We meet our guide, Nancy, in the hotel lobby and we head out to the van and driver we have hired for the day. Do you remember that we brought a carseat with us on the six hour train ride? Unnecessary. It is unnecessary because the van has no seat belts. I was hopeful, since our van in Beijing has them. So I settled in for our 1 1/2 hour ride wrangling a squirming three year old on mountain roads. The scenery was beautiful, as we travelled through farms and valleys to the mountains. My mother would not have been comfortable on this ride. There were not really reliable guard rails on the the hairpin curves, and the one that I did see had been broken from a crash! I practice meditation exactly for moments like these…
Our first destination was the Hanging Monastery, pictured above. I posted this photo so that you can see the relative size and location on the cliff. Monks actually climbed the mountain from the other side, and by hanging down the mountainside, 1500 years ago, built this monastery. Two to three monks would live in it at a time. It is not that big, but has several small temple rooms, and living quarters. The windows were papered with rice paper and at one time had paper cut out designs adorning them.
Here is what my eldest looked like as she climbed the steep staircases hugging the sides of the cliff. She made the mistake of looking down
After visiting the Hanging Monastery, we climbed back into the car to visit the oldest pagoda in China. Here it is:
As we walked to our lunch restaurant we walked by a pack of street pups. They were pretty cute! Its been pretty interesting watching the street dogs interact. The hierarchy is clearly there. Street dogs are SMART and TOUGH!
Nancy showed us our lunch restaurant and both she and the driver joined us. I think that this is a pretty standard practice when you hire someone to work for you in China.
The next part of our day was the most disconcerting. I think the driver took a shortcut to drive by the coal plant on our way to Yungang Grottoes.
All of a sudden the road seemed to disappear and we were driving in the midst of coal trucks at least three deep on all sides. I don’t know how the driver knew which way to navigate through them and the other cars and scooters.
Then we stopped. For about forty-five minutes.
It turned out that a passenger car had some sort of engine trouble. The driver just abandoned it in the middle of the road with its hazards on.
Finally, we arrived at Yungang Grottoes. It was definitely worth the trouble getting there! As a bonus, we were able to see an older clay portion of the Great Wall! You can see it at the top of the cliff in this picture:
These Buddha carvings were commissioned by the government about 1500 years ago. Datong was the capital of China at that time. The government moved the capital because it was thought that Datong was too close to possible invasion from Mongolia. There are forty five caves with thousands of meticulously carved buddhas, varying in size from 2cm to 17m. The entire site had been upgraded with a park at the time of the Beijing Olympics. The government built an enormous three roomed temple for the monks to use to pray, since the grottoes are being preserved now.
At the end of our day, we had dinner at our trusted restaurant, Fen Lin Ge (Feeling Good) again. The next morning Brian took the girls to the hotel pool and I asked the hotel desk clerk for directions to a shop for local gifts. He told me the walking directions to wu market. I set off walking, and after about twenty minutes I saw a Wal-mart right where he told me it would be.