Sunday, November 17, 2013

Demons in the mountains... (China Trip part 5 of 6)

The final part of our journey in China was a “spiritual” leg (see map). We started off from Taiyuan and drove through the Wutai mountains to to the sacred temples of Wutai Shan. The Wutai mountains are one of the Four Sacred Mountains in Chinese Buddhism. Each of the four sacred mountains are viewed as the home of one of the four great Bodhisattvas; Wutai is the home of the Bodhisattva of wisdom. Buddhist monks from all over the world journey here to become enlightened. There is also a local population of monks who capitalise on the tourists (us) that visit the temples. The whole experience in the mountains did feel a bit like the Las Vegas of Buddhism with many gold plated hotels and neon lights promising the chance to become spiritual. We visited quite a number of different temples and saw many many buddha statues, prayer wheels, incense burners, prayer flags, etc.

The second day in the mountains we attempted to squash over a 1000 demons by climbing the 1052 (Carina’s count) steps to the Luohou temple. This was quite a grueling task. However, we passed a number of people much more committed than us, who knelt down on each step and kissed it while proceeding up the mountain. At the top of the mountain we were rewarded with a beautiful view and yet another temple.

We went down with a open cable car enjoying the view and light rain.

On our way to Datong city (our next destination), we passed the hanging temples of Xuankong. This was unfortunately closed due to the heavy rains and we thus need to go back to visit. Below is a picture of the temple in the background (the temple is actually built on the side of the mountain!).

Our next overnight stop was a town in Ying County, close to Datong city of which the main attraction was a wooden tower. This tower, called the Fogong Temple Pagoda, was built without the use of any nails, screws or metal. Each wooden piece fitted into each other like a large wooden puzzle. The tower is unfortunately aging (built in 1056) and its intricate structure makes it impossible to repair without destroying the whole structure.

We had some nice food in this town. This area is famous for their ribbon like noodles. We also had a memorable and, spicy fish, dish with tofu and a interesting “salad” - aloe. The aloe is not bitter at and has a slightly sweet and fresh taste.

The next day we visited the Yungang Grottoes. This is a world heritage site and has some of the oldest evidence (5th century AD) of buddhism establishing in China. There are 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes cut into the sandstone. We were also entertained by a story performed in the traditional shadow play style.

Also at the grottoes is a bronze replica of the Ficus Sycomorus tree under which the Buddha sat when he became enlightened. Below is a picture for Jaco who would appreciate this relic.

After the visit to the grottoes we went to Datong city to catch the overnight train back to Beijing. We slept in a very nice comfortable compartment but were rudely awakened at 4 in the morning to exit the train on arrival in Beijing, to start yet another hard day of touristing (at the Forbidden city - see the conclusion of our China trip here)

The next and last post will be on our general impressions as foreign demons in the land of ancient wisdom...


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