Datong, Shanxi Province
by CS Koh
(Beijing, PR China)
View of Buddhist carvings in one of the Yungang Grottoes
Another one of the Yungang Grottoes
Hanging Monastery, Hengshan
There are 3 major clusters of Buddhist grottoes in China, the most well-known of which is in Dunhuang and the largest in Luoyang. The lesser known of the three are the Yungang Grottoes (photos 1 & 2) in Datong, Shanxi Province.
To reach there, one can take the 6-hour train ride from Beijing which starts the journey at around 1 am and arrives in Datong at around 7 am.
This is adequate rest for one who sleeps easily in a train cabin and sharing it with strangers (unless you have at least groups of 4 travelling together).
After a hearty breakfast, you would be ready to jump into a cab or tour vehicle which only takes about 15 minutes to reach the grotto site from the city centre.
The Yungang Grottoes consist of 53 caves with more than 51,000 stone Buddhist statues which were intricately carved out of the hilly terrain. The photo (taken using a Canon EOS 400D SLR) shows the exquisite details of the painted carvings.
One does not need to be a Buddhist to feel overawed by the painstaking work of the master craftsmen who created the grottoes.
Having stayed in China for about 10 years and travelled around the country extensively, this is one site which had left an indelible imprint upon me and my wife and I even went back for a second visit just to soak in the captivating sights.
As an added incentive, one can also visit the Hanging Monastery (photo 3), built 50m above the gorge in Mount Hengshan, which is situated 65 km from Datong.