Saturday and the Yungang Grottoes

Following another ‘interesting’ breakfast (and I think they will get more interesting as we travel west!) we took off for the Yungang caves, about an hour away. Dated circa 360 and 400 AD, these are a series of ancient caves carved out of the sandstone cliffs containing Buddha’s of all sizes – from miniature to giant. It is said that forty thousand craftsmen worked to dig out the grottoes and carve out their contents. Originally the the caves would have had wooden frontages but most of these have now gone, although there is still one remaining that was redone in the 1600’s. This provides a useful insight into how it must have looked.

Many of the Buddha’s have been damaged due to exposure to the elements but there are enough left to give a real sense of the place when it was created. The caves were originally highly decorated around the Buddha statue area and there is still some evidence of this where interior murals can be seen that have not been exposed to the weather.

In contrast, there is an extremely modern museum housing artifacts found on the sight with some very up to date display methods including holograms and laser displays.

We returned to Datong and after something of a siesta some of us set out to find the highlights of the walled city. Datong is a coal mining town which, if the amount of rebuilding is anything to go by, is very prosperous. As in the older residential areas of Beijing there is a lot of demolition going on with the new builds looking far too expensive for those who have lost their homes to make way for the new ones to buy. The replacements of the more ancient municipal buildings are extremely well done with roof carvings and wall paintings skilfully replicated.

The 2nd August is The Valentines Day equivalent in China and there were a number of young men walking around with flowers. We came across a very upmarket restaurant where the glitterati of Datong were obviously taking their girlfriends. The girls had obviously made a lot of effort and were very well turned out. The chaps less so. Funny that.

We eventually found the main building of the town and also the main shopping thoroughfare which was bustling with early evening shoppers.

By the time that food was considered necessary we had reached quite a remote part if the City, near the opposite wall to the one we had entered. There were certainly no pictures on the menus and no- one spoke English. Peter opted to choose the food by wandering round the other diners tables and pointing…. Unfortunately he had not got his glasses on and it was getting dark.

We ended up with a sort of fried garlic bread, tofu with cucumber, rabbit heads and deep fried chickens feet. I will draw a delicate veil over proceedings at this point. Perhaps I should just add that plastic gloves were provided rather than chopsticks to eat the meal.

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