Article by XIANEASE
If you’re someone that frequently hosts visitors, or just like to jet around and see new things, it can be tiresome to see the same-old-same-old sites and attractions. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to cultural artifacts in Xi’an, but the towers and the terracotta are an inescapable constant in our lives. We see them (or facsimiles of them) often, so for a taste of something different it might be time to get out of town..
Luoyang, the capital of Henan Province, is just ninety minutes away on the bullet train—about as much time as you’d spend taking the bus to the Terracotta Army in Lintong or wandering around Qujiang, looking for a taxi home or the sweet release of death (whichever comes first). There are a few noteworthy attractions there, like the Peony Festival or the Shaolin temple, but in this article we’ll be focusing on their most famous site: the Longmen Grottoes.
WHAT ARE THEY?
The Longmen Grottoes sit on the Yi River in Luoyang. This series of limestone caves are approximately 1500 years old, and are notable for the estimated 100,000 statues of Buddha carved into the walls. The smallest ones are about 25mm high; the largest is 17m. The project was started in 493 AD, when the Northern Wei Dynasty was ruling from Luoyang. Work continued for centuries, the result of both devotion and royal patronage, and can be broken up into four distinct phases of development. The third phase was the most productive, with the fourth phase being a period of decline until a war between the Jin and Yuan Dynasties effectively ending the creation of new grottoes. Though the grottoes were ransacked during the Second Sino-Japanese War, much of it still survives—and it still remains a marvel of human artistic achievement. Rulers in the Ming and Qing Dynasties have recognized its cultural importance, and the site was officially declared as a protected area after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. In the year 2000, UNESCO added the Longmen Grottoes to their list of World Heritage sites.
WHAT CAN I
In a word? Buddhas. Lots and lots of Buddhas. Big Buddhas, little Buddhas, medium Buddhas, fat Buddhas, skinny Buddhas, headless Buddhas, body-less Buddhas. Picture a Buddha in your mind right now. That Buddha is probably carved into the wall of a cave in Luoyang. That’s mainly what you’ll be coming for, and is the bulk of what you can see there. The area is broken up into four smaller areas: the caves east of the river, the caves west of the river, a tomb and a temple (luckily they’re all covered by the one ticket you’ll purchase—don’t lose it). A determined visitor, or at least one in decent shape, will probably make it through the complex in about three to four hours. If you prefer a more leisurely pace or have a body by Big Mac, it might take you a bit longer because of all the stairs.
INTRIGUED—WHAT ARE THE DETAILS?
Definitely take one of the G trains from Beikezhan (Xi’an North High-Speed Railway Station) to “Luoyang Longmen” Station. Multiple trains run through Luoyang daily, which is convenient both because you can make it fit to your schedule and because when you inevitably show up late you can switch to a later train for free (depending on seat availability, of course). It’ll cost you about 200-300 RMB roundtrip.
Once at Luoyang Longmen station, the usual smattering of in-your-face taxi drivers will find you and offer you a ride. There was once a shuttle bus to the site, but during a recent visit it was nowhere to be found. Either way, you shouldn’t be paying anyone much more than 10-15 RMB per person for a lift.
Development of the area around the Grottoes has been feverish in recent years, and now it has all the amenities of a modern tourism site. When you’re dropped off, it should be fairly easy to follow the signage to buy your ticket (120 RMB) and then enter.
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