Today was incredible. We arranged a group van with the 4 of us staying at the ‘hostel’. Waking up after a beauty sleep of a good 8 hours in one of the most comfortable beds in the most clean and luxurious ‘hostel’ I’ve ever seen, I felt refreshed and ready to begin the day. After a little snack for breakfast, we were on our way downstairs to meet the van driver.
Right on time, the driver and navigator were smiling and ready to receive us. They barely spoke any English, which turned into some pretty funny dialog during the day when trying to get some things done. Luckily, during the journey, I was able to use my Chinese character knowledge and communicate some wishes—IE when’s lunch J
We started our journey heading for the hanging temples, which I was looking forward to. These temples were built so close to the cliffs edge that they were basically etched into the existing mountain. After a while, we arrived and pulling closer in, we saw an immaculately maintained landscape surrounding the grounds that were beneath the amazing cliff structure. It was truly a magnificent sight.
We got into the gates after getting our student discount, and went straight for the temples to beat a couple of buses that had just shown up. Luckily, our route through this amazingly detailed structure weaved us through steep staircases, perches upon perches, beautifully carved temple rooms, all continuing to lead us to the next perch of temples and stairs.
We were all impressed how we were able to go through the entire thing, perched simply by toothpick looking stilts, yet felt very secure. The colors, the details, the overall uniqueness of this site has again, exceeded any and all expectations of my trip to China. Both this and the Great Wall have both made the trip incredibly worth the journey, and have made me even more excited to see spectacular sights that still remain to be seen.
During our descent from the temples, the paths became flooded with more and more tourists from the buses, and at that point, I was so glad we were already done. The path ways are extremely narrow, and in the way of Chinese tourists, ‘Tour Route’ means nothing, and people were already backtracking and creating complete messes in the tiny paths through the temples. This is where I would have been extremely uneasy as with the pushing and disorganization of filing through, I’d have sure to become wary of losing my cool.
We wandered around the park a little more visiting the temple dedicated to the traveler who had found these temples, and the pathways along the river were quite beautiful. We went back to the van and were so thankful for the beautiful weather we had, as well as beating the crowds that allowed us a very quiet view of these amazing structures.
We were then back on our way towards Datong to go to the Yangung Caves, which were on the opposite side of the city. At this point, we were ready to eat, so we communicated this and we had a great plan laid out before us. Step 1, Temples. Step 2, Train Ticket (for Olivier) Step 3, Lunch, Step 4, Caves, Step 5, Back to the Hotel, Step 6, Airport (for me).
After stopping to get the train tickets for Olivier, we went towards the caves to find a place for lunch. The driver stopped the van, and I saw BBQ out the window, so figured that would be safe in this pretty run down area. Instead, he lead us through this breakage in a fence up these stairs to a little hole in the wall that had 4 tables and a gross looking man smoking in the back. The menu was completely in Chinese, and I was able to decipher a few simple things like, noodles, lamb, pork. But the driver went ahead and took the liberty of ordering for us all. Oh dear, what is about to come out?
We were served a dish with noodles, pretty simple, and pretty good, however, I was pretty fearful. Again to bring up the Colombian adventure which has unfortunately scarred me for life, I didn’t want to indulge completely in this dish that looked pretty gross from the outside. The noodles must have been handmade, because at first site, they looked like white meal worms, all lined up, short and stubby, and completely unrefined. They were in a dirt colored broth, which specks of red oil bubbles that floated and swirled around with each spoon dip. I figured since the soup was most likely boiled, that it was probably all right, and along with my comrades as gauges, decided that it must be somewhat safe to eat.
After our $.85 meal of noodles, we then drove literally 2 minutes to our destination, the Yungang Caves. The driver let us out and we decided to meet back at 3:30pm, which would give plenty of time to get back to the hostel, along with probably a snack for myself and to get to the airport in time for my 7:30 flight.
Walking to the caves, we felt a little disoriented, as there weren’t hoards of people or tourists. We found our way and bought some more student tickets which saved us quite a bit for the day, (I’m a life long student, always learning, mind you), and we wandered through temples that were listed on the back of our ticket on a map. We finally saw the beginning of the caves.
So much has been restored, that the beginning was not all that impressive. You saw reliefs of what looked like human forms in the wall, but nothing super spectacular. Until you get to the first real cave, where you go in and walk up a few stairs, turn to the left, and in your view sits a humongous Buddha that is being kissed by a ray of light coming in through the rock formed window in front. It was absolutely stunning, and made for some amazing pictures.
After studying the walls, the other disciples of Buddha, and admiring all the intricately carved pieces of stone forming beautiful decorative walls, we made our way to more of these types of structures, hidden in the caves, yet so grandeur in each own way that you could only stand in awe of what sat before you. To imagine the work and craftsmanship of these structures, inside actual caves, I don’t even understand how it was possible.
After seeing about 4 or 5 of these huge structures, we made our way around the park and headed for the exit where there were vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs. One of the best things was these guys who were using huge mallets to pound peanuts and walnuts in this pan mixing it with a honey and syrup that created almost a graham cracker like cookie of peanuts. They gave us some tasters, and afterwards, I was hooked. I bought a box and before I knew it, I had already finished the box (just four thick cookies) and we were upon the next vendor selling a different mix. His was just as delicious and was a different mixture of peanuts and walnuts which made for a slight less sweet cookie, and again, I was hooked and needed to buy. That will be my treat for later J
We then walked back to the van and made our way back to the hotel, again recounting how amazing the day was with one another. The weather could not have been more perfect, the crowds less crowded, or the sights less magnificent. Today was a great day that reminds me of why I journey to far off places like this to experience the kindness of strangers, the curiosity of foreign cultures, the landscapes of far off places, and the sights of history’s finest accomplishments.