Thinking of travel.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Day Three of China 2012 tour

Day three of China 2012 tour

After another great breakfast, we climbed aboard the tour bus with the destination being Datong. The usual Beijing traffic jam greeted us, and it took about an hour to get out onto the highway. The Beijing tour hotel was well located in the city. It allowed us to get out of the city easily. This day was 1 October the Chinese National Holiday and anywhere near the centre of the city would be blocked for the yearly festivities. This is the time when all the big shots come to the city.

Some of the power plants seen as we approached Datong.
Once we made it to the highway system we moved along quickly. The trip does not take much time now.   The last ten years has seen a surge in road building.  Most roads are tolled and that also helps to keep the traffic in check. It can get quite expensive to travel for leasure in China. 

Our trip was uneventful and peaceful. It gave us a bit of time to become better aquainted with our fellow travellers.

Datong is a City with a population of about 1.2 million people. I was told that that Datong was at one time, the capital of the peoples known as the Tuoba. They were part of a federation of nomads known as the Turkic who united northern China around the third century AD. It seems that China was continually united through out history,  only to become fragmented, with time.  

The area surrounding Datong hosts numerous coal mines and power stations.   Coal is King in this part of the country.  It is the principal fuel used to power the huge Chinese Manufacturing machine.

We arrived at Datong around noon, and after having enjoyed a good lunch we went straight to the Yungang Grottoes.

These caves have been a main attraction for nearly 1,500 years. Now they have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is quite a distinction as it requires the site be maintained and improved inorder  to promote tourism. The authorities stated that the caves are filled with more than 50,000 sculptures, bas reliefs, and paintings of Buddhist images. The most of the sculpted Buddhists are carved inside the many caves.  Most are just inside the opening of the caves.  They stare out at the world with their big eyes and gentle smiles. The largest Buddha is sitting, and measures about 58 feet high, while the smallest is a figure just over an inch. Many of the images are bas relief. We could photograph some of the sculptures; and, some were suppose to be off limits to the camera, however, many visitors disregarded the no photographs signs. The guards had a difficult time trying to control the crowds from using thier cameras.
One of the 51,000 Buddas
I visited these caves in 2005, and the site attractions were quite primitive in upkeep. However, the attraction is now world class. Some to the caves and walls were damaged during the cultural revolution. Nevertheless the overall site has remained in remarkably good condition. They have created a grand entrance way that is all inspiring. The actual grounds also are maintained with gardens and waterfalls. Even as a second time visitor I found the place to be awesome. If you are a follower of Buddha, you must make the trek here to visit. We could see people praying to Buddha at the mouth of one of the caves.

The largest Budda
We were also given a bit of a preview of what would await us the next day, in terms of ancient Chinese architecture. Some of the caves had wooden temple built as facades to the caves. The structure were similar to the buildings at the Hanging monastery.

Interesting architecture
We left the caves in the late afternoon, and entered the city to unload our luggage at the hotel where we would be staying. It was a three star accommodation just off the main road and in front of the Datong train station. We did not have much time to relax, because we were invited out to dinner by some of the local artists and business men. They went all out to host us in style. The number of people coming together necessitated two dinning rooms, so our hosts were busy jumping from one to the other toasting the guests. The bill of fare included copious amounts of Bai jiu (pronounced, byjoe.) This is a white alcohol similar to the Romanian drink called Polinka or Russian vodka. One of the hosts was the manufacturer of liquor, and he wanted to show us how good it was.

Margaret the brave one.  First to try the brush and ink.
Helen really in action.

As the dinner came to a close, the local Chinese artists brought out the rice paper, brushes and ink. Everyone was invited to take a turn. At first people were a bit shy about taking up the brush.  It was a bit like action painting, in front of an audience. It only took a few brave artists to start the action. Soon everyone was coming forward to show their stuff. 

Camilla in deep thought
One of the restaurant patrons wishing us farwell.
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

The evening continued to progress until it was time to leave. The etiquette in China is still followed. When the host leaves the dinner, the celebrations are over. We all left happy, and as we descended from the second floor dinning rooms everyone on the first floor salon waved good bye. Once again, we climbed our waiting bus and returned to the hotel. I did not go straight to my room. I continued my quest to find a SIM card for my IPAD. I did not succeed. The walk was, however, very entertaining as it gave me a perspective on the night life around the Datong train station.  I don't know, but when I was in Datong the first time, I felt is was like the wild, wild west.  I felt the same this time around.  It is worth the visit.

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