After our first camp breakfast of eggy bread (breakfast cereal is apparently like gold dust in China) we wandered down to the waterside to board the boat that was going to take us to the Temple. It is always a source of amazement to me as to how these local arrangements are made and commitments kept in what seems the middle of nowhere.
Anyway we boarded a little speedboat and took off over the reservoir. When I say reservoir, think small inland sea. The brownish water stretches as far as the eye can see to both left and right. Sadly the rubbish that was scattered over our camping area when we arrived (which we cleared) is duplicated on the reservoir and we passed plastic bottles and styrofoam packaging as we crossed towards the rocky ridge on the opposite shore and then veered left down a channel with high craggy rocks either side. Eventually a landing area came into view and the boat scraped on the shallow rocky waters edge. We had arrived.
There were a number of stalls set out and we ran the gauntlet of the vendors who jostled with us but then moved off good heartedly and left us to walk the willow edged path to the Temple.
The Bing ling Cave Temple is about 35 kilometres southwest of the town of Yongjing. The first caves were cut into the rock in 420 AD and further cutting and carving took place for another 1,000 years. There are apparently 216 cave niches on three levels and more than 800 images and mural paintings. Some of the carved figures have been placed in a very well presented museum that forms part of the site. It was interesting to see how the sculptured seem to mix Buddhist and Indian characteristics. The explanatory material we found put this down to the area being a key location on the Silk Road. This seemed difficult to comprehend as the Temple was built into the mountains on one side and had reservoir water lapping at its front. However, it appears that prior to the area being flooded to make the reservoir 30 years ago, the site had been on a major highway.
It is always pleasing to find we are on track and reference being made to the Silk Road, even though the spur up to Xianhe and our camp site represented a detour off the main east/ west route towards the border.
Having enjoyed our morning amongst the carvings, we headed back to our camp. After lunch we settled down to an afternoon of free time. It seemed that within minutes another two brides turned up with the photographic team of the previous day. I am aware of the practice of Chinese couples having the wedding photographs taken on a separate occasion to the wedding ceremony, but seeing two new brides wearing the same outfits being put through the same paces as those previously took some of the edge from the ‘special’ occasion. What was amusing was that obviously our Odyssey camp had been set up on their favourite wedding photograph site but that did not let it deter them. Their vehicle drew up in a cloud of dust between Penelope and the tents and the brides sat unabashed in the middle of us happy campers, being made up and coiffed and at one stage changing their clothes. Couples often choose several different outfits for the photographs – one couple on this occasion had obviously chosen a bohemian theme for their second ‘ensemble’…….
Although we continued to have ‘visitors’ to view us throughout the afternoon, the most outrageous situation arose when a whole family set up camp a little behind us. It had been decided to make a slow cooked stew for the evening meal, so the cooking detail spent time chopping and chipping and Richard started to get a fire going with the idea of letting it get hot and then placing the cooking pot over it on a trivet when the initial flames had died down. To our amazement before the pot was strategically placed, along came about six children with corn cobs on sticks and gaily raked over the fire to accommodate their sweet corn. What fun! Some of our party got a bit waspish with this development but I thought it was hilarious! Eventually the raiding party skipped back to their picnic area chewing on what looked like rather charred corn – but they seemed happy enough. The fire was put back together again and our stew took pride of place over the fire where it was to remain until early evening. It proved to be a very good stew, although no-one seemed able to determine whether it was beef or yak..
An early night was on everyone’s agenda when it was announced that breakfast was to be at 7.00 am and that the truck would leave at 8.00. I think we all had it at the back our minds that before then bags had to be re packed and tents dismantled and the truck reloaded ready for the day ahead in an hour with us still on the nursery slopes of overland travel.