26 May 2017

Longman Grottoes

I am going to keep it short. I promise. Well, at least the first section anyway, as the grottoes are a different story.

It was with a bit of excitement yesterday as we went down the escalator to board the train. We had our Mongolian Visa, we have our tickets, and we are getting out of Beijing. All in all things were looking up.

This is China.

Our carriage was at the far end of the train and we had to hurry to make it on time. As we moved down the carriages from 1 to our 17 we saw the quality change. First Class Sleepers, Second Class Sleepers, Dining Car and normal seating. What? We had sleeper tickets. Are there more sleeper carriages at the end of the train? No. We had been sold seating tickets. We were fuming as we tried to get onto the carriage. This was not right. We had booked the tickets three days early just to make sure this wouldn’t happen! The carriage was already full to overflowing. Seriously. There was no room to move at all. With us,our bags and our seats being at opposite ends of the long narrow and very full aisle we were in for a challenge. On arriving at our seats, we found squatters already in them with bags. They refused to move anything so we threw the bags in the aisle. That got their attention, and we were able to make room for us on the seats and the bags in the aisle as well. By now the train was even fuller. Think sardine tin. We would expect this in India from what we have heard. Not China. The third world country trying to be a first world country was showing its true colours well and truly on this trip.

So having said that, I will not convey how bad the rest of the trip was. Just that it was an overnighter and we had to wake up every time someone went past for whatever reason to move the bags. We seriously cannot express how bad that trip was. I think it rivalled Egypt. Ok to be fair, it was not quite that bad but it came very close. Just because some little turkey thought he could speak English well enough to sell us the wrong tickets as he couldn’t be bothered reading the Chinese in front of him. We know tickets were available as we looked them up on Ctrip at the counter to show him what we wanted. He still got it wrong. Who wants to take seating tickets for a 10pm to 8am trip when you can get a bed?!? That is the last time we book a sleeper at the station. We will just do it online.

Now that is out of my system (you got the censored version)…..

Luoyang. We had a tout take us to a hotel. It was acceptable and in the right price bracket, so no stuffing around looking for a hotel that will take foreigners. I don’t think that would be a problem here as there were plenty of touts and lots of hotels / hostels.

A bit of time to boil the kettle, coffee and freshen up. Those coffee sachets are invaluable sometimes.

Now we had to find Bus 81. It was the tip given to us by the tout. This bus will apparently take you all the way to the entrance. The bus leaves the station from the right side (as you are looking at the railway station). Easy to find and we were off. The bus was a double decker and we got the front of the top! This gave us a great view of driving through another typical Chinese city. We weren’t sure if we had enough photos of these, and to practice for our marathon session coming up, Anna went a bit snap happy.

The drive took us through the main streets of town, past a couple of large sculptures, a massive Pagoda, the industrial sector of town, over the river and far far away. The Longman Grottoes are about 20km or so from the railway station, and town goes almost that entire distance. The bus did indeed drop us almost at the entrance. Well, the ticket office anyway. We paid our 100 yuan each and set off to find the grottoes. This involved about 1km of road that has large covered fencing on either side as they build the new “old town” to go with this AAAAA tourist attraction (As it is not finished yet, we thought that the 5A’s were a bit optimistic, as with the lack of shopping opportunities it should have been AAA, or AAAA at most. The walk didn’t even have battery bus!)

This took us to the old ticket office that is actually at the entrance to the Grottoes. Don’t bother asking why they changed it to the middle of nowhere, that is just China.

Going in, and we found a map that gave the layout of the grottoes. There is also a small museum here. The first level was modern contemporary pottery with some brilliant pieces. The second floor is all about the ancient silk road and how china benefited from it (In conjunction with the new Belt &Road program they are trying to implement along the silk road), then there is the floor dedicated to the building of the museum (What they have here as plans, and how the building actually turned out are two different things) and the basement is full of statues and carvings that they have torn from the rocks to stack up here separated by cardboard. Some of the pieces are exquisite, but just lying on the floor gathering dust. It was very depressing to see, but at least the pieces are out of the weather.

Back outside and we were where the battery buses drop you off after the walk. So there are buses (10 yuan, pay about 2/3 of the way through the park to go back to the beginning)

There are about 1km of cliff walls along the side of the Yi river that contain the Longmen carvings, then a bridge and a few things to see on the other side. You are only allowed to do the loop in one direction, but that wasn’t too bad. Stylised boats are plying their trade running up and down the river on short cruises, and there is a large walkway reflecting the sun back up at you with the occasional tree for shade. It was a hot day!

The first carvings were made in the Northern Wei Dynasty back under Emporer Xiaowen in 493 AD. This marked the start of the capital being moved to Luoyang. 2300 caves and niches with more than 100,000 Buddhist images. There are also 2800+ inscriptions (Some is very old graffiti)

So basically there are a few main sections with very well preserved carvings. There are lots of empty holes in the wall where carvings have weathered away, been destroyed or just taken for souvenirs (they really need to get those gift shops finished). There are lots of statues that are just missing their heads. The size of the Buddhas range from tiny things just a few centimetres high to the massive ones that you always see the photos of (Insert photo of Giant Buddha here….)

We spent at least three hours following the stairs up and down checking out everything we could see. It is very easy to get 1000’s of Buddhas in a count when he was carved into the sides of the niches like wall paper. These small figurines festooned every surface. Our thoughts were that you had to be proficient in carving these little fellows before you could move on and do larger ones.

As a whole, the cliff face is dotted with holes. Some small, some large. Some have roofs carved into them, or guardian statues at the front of the opening, and even small spaces are taken up with carvings.

Some of the more important caves had elegant carvings behind the statues on the walls, and the details on the bodies were intricately carved as well.

The larger caves are probably in the best condition, as it is easy to chisel off a 2cm head, but harder to take a 200 ton head as a lawn ornament.

So the grottoes done (I could give you more info on them, but it is all on Wikipedia anyway, so what’s the point? I could possibly could write more, but you should probably just check out the pictures. ) we crossed the bridge looking at the lush green national park next door (closed due to construction according to the sign) and up the other side. Here there are a few more carvings, as well as the remains of the old path that was created to get to them. The original steps are in another building behind glass, Xiangshan Temple that Chiang Kai-Shek apparently used as his summer residence to plot the destruction of the CCP.

Then there was the burial place of Bai Juyi. Bai Juyi. He was apparently a “poor” drunk poet that had been given millions of dollars to restore the temple. He is said to have lived the typical struggling artists life except that he managed to get all these funds from somewhere as well as being buried in a mound on top of the hill bigger than some Emperor’s tombs! Not bad work if you can get it.

That done, we headed back to town, exhausted but happy that we had done them.

On another note, the tour groups hit the grottoes in the afternoon while we were on the other side. We don’t want to say it (If you are planning on going to China stop reading here) The Longmen Grottoes are probably one of the most famous sites for Buddhist rock carvings, and as we have only seen two so far we will recommend for ALL tourists to go to it. On NO circumstances would I recommend Dazu over here, even if it is quieter. Dazu was much better. Yes, it is smaller, but overall the quality, depictions and stories of Dazu were much better and preserved than here. This way Dazu is left in peace. I repeat, DO NOT GO TO DAZU! If you don’t believe me, check out the Dazu Blog.

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