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Yungang Grottoes in Datong

Right after we exited the train station in Datong at 6:30 a.m., my student, Michael, and I looked for the CITS Travel Agency Office so we could book the two trips / destinations we wanna go and see: the Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Monasteries.

The two are the must-see tourist attractions. In fact, they are the reasons why tourists flock to the city. Datong itself, is not an interesting city. It produces coal, thus, dirty and polluted. Most people, of course, are coal miners. I saw children and women gathered and carried coals when our bus passed the countryside. It’s not a sight to behold. Really.

CITS (China International Travel Service)
I would recommend this travel service if anyone’s visiting Datong in Shanxi Province. Their office is within the vicinity of the lobby of the trains station and if it’s difficult to find, ask any security or staff. Though most tour services in China have bad reputations of just screwing up money from tourists, I’d still recommend CITS, because they have tour guides that speak good English and knowledgeable about the tourist spots. These two places are far from the city and if you don’t know Mandarin, you’ll end up with the taxi drivers who would rip you off to your last cents.

Michael and I signed up for the 9:00 a.m tour bus. CITS staff also recommended us a cheap hotel which is a minute walk from the train station. A standard double bed room cost about RMB 140 ($20). Breakfast is free.

THE TOURISTS
The tour costs RMB 225 ($30), including transportation, lunch and entrance tickets. There were 13 of us who signed up for the tour and mostly were Europeans.

YUNGANG GROTTOES

This scenic spot is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site which they labelled as the “masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art.” I’d say, they’re right.

There are 21 caves here and more than 51,000 carved figures and statues. The biggest is 17 meter high Buddha and the smallest one is about 7 cm.

Every cave has it’s own theme or characteristics. From wall to roof, the caves are like works of a genius who must have spent and devoted all his life to his art. The carvings are so awesome and I can’t even blink an eye to marvel the beauty in front of me. I thought it was just like one of the special effects in the movie where minitiature statues were made into colossal, unbelievable sizes.

Yungang Grottoes Cave in Datong

Yungang Grottoes in Datong

Above is the 17m colossal seated Buddha in Cave 5. It’s the tallest of all the carvings. Notice the other intricate carvings on the side and around the whole cave.

Honestly, I was impressed. Really impressed. Once you are inside these thousands of sculptures, you can feel the calmness of the place sans the noisy voices of the tour guides introducing this and that.

Yungang Grottoes Cave in Datong

Yungang Grottoes in Datong

In Caves 5-13, the walls are fabulously carved with tales and stories of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. When our pointed out the statues about the life of Siddharta from birth to his attainment of Nirvana, I was not listening because I know the story. Siddhartha, a book, by Herman Hesse was a required reading in our literary criticism class in university. I’m proud I know the story. My co-tourists were clueless. They were absorbed listening to the guide while I was bidding time to take pictures.

Yungang Cave Grottoes Datong China

Yungang Grottoes / Caves in Datong China

Some carvings show Hindu influences. Historical records say that the the statues were carved during AD 460 and 494.

Despite of its ancientness, the beauty still remains. Though the grandeur of perfection is not anymore there, the caves stood the test of time. However, some outside carvings have surrendered to Time little by little losing its heads, arms, legs, body and eyes.

Yungang Grottoes Cave in Datong

The biggest Buddha statue outdoor at Yungang Grottoes in Datong, Shanxi Province, China.

This is largest Buddha outside the caves. It’s surreal.

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