We wanted to go to Longtan Canyon today, but it was not to be. It is not to be. We went to the right bus station (diagonally across from the train station) and stood in line. It is the start of a three day public holiday, so the crowd was intense. The line moved fairly well though and it was only 15 minutes or so before we got to the counter. There was only one ticket left! Either Anna or I could go, but not both. Oh well. We skipped buying it and made our way out to decide what to do. Do we just grab our bags and head to Denfeng? Or try again tomorrow. We decided to see if we could get tickets to Shaolin Temple, and tickets to Longtan tomorrow. Back in line. Luckily it is the same bus station for each.
This was possible, we had our tickets for tomorrow, as well as tickets to Shaolin for today. This just meant that we wouldn’t stay in Denfeng and would do the temple as a day trip from here.
A wait at the bus station then we were off for the 2 hour trip to THE Shaolin Temple. Famous for it’s warrior monks and one of the historically most important places for Kungfu. Many martial arts movies were set here or based on the Shaolin legends. The bus ride was rather boring, past kilns and abandoned factories, flat land as far as the eye could see and then the mountains popped up. We wound around the side of the mountain and were dropped off at the entrance gate. Handy.
Getting our tickets (100 yuan) and going in. It was a hot day, so we were lazy and got the battery bus (15 yuan) to the far end of the scenic spot as otherwise it would have been a 2km walk. This takes you past the temple and associated buildings to the pagoda park. From here you can walk or catch a cable car up into the mountain proper and walk all the way to Dengfeng. Although we would not be doing that today.
We walked around the Pagoda Park, and as named it is a large area filled with pagodas for the important personages from the monastery that have passed away. The bigger the more important.
In the past you were able to walk amongst the pagodas, but now there is a fence around the whole thing. Not that surprising given the number of tourists that are here every day. It is just a pity that the signs explaining the history of the most important pagodas are still at the base of said pagoda and too far away to read.
After this we walked down towards the temple complex, but on the way found a sign to the Dharma Cave. Ohh Goody! We went for it. The walk to the cave was signposted as two kilometres, and there was even the odd bit of shade over the path. This was leading up into the mountain and what we thought was about halfway was a small temple. It was a very old wooden one that claims to be the oldest surviving wooden temple in the province. The temple was stunning, the columns were all carved, and inside the walls were all painted up. There were several buildings in the complex, and some were more deteriorated than others, but it was well worth the walk to go see it.
We were also accosted for a photo shoot. Basically a bubbly short lady walked up and inserted herself between us to get a photo! The others here, on noticing our reaction (laughing!) all decided they wanted their photos taken as well. This went on for almost 10 minutes and there were a lot of photos taken. As individuals, as a group, each other, and different combinations of people. Honestly, I think there must be something trending on webo with us. Have you seen these foreigners? Take a photo of them and post it on this site… It must be something like this with the amount of photos that are being taken. If this is the case you can track our entire trip through China based on the selfies of other people!
Photos done and we continued our walk. It got a bit harder now. The cave was listed as 800m away and the peak of the mountain at 1000m. We joked that the cave was a little niche in the wall below the peak, although we did hope that the path diverged.
The steps started. Then they didn’t stop. So much for the different path idea. Anna decided to take a break in the shade and wait for me to go up for a look. She had the better option! The climb was mostly in the sun. The steps old and uneven in places and very steep. However I eventually made it to the cave. Lo and behold. It was a small grotto in the hillside below the peak! Apparently some monk spent 9 years in the cave. It was just big enough to turn around in, and if you took out the statue of Buddha you may even be able to lie down. A great place to spend 9 years. Especially for a Chinese person before in invention of smart phones!
On the way up I met a Dutchman doing the same hike so we continued on together. As we were almost there, we decided on the peak. The climb had been a bit tough, but the view from the top was worth it. You could look back through the valley the temple was in, and out the other side. The day was fairly clear and there was only a little haze (just enough to ruin photos, but not enough to block your view), then it was back down the mountain. Past all the little stalls set up along the way selling drinks, incense, beads and other trinkets.
Meeting back up with Anna and to the main temple. Here we parted ways with our walking companion and went into the Shaolin temple. This has been completely rebuilt in the 80’s and 90’s (not surprising) and is thronging with tourists. In all honesty, it is something to say we have seen, rather than being something you must see. The temple is a good example of a temple. The layout is traditional with different halls behind each other with buildings flanking the sides, but there are many more impressive temples out there.
There is meant to be some sort of Kungfu demonstration that is included with our tickets, but there is no sign anywhere in the temple complex on where this would be, so we went out and continued back to the entrance. On the other side of the small (mostly dried up) stream that is running down the valley is another hall. Built in 1995 it houses 500 golden Arhats. These guys were kind of cool, but in mostly standard positions. There were very few weird and quirky characters which was also a bit disappointing. Although the alcoholic one was going for it in a big way with a jug he could hardly lift. The statue on the other side seemed to have his eyes bulging and tongue hanging out as if to say “You cant drink all of it, pass it over already!”
Further down we found the training centre. The demonstrations are put on here. Timing was still with us as the next show started in a couple of minutes. They seem to be held on the hour and the 4pm show was the second last. Going straight in, we tried to get into the auditorium. There was no room,but we did find a staircase going up. This area was even worse for a view so we went back downstairs. Going inside we walked passed a few people to get to the front of the aisle and took a seat on the ground. It was actually a fairly good position to watch the performance from.
The performance was fairly simple with a range of children and young men showing off their skills. Quite entertaining, and showcasing how difficult it really is. It was detracted a bit by the fact that half way through they stopped to try and sell DVD’s of the performance or some other show. This took a while, and another part of the show was having a few volunteers on stage to show how hard the forms are. Those two sections were about half of the performance. The rest was pretty good though. When I was young, I have a memory of my parents taking me to see the Shaolin monks when they performed in Australia, and it was nothing on those levels, but the endurance and ability of these children is worth seeing.
That was it, we had done the park (except those bits we hadn’t done) and headed out. On the way, we passed a parade ground that was filling up with students from the school. It could have been something interesting, but for the time that we watched what was going on we only saw a couple of groups going through a role call, and more groups streaming in to sit on their little stools, get up, move, and sit again. It could have been something very interesting, but we will never know. As we walked out,the stream of students stretched off into the distance, so it would have taken quite some time for everyone to assemble.
All in all a good day, and we even caught a bus back to town quickly! There are no end of touts and taxi’s waiting for you. The private bus we caught cost the same amount as the official one, so we didn’t mind.