A Pair of Grottoes in Yungang (Datong) and Longmen (Luoyang) : Travel Ideas

Beautiful stone-sculptures with roots in Buddhism are on display in Yungang Grottoes (located at Datong city) and Longmen Grottoes (located at Luoyang city). Tracing the spread of Buddhism as a religion from India to China along the Silk Road, it leaves great marks especially throughout the ancient capital cities. The construction & building of these cave temples are usually commissioned by royal families of the prevailing dynasties. The carved sculptures & murals dedicated to the religion is usually carried over a period of time in decades.

Yungang Grottoes, Datong

Grand main entrance to Yungang Grottoes
Thin ice forming along the walk towards the Yungang caves

Yungang Grottoes is located at Datong city (which was previously known as ancient Pingcheng, the capital city of the Northern Wei dynasty from 398 – 493). Commissioned by the Tuoba royal family ~ 460, the grottoes reflected Northern Wei’s early adoption of Buddhism as the state religion.

Temples in-built within the caves
Sculpted in precision but open to the 4 seasons’ natural corrosion

It was quite lonely visiting the grottoes in the cold winter of 2012, but devoid of crowd & noises, the grottoes did give some thought-provoking moments for meditation. Going through the entrance, a lightly frozen pond welcomed visitors. The carved sculptures are mainly on external caves, open to nature’s corrosion. Walking along the stretch of caves, the sights are magnificent to behold. The only drawback, the biting cold! Some of the caves are open for viewings, whereby murals & further sculptures can be admired.

Sculptures inside one of the Yungang caves
More sculptures & murals on the wall

Yungang Grottoes is approximately 20 km from Datong city, and can be reached by public bus in an hour plus or taxi in 45 minutes. For convenience, we rented a taxi to wait for us to complete the visit via a round-trip. Datong is easily accessible from major cities in China via flights or train.

Hanging Monastery of Hengshan, Datong

As a side de-tour, we also went off-shoot to the Hanging Monastery of Hengshan, approximately 65 km northwest of Datong city. The monastery is also built during the Northern Wei period, and reinforced over the thousands of years. During the winter period, the slippery roads were difficult to maneuver. More-so the winding route towards the monastery. The scenery blanketed with pure white snowflakes were beautiful to behold. Walking upwards to Hanging Monastery was a test of agility & balancing act as the icy path was slippery & difficult to balance.  

Practically hanging on the wall of the mountain cliff, in existence for thousands of years
Sideway views atop the monastery
Winding & slippery roads leading to Hengshan Hanging Monastery, but with fantastic views on a clear winter morning

Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang

On the other hand, Longmen Grottoes is located at Luoyang city (which was also an ancient capital city of Northern Wei dynasty from 493 – 534). The construction was originally commenced by the Tuoba royal family of the Northern Wei. Subsequently, during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906), the re-development & conservation of the caves were reinforced by Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian. It is believed that Empress Wu Zetian was a strong proponent of Buddhism in lieu of Confucianism to promote equality of the genders especially in view of her position.

Longmen Gateway welcoming visitors
Centre-piece of Longmen Grottoes
Sculptures along the path

The stuffy summer month in 2016 did not stop visitors to throng the Longmen Grottoes, although the hazy weather did dampen the mood a little. The entrance to Longmen is “merrier” with a gateway welcoming visitor. The stretch of caves is along a river, whereby sculptures are also external with exposure to the 4 seasons.  

Sculptures inside the caves
External sculptures
Views of the river leading to the Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes is approximately 15 km from Luoyang city centre, and can be reached by public bus in 1.5 hours or taxi in 30 minutes. For convenience, we took a day trip covering both the Longmen Grottoes and Shaolin temple. The trip felt just right, as there was plenty of time given for leisurely walks.

Luoyang has been the ancient capital cities for many dynasties, providing a great stop for history buff. Other attractions in Luoyang includes Shaolin Temple, White Horse Temple, Luoyang Museum and Luoyang Ancient Tomb Museum. Luoyang is easily accessible by high-speed train from Beijing, approximately 4 hours. Train station is modernistic & clean.

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