Let me introduce to you the jaw-dropping sight of the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, situated in Henan province of central China. Once again I found myself discovering it accidentally thanks to my friend insisting on a trip to the Shaolin Temple nearby. Oh how I thank him! Now a UNESCO World Heritage sight, these caves (2000+ of them) are home to over 10,000 Buddha statues; from the cute 25mm to the neck-breaking 17m high. Way back when Emperors ruled and religious groups were aplenty, the Buddha was a pretty important symbol and it was evident as I walked around just how much time everyone during 493 AD had to dedicate to what is now classed as one of the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art.
Reaching the grottoes from Luoyang city was an adventure in itself, and I standby my statement that travelling to places through China by public bus/train remains to be the best part of the day. Our first bus cost an overly fair 20p for an hours ride and along the way small businesses began their day with staff dance routines, as golden oldies proved that many years of stretching will result in touching your forehead with your toes.
Of course a direct route would be too easy; All aboard the sardine packed bus #2, complimentary of the attraction! Another 10 minutes and we arrived at the ticket office, ready and raring to go. Just hold on whilst we queue to buy tickets and then queue to board the golf-buggy-lookalike for another 10 minutes before we can finally begin our tour.
It’s always nice to kid oneself that visiting a Chinese attraction on a Monday will result in peaceful wide open pathways – the entire population, aside from us lucky teachers will be at work, right?
Not exactly, but that’s ok. Chinese tourists help you to forget that you yourself are a tourist and let’s face it, it’s great to see people enjoying their own country so much.
The Yi river 伊河 runs along the valley between the two cave collections and as I wandered around, the Bai garden temple stared back at me from atop the hill. The Buddha’s started off small and almost camouflaged into the rock due to constant attack from weather over time. Crowds of people gathered by railings to get a glance inside the deep caves, selfie sticks going wild to try and avoid tops of heads and peace signs ruining the carvings. Less than an hour had passed and I could feel myself tiring of the nonsensical flock of sheep, myself included.
Alas, a towering set of steps and a circular shaped cliff shook off my grumpy demeanour and I climbed with pure intrigue.
It was a truly jaw-dropping moment as I looked up at these hugely detailed, impressive statues looking down on me. The sheep now became a great size perspective and the view from up there was one that will stick with me for a long time.
A walk across the bridge to the east side brought with it a fresh take on the caves; the entire 1km stretch in view and a visual understanding of how much work and dedication went it to such impressive Buddhist art.