Friday, April 19, 2013


We woke up very early this morning, 4:30!  Not sure why, maybe we were excited about our day today.

It was another amazing travel day, we saw fascinating, incredible and beautiful historic sights today with our guide for the day, Nancy.  She was a great guide; very friendly, knowledgeable and spoke excellent English.

She and her driver picked us up at 8:00am on the dot, and we headed out of town to our first stop, the Hanging Monastery and Temple.  It’s about 40 miles out of Datong, and it was an interesting and winding drive up into the mountains. 

A little about this beautiful OLD monastery:

It was built in 492 A.D!  (and no, I didn’t forget a digit--it was really built in 492 A.D.!) It is built into and hangs from the face of a sheer rock cliff more than 275 feet above the ground. It is also one of the few temples or monasteries in the world to include Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian elements.  It was built by Buddhist monks, and they used an ingenious system of crossbeams fitted into holes chiseled into the face of the rock.  Two-thirds of the length of the main support beams are buried in the rock.  The incredibly good condition of the temple itself is due to the placement of the structure.  It is well protected from the elements by the overhanging cliff, and is set back into a curve in the face of the cliff which protects the structure from the harsh winds.  In addition, it is facing north and sun exposure is limited.  Although parts of this temple were refurbished  (as in repainted and two temples added) in the Qing and Ming Dynasties (14th-18th centuries), It is amazing to see how well this beautiful temple has survived for over 1500 years!

Our first look at the Hanging Monastery!  Am I gonna climb up THERE?  Oh, yeah!

Good view of the many original support timbers:

I got a kick out of the list of rules.  We did our best to comply--especially to be moral, mature and cultivated! (Oh---we didn't relieve ourselves, either!)

Here we are at the entrance area, before the climb:

We paid our small admission fee  (senior discount again!), and started up the steps, and steps, and steps!  The higher up we climbed, the steeper and narrower the steps became.  And the railing got shorter!  By the time we reached the highest level, I was a little dizzy when I looked down.  I tried not to look down, but the view was amazing!
Nancy was so informative, explaining in detail about the different levels and types of Buddhas, the history of the Temple and it’s construction.  As usual, I especially enjoyed the small details--the decorative painting, small architectural elements, and of course the doors.  I love doors!

 Lower level:

Beautiful old door!

Buddha statue on the first level--I rubbed his tummy for good luck!

Detail of windows and doors--beautiful wood work:

Looking towards the next level:

Good view of the support timbers:

Steeeeeep steps!

Nice view!

Beautiful wood work and painting:

Roof detail


 Here we are!

More steps!

Not quite to the top yet, I am LOVING this place!

A sign about half way up!  I think we were.......

 A very wise guy--Confuscious

 Taoist Buddha--slightly different


Up the last steps--very steep and very narrow

As usual, David is very helpful and protective!

Roof detail--I really like these glazed tiles--they are hundreds and hundred of years old!

The Buddha at the very top, notice the very detailed painted wood carving: 

Pagoda at the top level:

 Notice how the monastery is built "into" the face of the cliff--it is very well protected against wind, rain and sun:

Long walkway--beautiful wood work:

Each panel was painted with a different design--here are a couple of my favorites:

This carved element is meant to protect against fire--we've seen it on several temples and pagodas:

We were lucky we left Datong early this morning because there were very few other tourists at the Temple when we arrived.  Just as we were starting back down the many stairs from the top level the tour busses arrived, and it began to get a little crazy.  By the time we were back down to the first level, the hoards of visitors joined us.  I did stop to do a little Buddha shopping for a certain young lady named Jeanne!

While we were at the first level we noticed an older Chinese couple taking each other’s pictures in front of the mountain, so David offered to take one of them together.  They were so sweet, and of course they then wanted to take our picture, and then wanted our guide to take a picture of all 4 of us together!  They shook our hands and thanked us several times, what a nice couple they were.  

 New Chinese friends!

Our next planned stop was the Yungang Grottos, which is on the other side of Datong from The Hanging Temple, so we had a bit of backtracking to do.  Nancy asked us if we’d like to stop for lunch, and of course we said yes.  She suggested a small Datong restaurant serving the local specialty, cut noodles.  Our driver joined us for lunch (which Nancy insisted on buying!) and we had a great time visiting with them both.  We even managed to eat those noodles with our chopsticks without embarrassing ourselves too badly!  The noodles were delicious, and reminded me of my Grandma’s homemade noodles.

These noodles were delicious!

After lunch we drove to the Yungang Grottoes, about 9 miles the other side of Datong. There are over 250 grottoes containing more than 51,000 Buddha carvings.  The work on these carvings started in 471 A.D. and continued until 494 A.D. These Buddhas are carved out of the sandstone mountainside, and in many of the grottoes the centuries have eroded much of the carving.    In the 11th century, in order to preserve and protect the carvings, wooden temples were built in front of each main cave.  These all burned down just 60 years later, and during the Qing dynasty (1600‘s) they were rebuilt.  All but two of those were destroyed during China’s war with Manchuria. The two temples remaining are in amazing condition, with much of the original carved wood detail and decorative painting intact.  We were able to go into several of the caves, but about half of them are closed for restoration work.  Photography was allowed in a few of the grottoes, so we did get some pretty good pictures.  We spent over an hour in the grottoes and the surrounding park area.

Along the way into the grottoes, this area is a new addition, built just in time for the Beijing Olympics.  Likely to impress visitors.

A golden Buddha tree

A part of the Great Wall of China, we were so surprised to see it here!  This part was never connected to the main part of the wall, and does not have a stone and brick covering--just dirt and clay.

An old lookout tower that was part of the Great Wall system, again made of dirt and clay

 Pagoda near the new temple on the way into the Grottoes:

Buddhist nuns and monks in front of the temple:

 First of the Grottoes we went into, note the bright colors after all these centuries:

Here we are--in front of one of the biggest Buddhas:

 Temple facade in front of one of the grottoes, from the Qing Dynasty 1600's

 Detail of carving and painting under the eaves:

Carving on one of the pillars--meant to protect against fire:

 Inside one of the grottoes--note the detailed carvings and the amazing color:

The biggest Buddha.

Here we are:

Close up of the biggest Buddha face.  The long ears are supposed to signify that Buddha listens to his followers with care and understanding!

It was 4 p.m. when we walked out of the park and found our driver.  In no time we were back at our hotel saying goodbye to Nancy.  What a wonderful guide she is, we enjoyed every minute of our day with her!

We were pretty tired after all that climbing and walking so we relaxed for a couple of hours in our room.  We did a little organizing and packing for our flight tomorrow--another early morning, as usual!

For dinner we decided to eat at one of the restaurants in our hotel, and we had a wonderful meal with great service.  We ordered 4 dishes and all were delicious!  We shared a large bottle of beer--and our bill came to less than $10!  AND----we have leftovers for breakfast--such a deal!

Delicious noodles:

 We were soooo bad--and ordered bacon rolls.  Of course they were wonderful!

Steamed bok choi with black mushrooms

These were called dumplings--but they were more like crepes.  They had a great flavor

Tomorrow we are flying to Beijing, where we have 9 1/2 days to enjoy The Forbidden City,  Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, beautiful parks, delicious street food--and of course The Great Wall!

Stay tuned!

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