When I read “hanging temple” I didn’t really expect 1500 year old wood sticks sustaining a 40 rooms temple built into a mountain cliff. Scary? Yes and yet I am standing inside it!
This is the Xuan Kong Si Hanging Temple, 65km from Datong, in China.
To me, architecture is yet a mystery art when mixed with other beliefs, such as religion. Over 1500 years ago, a genius monk hoping to get some peace and quiet decided that the ideal place to build a temple would be, not on the top of the mountain (it can snow), not on the valley (for the risk of floods), but in the cliff side. I can’t think of a harder place the build with the tools and knowledge available at the time. If the Gods and the engineers were good, it was going to last long. And it still does! Defying gravity it stands 50 meters from the ground. Well it appears that the wood sticks weren’t even there when it was first built and back then people would refuse to enter it, fearing it would fall.
Jumping from room to room, the incense perfumes the small colorful sculptures. This temple is one of the rare ones that incorporates sculptures that symbolize Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. It is believed that this temple would offer shelter to travelers looking for some rest. But back in the days, when religion was prevalent in China, people would rather look for shelter in houses that worshipped the same beliefs. When this temple embraced the three religions, it became a popular rest-stop among more travelers.
After 2 hours exploring the temple we get back to our taxi driver, who has been waiting for us and off we go to our next stop….
As we approached the rock wall of sand color with multiples holes in the format of windows and doors, the darkness was replaced by the light that illuminates what is inside it. A silent “WOW” holds my breath for a few seconds, but my chin has dropped for longer than that. A center Buddha is carved on the rock while the wall surrounding it has a pattern created by hundreds of small carved tiny Buddhas images.
For every cave we enter, the degradation state varies. The ones still protected by wooden temple buildings incorporate the carvings most rich in colour and detail. While others have suffered weather erosion and vandalism. (I couldn’t get pictures of the ones better preserved as it was understandably forbidden).
Yungang Grottoes contains 53 caves with a total of 51000 carved Buddhas built over 1500 years ago. The elaborate carvings reflect the artistic styles of China, India, Persia among other countries and it is a Unesco World Heritage.
Once again art and religion hold hands together to defy time erosion. The Buddhas images and sculptures stand elegantly in deep silence, sinking in the meanings of themselves, transcending the grandiosity of the past for eternity.
The Yungang Grottoes is located in a park which was nice to explore with more temples and a museum (however the museum was all in… chinese!).
To get to Datong there is a 6 hour train from Beijing or an hour flight.
We took the overnight train and arrived in Datong just before 7am. We dropped our luggage at the hostel (just across the road from the train station) and the hostel helped us to rent a taxi for the day to visit both the Hanging Temple and Yungang Grottoes. The taxi price was pre-arranged as a total of 300 Yuans for the two of us. They usually charge 100Yuans per person if more than 3 people traveling.
We didn’t explore the downtown of Datong, but for what we could see from the taxi it isn’t a pretty city that would keep me longer in Datong. So 24h was just perfect timing.
If you have any more questions feel free to drop them in the comments below. x