Mar 24, 2009

Shanxi photos

Here's some photos from our recent trip to Wutaishan and Datong, in Shanxi province.

You can get from Beijing to the top of one of the five peaks of Wutaishan via an overnight train. You can be there in time to see a beautiful sunrise, as long as you're properly motivated. The night train leaves from Beijing and arrives in Wutaishan around 3 AM. You switch to a minibus and you can get dumped off around 4 AM at the winding road leading to a peaktop monastery. At this point you should have, at a minimum:
  • warm clothing (since it's below freezing and windy)
  • a flashlight (since it's pitch black; you get some excellent star viewing)
  • good cardiovascular health (since you're hiking at an elevation of around 10,000 feet in the middle of the night)
Once you're to the top of the road, it's pretty cold and windy, and if you can hang on until around 6 AM, you'll get treated to a very scenic sunrise. We ended up with about an hour to spare before sunrise at the mountaintop monastery, and thankfully we gained access to an unlocked building outside the monastery. Second and third choices for shelter would have been the cab of a diesel truck, or a plywood dog house, respectively.

Here's the very nice Wutaishan sunrise. The picture doesn't really do it justice.

We hired a driver for the day for around 200 yuan to drive us to some other peaks of the mountain and visit the temples there. Here are some prayer flags at another mountaintop temple:

At another temple we came across a friendly monk that reminded me of Billy Bob Thornton:

The Buddhist temples have a lot of similarities, but they each have unique details. The iron work and wood carving at each place was different. Check out this tripod incense burner with Bart Simpson-esque devil head legs:

At the center of the peaks of Wutaishan is a valley with a little town where we stayed. There's a chairlift up to a peak beside the town. This is the view looking towards the town, with some rain clouds overhead:

Driving from Wutaishan to Datong, you can visit the famous hanging temple. Again, this is a place that is so much better to visit in person than to see in pictures. The temple looks so precarious hanging there against the cliff face, it seems amazing that it's been around so long. Once you climb up and start walking around, you can't help but become acrophobic. There are only thigh-high wood railings in most places to separate you from the sheer drop on to the rocks below. You look down and you can see that the whole place is being held up by skinny telephone poles. We were fortunate to visit this place during a non-holiday period, so we had the run of the entire temple but for a couple other visitors. I can't imagine seeing this in the midst of many pushy tour groups. Our visit was excellent, though.

Outside of Datong is another major attraction, Yungang grottoes, with many Buddhist cave carvings. It's yet another place that's best visited in person. Everything is three dimensional and big, and you can't really see the detail in photos, photos flatten everything too much. This page has a pretty decent set of photos. My favorite on is cave 6. It's impressive in very much the same way that seeing the Sistine Chapel is.

I put a video up on YouTube from some clips I took inside of cave 6, where you're not really supposed to be taking pictures or video. I think the video gives you a better sense of the scale and depth of the grotto.

[proxy link to video]

Here's another Buddha carving in Yungang, with people at lower left corner:

And an outside Buddha carving at Yungang:


Blogger Jason Raish said...

I went to Da Tong to the grottoes and the hanging temple last month from beijing. i agree pictures cannont do justice to these sites.

10:02 AM  

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