Datong: Going from Grit to Wonder

Datong is not the prettiest or cleanest city.  In fact, it’s been referred to as the most polluted in all of China.  It is one of the largest coal producers for China and the area lies heavily laden under a blanket of coal dust.

We came to Datong because it offers far more than grit and pollution.  When you look beyond the city there are historical and architectural wonders to behold.

Our first stop was the Yungang Grottos.   Work began in AD460 and it is the oldest collection of Buddhist carvings in China.  To date they have discovered 252 caves, with roughly 40 of them that are open to the public.

The area was excavated along the mountain, revealing 53 caves, some are cavernous rooms and others are small nooks carved into the rock face.

The caves were excavated along the mountain, revealing 53 caves, some are cavernous rooms and others are small nooks carved into the rock face.

The front facing to one of the larger caves.

The front facing to one of the larger caves.

One of the largest stone carved Buddhas in the grottoes.

One of the largest stone carved Buddhas in the grottoes.

The next site was the precariously built Hanging Monastery.  Built back in 491,  it hung 90 meters over the Jinxia Gorge.  With the build up of silt over the years it currently hangs about 50 meters above ground .

The Hanging Monastery appears to cling to the rock face.

The Hanging Monastery appears to cling to the rock face.

The buildings are carved into a sheer precipice and supported by 3 meter long oak beams that are inserted into holes in the rock.  The pillars in the pictures don’t in fact support the monastery.  You can literally nudge them and watch them sway.

The Monastery is supported by 3 meter long oak beams inserted horizontally into the rock face. The vertical pillars don't lend much support and most can be moved by hand.

The Monastery is supported by 3 meter long oak beams inserted horizontally into the rock face. The vertical pillars don’t lend much support and most can be moved by hand.

The monastery is considered an architectural wonder but actually being up there and walking along the mid-air walkways is a bit unnerving, to say the least.

It’s hard to imagine that 10 monks lived here throughout the seasons.

There are 40 rooms which are linked by mid-air walkways.

There are 40 rooms which are linked by mid-air walkways.

It is the only monastery in China that blends three religions in one place. Taoism, Confucianism & Buddhism are represented within the halls.

This is the only monastery that represents 3 religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Cunfucianism.

This is the only monastery that represents 3 religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Cunfucianism.

When all good things come to an end and the fun is over.  We were too distracted by all the sightseeing that we didn’t have time to find a laundry service near our hotel.  Boy, oh boy, did we have a mound of laundry to do and leaving it for the next location was just not an option.

Luckily, the washroom came with 2 big buckets and I had two small and eager helpers which made it a bit easier, if not even a little bit fun.

Laundry time!  Thankfully, there were two large wash buckets in our hotel room. Obviously, we're not the first ones that needed to do laundry by hand.

Laundry time! Thankfully, my sister, Andrea, gave us a supply of travel sized laundry detergent.

2 responses to “Datong: Going from Grit to Wonder

  1. Wow! What a great family experience. I just recently started following your blog and am amazed at your courage to do something so significant. I eagerly await your next posts.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. We definitely chose one of the hardest places to start. We tried to pick up a little Chinese before we came, but the characters are really hard to remember. I think that I have ‘enter’, ‘exit’, ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’, so far. Not much else. Thank heavens for Google Translate and our iPhones. They have got us out of a number of pickles.

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