16 June 2017

Datong Hanging Temple and Datong old town

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14 June 2017

Datong Yungang Grottoes

07 June 2017

Taiyuan

A park

Thats it.

We are in Taiyuan. It was another stop off point to get us to Pingyao. While here we wanted to see a couple of things. Mostly were the two different grottoes here. There is Tianlongshan which is a Buddhist series of grottoes to the south west of town, and Longshan grottoes that we think are to the south east. These are Taoist, and a lot smaller. We started with the Longshan grottoes, as they will be the most different from what we have seen. We were not expecting much as it is only 8 or so grottoes and most of the carvings have been destroyed.

Getting directions from the hotel we ended up on bus 308. We missed our stop and ended up at Jinci Temple. Apparently one of the most important temples in the province. This is supposed to be about 10-20km from the Buddhist grottoes of Tianlongshan.

Since we were here, we decided to walk around. The first section is a large garden complex and well laid out. Grass, trees, massive ponds and small streams and bridges. It was even free! Most of the people on our bus ended up here, and it is easy to see why. It is a great place to hang out and enjoy a sunny day. People were weeding the grass for edible plants, others were picnicking and even more were having their wedding photos taken.

There were a few buildings around, linked to a general from the region in the 1920’s and 30’s. They were very open about the new buildings as well. A lot were from 2003 or 2007.

Wandering around the complex we made our way up to the top. Here is the walled off section of Jinci Temple. We decided against paying the 80 yuan to go in. It was only a temple complex anyway. We have seen a lot, and are a bit over the entrance fees for them. If they were 5 or 10, not a problem. Even the Cathedrals of Europe are only 1 or 2 Euro (although that may have changed by now) and not the 15-20 that they want here. We may or may not have made a bad decision, but there are only so many temples you can see. We had also come here to see the grottoes.

The touts here wanted to charge us 100 yuan or so to drive us out to Tianlongshan one way (we have given up on Longshan as it is to the east and miles away from here), but we could take a bus most of the way to Qingxu. Another small town where we could get transport there.

The bus took us most of the way to Qingxu, but stopped 5km out of the town? Oh well, we arranged for a tuktuk to take us. Well, we thought we would cut out the town and negotiated for the grottoes. We thought we were still overpaying with 100 for a return trip.

 But we had to get there somehow and he would wait for us and take us back, no time limit, and so we set off.
Passing through Qingxu, we saw a large lake with a couple of islands and pavilions then through the city and into the industrial heartland of the region. Chemical factories. Coal plants, coal trucks, coal dust and more industry. If you haven’t guessed from the last couple of days, this entire region runs on coal or digs it up, or processes it, or sprays it over the road.

After a very long drive with us being a bit worried, as there were no brown signs (these are the signs that tell you what tourist attractions are around. Most of the time they even have English), we were dumped at the Hanging Mountain?!? This is an arboretum. A massive staircase stretching half way up the mountain, and nothing else. Why would he take us here? We had a massive argument over the phone translator, when we found out he could hardly read, or read at all. We were pissed.

After half an hour of this he agreed to take us to Tianlongshan, as he now knew where we wanted to go. Or so we thought.

Driving back he dropped us behind Jinci Temple. The tuktuk wouldn’t make it up the hill, and he stopped. He then expected us to pay someone else for the rest of the trip

That was it. We gave up and headed back to town. By the time we would have gotten to the grottoes they would be closed. (Besides we still don’t know if he was taking us the right way this time) What a waste of time and money.

Still,it was a REALY good park. If you are in the region you should go. Tell us what the temple was like as well. We should have done that and called it a day.

06 June 2017

Niangziguan

We left Jingxing early this morning to take a train directly to Niangziguan. We are going there to break our trip to Taiyuan, and is supposed to have a few small things to see, including sections of the Great Wall.

The trip was fairly short considering that it was a regional train and we were stopping at every little platform out along the way. Most of these consisted of a couple of lines of cracked and missing tiles with weeds growing up through them. A far cry from the Jingxing station that was mostly perfect, except it was being ripped up to be replaced.

On our map program Jingxing had a whole two streets marked, even though it is quite large by Australian standards. Niangziguan had a train station. No streets, so we were under no pretenses of going to a big place. We were not disappointed. The train station takes you out to a grey street and coal dust. Jingxing had enough coal dust, but here it is everywhere. There were a few touts here to take us to a section of the wall that is out of town, but we thought we would do the town section first.

Following a few other people that got off the train as well, we turned right from the station. You can also see the wall behind the station up on the hill. This was the right direction and after walking for about ten minutes we arrived at the ticket office. Tickets are relatively cheap at 27 yuan each! A real bargain. Then it is up a reconstructed cobblestone path to the gatehouse. This path would never have been so bad back in the day. Carts that took this path would have had the driver get out and carry the cart and horse up the hill, as it is so badly constructed.

Speaking of horses, an enterprising person had found a life sized stuffed black horse and stuck it halfway up the path, hoping to attract people to sit on it and get their photo taken. It was so tacky and weird we were almost tempted!!

The gatehouse has been made to a better level, and imposes itself over you. Going through the wall takes you to an old street. We wanted to walk this, but were unable to do so, as the third person to check our tickets was yelling at us to go up the wall. We didn’t see what the issue was, but maybe it is a looped track, and we will return through the street.

The start of the walk is steps. No surprises here. It is the great wall, and usually along the mountains and hills, as well as being china. Why have a slope when you can have steps?

These steps were hard though. Straight up, uneven and very tall steps. It gets you to the top quickly.

At the top we were at a reconstructed section of the wall. Identical to every other bit of the wall we have done. The same brickwork, and interchangeable except for the views. It is as if every section of wall was built in the Qing dynasty and renovated by the same company in the early 2000’s. We hope this changes further west, as we know there were many different styles of construction and looks to the wall over its long history.

That said, we had a pleasant stroll along the wall going above the town, and to the far mountain. The wall is a steep drop on the side looking out over the river and town, and is almost at road level on the other. There were a couple of sections where you can just walk off the wall and onto the road going beside it. On that side there are terraces and other cropping or orchids.

There is only the one building on the wall itself, and then a bit further is a new stele that is already falling apart. We think it commemorates the revamp and opening of this section. Then a bit further along it ends. You can see where the wall would have continued as there is a big scar going up the hillside. I had thought was a stream bed or a small landslide. It is the remains of the wall that have been taken away so this new thing could be built. (….)

Then it was back the other way, and down the same steps as it did not continue in the other direction. At least we were now able to walk that street we had mentioned before. It was thrilling. The houses were actually old. There are not enough tourists coming here to have it lined with market stalls and is actually a place where people live. OK, the buildings were built out of the old wall, and needed a lot of TLC, but it was a walk back in time. For about 100 metres before it ended in a dead end. There was another gate house here, and that has been restored rather than recreated. You can see the difference between the old bricks and the new ones. To give it its due, they are the same style of bricks as the rebuilt wall, so it is how the wall would have looked. We would have liked to climb up to the top, but the stairway was in somebody’s back yard. It was easily the best part of this section of wall.

Now we followed the road along the river to see the Shuiliandong Waterfall. A direct translation of this is “curtain” as it is supposed to form a curtain across the river as it drops about 13 meters and is however wide. The river has very little water though.

The pictures we have seen must have been taken over 20 years ago when there was plenty of water flowing down, rather than this stream of today. As usual, if there is anything to be seen, there is a wall around it, and an entrance fee. This time it was 20 yuan. We decided to skip it. Mostly because I couldn’t be bothered paying AU$5 each for a waterfall on a main river in a town. Iguazu Falls? Sure. Wallaman? If they had charged for it we would have paid. Elizabeth Falls? If we ever get there, defiantly. Some trickle of water in a hick no nothing town? Nah.

That done, we walked back to the train station. We knew there was a train around 4:30, but having explored a supposedly “cute old town”, seen some “old” wall, and skipped the waterfall, we no longer felt like taking an over priced taxi out to the other section to repeat the process. Could we get an earlier train? Well. The train station was locked up tight. It would not reopen until 3pm. Guess there are no other trains.

That left us a fair few hours to kill. We decided to walk the rest of town. There wasn’t much. The remains of a market along the one main street. It may come alive at night, or just on the weekends, we don’t know. Lots of closed stores and very few people. There is a nice gate at the end of the town looking out over the bridge crossing the river. With nothing else to do, we crossed the bridge. This looks as if it takes you to a large power plant nestled in the gap between the hills. Half way over the bridge we heard a lot of quacking. As there is only a fraction of the river flowing now, there is a lot of empty space. Most of this is taken up with small plots of crops. Under the bridge there was a duck farm. The ducks were all walking together to go into one of the rooms. Very organised and more civilised than a group of Chinese people boarding a popular train. Just as loud though.

On the other side of the river we saw a large pavilion, that seemed to have a circular staircase inside to the second floor, so we decided to see if we could get there. We couldn’t. It is inside a fish farm.

This is the second weird thing in the fish farms today. On the walk to the Wall this morning we had passed a wall on the street. Not unusual, as everything is walled here. There was a hole in the wall, and looking though we saw a beautiful manicured park. Further along we found a gate, but it was locked up tight. Here we could see the shrubs, trees and paths set out very harmoniously. From the wall we could see the park well. It had been turned into a fish farm. On our walks around town we came across the main entrance gate. It used to have a ticket office and everything. Now it is collecting dust and garbage. Weird. Another nice park space for people to enjoy that you are not allowed into!

After a long day, the station finally opened up, and we could get our tickets onwards.

The trip was very scenic, again through the hills and mountains. Mainly following the same river bed. In places it had water, in others it was almost bone dry. A policeman told us to be careful of our stuff. He was very insistent and the rest of the conductors took us under their wings, and we had a great trip to Taiyuan, where we found a tout to take us to a clean and cheap hotel. Even if our room doesn’t have a window. (It is the only thing wrong with it, as the people keep it very clean and for the price we hadn’t expected that!)

05 June 2017

On our way to Cangyangshan

Yesterday was a non event. Travel days usually are, but this one had a twist. Our trains were late (very unusual) and then we ended up in the big city of Shijiazhuang. We were planning on finding a hotel here and going out to some mountains tomorrow, but it took us half an hour to get out of the train station. By luck we ended up on the bus platform for the bus out to the west bus station, but the driver had never heard of it?!? Well, not an auspicious start. Asking around, we confirmed that it is the right bus so caught another one. This took a while, and looking around outside the station didn’t make us want to stay near here. Too many big roads and fences, and how the hell do you get off this platform to road level anyway? It is a really big station!

So, bus 9. Going north. Eventually it went west, but there were very few people on it, and no luggage. Not what you would expect of a bus going to one of the four main bus stations. Still, we had the info from online, confirmed by security. No worries.

The bus basically left town. At the terminus there was nothing. A few carts with people trying to sell us squashed or mouldy fruit and veg, and a traffic police building (These are always huge buildings. We never knew why as it seems as if there are no road laws or if there are, they are not enforced. But then we found out that over 600 people a day die on Chinese roads. That makes a lot of paperwork). Plus a lot of city buses arriving and departing the station. No intercity buses, and we hadn’t passed anything that looked like a bus station.

Anna asked in the terminus, and got told to take the bus we had just caught?!? Then we were taken across the road, and as luck would have it, the bus we needed appeared. Struggling to get our bags on, we paid and set off to Cangyanshan. We hoped.

We were dumped on the side of the road in what for china, was the middle of nowhere. Looking on our map we appeared to be in Jingxing. The town closest to Cangyanshan. It is still 30km away or so, but we were getting closer. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed, as the bus had dropped us at another small bus station, and in twenty minutes a bus would leave here and go to the mountain!
So, the last leg of the journey. This took us through villages, along and through a dry river. The roads and bridges didn’t seem to be working any longer, so we had to go over the river bed in places. Past a lot of bee keepers with hundreds of hives (each) and up into the mountains. The view, when you could get it through the trees, was spectacular. Orange cliffs dominating the landscape and green trees everywhere else. A few cropping areas and villages, but mostly just mountains.

Then we arrived at Cangyanshan. This is a famous place where a princess turned monk reached enlightenment back in the day. It was already close to 5pm, so the park was closing, but we knew there was a hotel here that we could stay in. Turned out that we couldn’t. They no longer accept foreigners (Or the person on duty couldn’t be bothered). We knew that we could get a police dispensation as it is the only hotel here, but on talking to the police they couldn’t be bothered. All talk and no action. A young couple tried to help out, but the concept was too alien for them to understand. Why would we want to stay out here when there is a perfectly good city 2 hours away (well, it was 3 hours for us, as we didn’t know we could get a train to that last town, and the train station didn’t let us know either)

This was a very frustrating time, as the police officer just had to register us and let the hotel know that we could stay there. 10Min tops.

So back to Jingxing, then probably to Shijiazhuang. The young couple didn’t even think that Jingxing was big enough to have a hotel as it only has 700,000 odd people (I don’t know what the population is). Or was it because it is so close to the city?

Our hotel

Someone asked if we wanted a taxi, and we said hotel, then everyone was pointing across the street! Walking over we found out that they would accept us! Yay. No going all the way back to Shijiazhuang to come back out again tomorrow (it was likely that we would skip the entire thing if that was the case). By now it was after 7. Dinner time.

The hills are covered in Solar panels

We were near the train station apparently (we still haven’t seen it yet) and the bus station, and a small polluted creek. There is a small market place serving up all sorts of things, and a great place to eat. We thought it was a little expensive, until the food came out. Hoping it was not a mistake and the dishes were single sizes rather than two orders on one plate, we tucked in. It was huge. And good. Just what we needed after a long gruelling day.

Back at the hotel we got some bad news. We were not allowed to stay! They couldn’t accept foreigners. Deep sigh Just what we needed after all that. It was getting late. There doesn’t seem to be a large amount of hotels here. What to do? We got them to call the police and register us. 5 seconds. No problems. We were all sorted out and allowed to stay after all. Now if only the other hotel had done that, but then we wouldn’t have had the good dinner….

So today, the drive out is covered. A beautiful drive, with lots of mountain landscapes.

What I hadn’t mentioned was that there are 2 temple complexes that would be worth a look if you have your own car, as well as a couple of villages. We don’t, so we didn’t.

Arriving at Cangyanshan again at around 10am, we got our tickets. On line it said 30 yuan, but that has now gone up to 65 yuan. It is also a AAAA rated scenic spot. We think the price increase is because parts of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and other films have been set here.

Now our enlightened princess that used to live here had another story to tell us (We heard it yesterday waiting for the bus). She may be enlightened, but was also a bit devious. When she came to the region, there was a man here that also wanted the same mountain. There was a bit of an argument about who should have it. Later, she came back and buried her shoe under the road. The next day they were back at arguing over the mountain. The man said he was here first and the princess went “A Ha, no, I was here first, and dug up her shoe, proving that the mountain was hers.

Going in is a small temple complex, then lots of steps. 360 or so to go up to the bridge that you can see spanning the two cliffs. This is a beautiful site, that is only slightly marred by the new bridge built in front of it (to get your selfies) Climbing between the cliffs to come out just behind the bridge itself. Then you can walk around to it. There is a shrine within the building but it is all closed off now. You can walk the outside of the bridge and over the new one as well to get some good photos. A very relaxing, peaceful spot except the tour group that had come up by cable car and were screaming at each other up here. Half of them went down the steps so the other half could scream at them and take photos. Wait for long enough and they leave. Who knew that 10 people could make so much noise.

We headed off to explore the paths around the mountain. Apart from the tourist stalls set up, most of which were not working today, there are a few other things to see. There are small shrines on the cliff side, and at the top a “rebuilt” temple from 2003 for the princess that had her tomb. We could go into this, and it was a good thing we took our flash lights, as there were only two little holes near the roof providing the idea of light.

Further around the hill and there is another temple complex. Complete with selfi opportunities that ranged from sitting on a live horse to sitting together in a large fibreglass lock. You could even buy a lock to attach to the chain here to demonstrate the strength of your love for your partner (again closed today)

Now we were at the top of the cliff, and could walk around to the chairlift or take a different path down. There are three pagodas up here, but you are no longer allowed to go to them.

Then a couple of more temples, including a very nice Taoist temple. Going down the other side is mainly just mountain. This was fantastic. Although we enjoyed the temples, and loved the bridge it did seem as if the walk was just from temple to temple and not a walk through the mountain at all. Now we are on the mountain walk. There are sections where you can get up close and personal with the cliff looming above you, small (dry) creek beds in the trees, boulders that have come down in the past and now getting covered in moss, and steps. It was a really nice quiet walk. There were a few sections where you could see the bridge from the other side as well.

A quirky cave of the tiger, where you walk in (again with flash lights) and up some stairs to have a fibreglass tiger staring at you from behind. A bit of a fright if you are not expecting it. Then a pavilion looking out over the valley. It was a shame that the smog had come in during the walk, and everything now had a sheen of grey over it. It is still a great view though.

Finally back down the mountain and a small wait for the bus. We don’t know if we just have good timing today, or if buses run that frequently, but it was not a long wait at all.

In town it was time to work out where we will go tomorrow, then a walk around town. This was cut short as it started to rain, but we had a great big bowl of do-it-yourself noodles. The noodles were handmade in front of us, and you just choose what you want in it to flavour the broth. If you take too long to eat it (like we did) they bring you out another bowl of liquid to top up the broth and keep everything hot. Perfect!

03 June 2017

Anyang