The Yungang Grottoes is a series of caves and niches that house sculptures, both large and small, of deities in the Buddhist religion. It has been named a UNESCO Heritage site in 2001. Construction of these sandstone caves are said to have started in 465 AD and lasted until 525 AD. In addition to the grottoes, there are temples made of wood, constructed during those times as well. Here's one such temple:
After dropping off our suitcases in our hotel room, we quickly made arrangements to get to the Yungang Grottoes. Even though many visitors have mentioned that a few hours is enough, We usually take more time than the average visitor so as usual, we're in a rush. Thankfully, the hotel staff was able to get us cab quickly and cheaper than the rate cards we had seen lying around in the lobby. You can read about our experience with the Datong Hotel here. An added bonus was the driver got us there rather quickly without us having to say anything although his carrying on with a conversation on speaker phone almost the whole way was a bit unnerving. You'd know what I mean if you've experience traffic in asia, lol. Here we are!
Here, I am just inside the toll gate for vehicles into the Yungang Grottoes complex. The pedestrian entrance is way to the right edge of the photo. My daughter thought it would be funny for me to dab in public. Anyways, see the Pepsi bottle? I bought that just outside the gate from a street vendor. Didn't really notice the color of the Pepsi when it was in the cooler, in the shade. Just after this photo I was about to open it and saw that it was, um, light brown...like tea colored! So I threw it away and made a mental note to always check my food from now on.
Further up the path there's a building on the left, you go in there and buy tickets. There's also a canteen like shop inside where I bought another drink. So off we go. We were expecting to exit the building and start seeing the grottoes and statues and stuff. NOPE! The actual caves and stone statues are quite a ways away. Here's a sample of what's between the ticket office and the grottoes:
|See the Great Wall in the back?|
After exiting the ticketing building if you go left you will find a replica village looking setup with eateries and souvenirs. This is actually the exit area. Instead of going left you're supposed to go straight. Where you will find a rather large gate. Which opens up to an area with some statues and structures (not in use as far as I could tell). Beyond the gate is the path lined with stone elephants and the Art Gallery. We totally skipped the Art Gallery because for sure we wouldn't have enough time, there was so much to see and marvel at already. The path concludes at a circular plaza decorated with wall carvings and a tree in the center. You can buy a ribbon, write on it and hang it on the tree. Past the plaza is a bridge that takes you to a fort (I think) built on a lake. Inside the fort are temples, shrines, stone pagoda's and the like. We breezed through there and found another bridge to take us to the path that leads to the grottoes.
We made it! Well not really, we still needed to go up the stairs then left. Moving along now we get to the actual grottoes. Don't expect to see a bunch of caves and niches all lined up nicely because they aren't. They are all over the place.
It was amazing to see that there were restoration works going on. It would be such a loss if all of this history and art was lost. All of the wood temples were built way back when and helped to protect the carvings. The ones that were open we went in and it was amazing. What wasn't amazing was the traces of vandalism in some of the caves. Probably why there are security guards at the enclosed exhibits.
Some parts of the cliff you can make your way up to the top where you can find a temple complex (some sections were being restored) and more niches. We found it extremely rewarding and fun to find niches around the tops of the cliffs. Some niches were empty, some really badly eroded and some still very well detailed. Behind the temple complex was a path that we so badly wanted to explore but we were running out of time.
Seriously, there's so much to see here! We had had to rush the last segment of the grottoes because it was already 5 and they close at 5:30. We didn't even know where the exit was. Anyways, we continued in the general direction where everyone else was going but we wandered off here and there. We found carnival game booths for kids but they were closing up so we didn't get to play. we found more statues, sculptures and things like that.
Apparently we were taking too long because an elongated golf cart came up to us and the driver insisted we get in. Through the yapping back and forth all I could make out was five so through hand gesturing I was able to ensure that it was 5 renmenbi (local currency) for the both of us, not each. I think the other passengers yapping may have helped make my case. I'm not even sure if they were yapping at me or at the driver. Overall this UNESCO Heritage Site is a must visit if you're in the area and if you're like us and wnt to see everything, budget more than 4 hours to spend here!
So at the exit, we walked through the booths of trinkets and things, there were quite a large variety of souvenir type objects. As we walked towards the parking lot, seemingly out of nowhere came these old ladies peddling bead bracelets. Again no idea what they were saying but my daughter said she needed to bring back souvenirs for her friends. The pricing was the same as in the shops except these ladies kept under cutting each other and they won't take no for an answer! They will try to slip a bracelet on you, leave them in the crook of your arm if you fold your arms, or put one in your pocket if you put your hands in your pocket. So we bought some bracelets and out of nowhere more ladies came! Thankfully, we made into the taxi but one old lady wouldn't let the door close! The driver had to "insist" so she left. I kind of felt bad for these elderly ladies having to hustle so hard to make a buck or two. I truly hope the recounting of my shenanigans will help your travels be less stressful or at least make you smile!
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Next stop, Yingxian Wooden Pagoda.
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