we booked, from DatongTrip. She, the driver, two other Catalan guys and us started the day going to the hanging temple, also named Xuankong. This temple is older than 1,400 years and it was built during the Northern Wei Dynasty, then rebuilt again many times. Standing 50 metres high in the air, the temple is unique not only in its concern for harmony and order, but also in its contents. At the Hanging Temple, its 40 perilous halls and pavilions lean straight over Golden Dragon Canyon.
As you can see in the featured image at the top of this post, the hanging temple is spectacular. If you focus on the right hand side of the hanging temple you will realize it is the head of a dragon and the rest of the temple towards the left hand side is the body of the dragon. The dragon in China is considered a wise and powerful creature, whose presence has been always synonymous with good omens.
Nancy explained us that this temple is the only temple in china devoted to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. In our visit through the temple, which is divided in three different and very narrow floors, we could go in different small chappels and halls. There is a total of 40 different rooms. In the room of the three religions you can spot the statues of Sakyamuni (middle), Lao-Tze (left) and Confucius (right), which are enshrined in the hall. This reflects the prevailed idea of Three Teaching Harmonious as One (三教合流) in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911).
If you look from the hanging temple to the other side of the Golden Dragon Canyon you can see three big red characters printed on the rocky walls. They also reflect the Three Teaching Harmonious with Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. As you can imagine this is a very good place to start understanding the chinese culture, how old it is and how it affects every day of chinese people. And there is no better way to discover this than with someone that explains it like Nancy did.
After this unmissable visit in China we continued with the car towards the Yungang Grottoes, another ancient jewel. When we arrived to the site we first had lunch in one of the restaurants that can be found in the touristic avenue just after the entrance. There are more than 50 major caves and all the site is considered World Heritage from 2001.
We started visiting the smaller ones and we were surprised by the size and also by the high detail of the decoration inside them. It is a mystic and also spectacular visit that makes you try to travel to the 5th and 6th century, when they were excavated.
The Yungang Grottoes are the best preserved Buddhist cave art in China and they are part of the Silk Road tour. In this historic place many people from all Asia met each other and this was a place of cultural and knowledge exchange. The caves are divided into three parts: the eastern (caves 1-4), the middle, with Buddha statues in the center (caves 5-13), and the western (caves 14-53) parts. In total there are more than 51.000 Buddha statues.
We highly recommend the twin caves 5/6, 7/8 and 9/10 as well as 11, 12 and 13. The number 6 is the richest of the Yungang caves. It was constructed between 465 and 494 A.D. by Emperor Xiao Wen. The cave’s surface area is approximately 1.000 square metres. The entire interior of the cave is carved and painted. There is a stupa pillar in the center of the room extending from the floor to the ceiling. The walls are divided into two stories. The walls of the upper stories are host to carvings of standing Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and monks among other celestial figures. We never saw something like this before.
We ended the visit having an icecream in the extreamly hot afternoon. Nancy and the driver took us towards the train station and we waited for our next adventure: 8 hours train from Datong to Pingyao, the best preserved ancient city of China. But this will be explained in a future post.