Entries Tagged as 'Travel'

Praying Didn’t Improve My Photos: Jingesi (金阁寺)Wutaishan Shanxi Province

Jinge Temple 金阁寺

Wutaishan 五台山

Shanxi Province

Wutaishan 五台山 Jinge Temple 金阁寺

From Our Diary

‘ Adam asks the monk if he can take a picture of the statues, the monk gives a long speech, at the end of which we understand: “Yes you can, if you pay your respects to the Buddha”. Adam takes this to mean that he has to ‘kow-tow’ and starts doing so – accompanied by the sound of the monk hitting the alms bowl. He donates 10 yuan.  He`ll do anything for a good picture’.

The Luohan / Arhat Hall

Wutaishan 五台山 Jinge Temple 金阁寺

The Jinge temple 金阁寺 is a riot of colours, a kind of Buddhist Disneyland,  in which the most outrageous arhats or luohan 罗汉 – in Buddhism, a perfected person, one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved nirvana (spiritual enlightenment) – we have ever seen are cavorting!

Wutaishan 五台山 Jinge Temple 金阁寺

One of our favorites is a luohan in a colorful patchwork robe who is doing the splits in the air – with his feet on two rocks – while joining his hand in prayer Another swings on a tree trunk. There are luohans swinging off the ceiling by one hand, a luohan that looks like a [Read more →]

Rongjiang Market 榕江市场 (Updated) Guizhou Province 贵州省

Rongjiang Market 榕江市场

Guizhou Province 贵州省

We are updating this article with new photos. Rongjiang 榕江 is dusty but expanding town in Guizhou Province 贵州省 that forms part of what is known as the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture 黔东南苗族侗族自治州; Qiándōngnán Miáozú Dòngzú Zìzhìzhōu.

Rongjiang is now connected to China’s High Speed Railway Network.  The Train station is 5km out of town and there are buses, 2 Yuan, and Taxis 10/15 Yuan, connecting Rongjiang to the train station. Rongjiang is on the Guangzhou – Guiyang line.

Rongjiang 榕江 is definitely not one of china’s most attractive towns. It’s dusty, slightly chaotic and white tiled. However, there are a number of redeeming factors. Not only does Rongjiang provide a fascinating gateway to minority villages, but it also has an amazing Sunday Market that sucks in a myriad of different ethnic minorities for the day.

If you are there on market day you are sure to come across the Dong minority 侗族 in huge numbers as well as various Miao 苗族 ethnic groups including the Gaoshan Miao and maybe even the odd Top knot Miao coming up from Basha village 芭沙村 near Congjiang 从江.

So if you find yourself passing through this area on your way between kaili 凯里 and the famous dong Village of Zhaoxing 肇兴; Rongjiang 榕江 makes for great break in the journey. In fact, just the spectacular bus ride between Kaili and Rongjiang makes the whole trip worthwhile.

Arrival

Our bus bumped into Rongjiang’s run-down and grubby bus station after a gorgeous five- hour, 160- kilometre bus ride from Kaili 凯里. Rongjiang, [Read more →]

Maijishan: Haystack Mountain

Maijishan 麦积山

Haystack Mountain:

Tianshui 天水  Gansu Province 甘肃省

Maijishan 麦积山

There is nothing quite like Maijishan 麦积山 in China. The bizarre, haystack shaped mountain rises majestically up over a subtropical zone of greenery and rivers.  Other Buddhist sites might have enormous statues or high ceiling-ed painted caves, but the views they offer are often more restrictive and it may be difficult to get up close, due to barriers or hordes of visitors.

Maijishan 麦积山

At Maijishan 麦积山, the cave art and statues are right in your face and you can almost touch them, though you mustn’t, of course!  And, in addition, there is the mountain itself: a honeycomb of caves and statues reached by climbing up a snakes and ladder board of incredible staircases that cling precariously to the side of the mountain.

Maijishan 麦积山

The first Chinese character of Maijishan, “mai” (麦), means wheat or grain resulting in the mountain being called Haystack Mountain, because of its uncanny resemblance to the [Read more →]

Xiangyu Castle Shanxi Province Qin River: 湘峪古堡

Xiangyu Castle

Shanxi Province

Qin River

湘峪古堡

(Xiangyu Gubao)

Xiangyu Castle 湘峪古堡

Our driver had to ask for directions to get to Xiangyu Castle 湘峪古堡.  He seemed a bit lost, as there was a new road and he had only ever been there on the bad old one. As we were getting close, he stopped to ask a young woman waiting by the roadside for final directions. She confirmed that he was nearly there and then, with a cheeky grin, asked for a lift to the village and hopped in. When we got there, she jumped out of the car and, in good English, bade us ‘goodbye auntie’ and ‘goodbye uncles’.

Xiangyu Castle 湘峪古堡

In front of us, as we got out of the car, was the extremely impressive castle of Xiangyu Castle 湘峪古堡.

Xiangyu Castle 湘峪古堡

From the outside, the castle looks like an impregnable fortress with its crenelated walls and dozens of enormous watchtowers. The river that flows in front of the walls and the hills in the background,  only add to the castle’s splendor.

Xiangyu Castle 湘峪古堡

It really makes for quite a spectacular sight. Yet, at the same time, the view is somewhat deceptive, because Xiangyu is actually a large, fortified village, rather [Read more →]

HaihuiTemple 海会寺: Shanxi Province 山西省

HaihuiTemple

海会寺

山西省

Haihui Temple 海会寺

The Buddhist Haihui temple 海会寺where Minister Chen studied is just a short ride away from the castle and Guoyu village. However, our driver – even though he’s a local – has never been there and isn’t sure what it’s all about.

Haihui Temple 海会寺

As we approach the complex, along a mostly empty road, and stop at a grand but rather abandoned-looking entrance area, neither are we. Should we fork out another 30 Yuan each, just to see two pagodas? Fortunately, we decide to go for it.

Haihui Temple 海会寺

As the two pagodas come into view, at the back of a landscaped garden, we can see that they are truly magnificent. The shorter one, the 20-metre high and 1100-year-old Sheli Ta 舍利塔, is a harmonious, but [Read more →]

The Ancient Town of Guo Yu 郭峪古城: Shanxi Province

The Ancient Town of Guo Yu

郭峪古城

Shanxi Province 山西省

Guoyu Ancient Town 郭峪古城

Just a ten minute stroll from the magnificent Minister Chen’s Castle, the peaceful, ancient, walled village of Guo Yu 郭峪古城 is that elusive old China you have been looking for, but of which you have only caught the odd glimpse.

Guoyu Ancient Town 郭峪古城

Even these days, Guoyu is still dominated by its enormous and forbidding watchtower; so much so that nearly all the narrow flagstone alleys and secluded courtyards fall under its all-pervasive shadow. The fortified city walls and secret underground passage leading out from the watchtower point to a more turbulent past.

Guoyu Ancient Town 郭峪古城 Tunnel Under the Village

In more recent history, Guoyu also played an important part. It was used as a base for the 8th route army of the Chinese communists in the war against Japan and there is a memorial square to celebrate this fact.

Guoyu Ancient Town 郭峪古城

Nowadays, however, all is peace and quiet. You can find plenty of Ming and Qing dynasty houses still occupied by local residents. [Read more →]

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle

Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

What to see and do around Jincheng晋城 Shanxi Province Part One

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

The southern Shanxi city of Jincheng 晋城 will never win any prizes for beauty or charm. It’s a typical medium sized Chinese City, dominated by the ubiquitous white tiled buildings, interspersed with an occasional glitzy glass tower. The only attraction in town is a recently built temple complex with a Ming Dynasty  pagoda.

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

So why go there? Well, if you like unspoilt Chinese towns where time seems to have stood still, incredible vernacular architecture, walled castles and ancient pagodas, then Jincheng is the perfect base from which to explore them.  Jincheng also has a fantastic Huoguo restaurant, a decent hotel and friendly cab drivers.

We spent two nights in Jincheng; it was enough to see what we had planned to visit. However, there are a lot more sights to visit than appear in any guidebook.

We visited four places:

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

 Guoyu Village: Guoyu Gucheng: 郭峪古城

The Haihui  Temple and Pagoda complex: Haihui Si: 海会寺

Xiangfu Castle: Xiangyu Gubao 湘峪古保

Part One:

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

Ask anybody if they have ever heard of Prime Minister Chen’s Castle and you’ll probably get a shrug of the shoulders and a look of ‘what are you on about?’ However, in China, [Read more →]

Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村

Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村

山西省

Lijiashan 李家山

Lijiashan 李家山 is probably one of the best examples of Northern China’s cave dwelling architecture 窑洞风格. Situated in a steep valley above the Yellow river 黄河, it exudes bucolic charm. However, if you are not going to stay the night or go off hiking, an hour or two is enough to see everything and have a cold beer.

Lijiashan 李家山

Lijiashan (from Margie’s diary 26/8/2016)

Qikou 碛口Guesthouse 13.00

The driver, who had taken us to Qikou 碛口 from Lüliang Lishi 吕梁离石, has convinced us that Lijiashan village is much too far too walk. For another 30 Yuan he’ll drive us, wait and take us back. But first we can have a beer and something to eat. As we fancy the home-made noodles which have to be ordered for three, our driver joins us for lunch. We have cucumber salad, aubergine with beans, plus the delicious noodles with a simple fresh tomato, coriander and chive sauce.

Lijiashan 李家山

The ride to Lijiashan is not far (5kms), but the road is windy and at times exceedingly steep. It’s also a scorching day and there’s little or no shade from the merciless sun, so we are pleased we took the lazy option.  The village is really tiny, much smaller than I’d expected. Our guidebook had written a whole column about it. The setting is nonetheless lovely: the village is surrounded by green hills, some of them terraced, and there are lots of fruit trees and plants.

Lijiashan 李家山

There are cave-dwellings, mostly abandoned, as well as more elaborate complexes, set around courtyards with cave-rooms at the back. Most buildings are dilapidated, though some [Read more →]

Qikou Town 碛口in Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Town 碛口

Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Town 碛口

Arriving in Qikou after one of those frustrating and often terrifying China back road trips, we were rewarded with grand vistas of the mighty Yellow River and seduced by an enchanting classic Chinese ancient town, as yet not converted into a tourist theme park.

Qikou Town 碛口

It had been a frustrating ride because of a huge, infernal traffic jam, caused by one of the thousands of overloaded coal trucks that ply the Shanxi roads, which had rolled over and blocked the narrow, mountainous and potholed road. Terrifying, because our tiny car, dwarfed by the lurching trucks, kept having to dodge them as they overtook each other on blind corners.

Qikou Town 碛口

However, as we opened the first of many cold beers on the grand terrace of the Qikou Guesthouse, any nasty lingering memories of the trip were soon dispelled.

Qikou Town 碛口

Qikou is an ancient port on the Yellow River (see our previous article on The Qikou Inn for more information). Nowadays there is scarcely any river traffic; [Read more →]

Qikou Kezhan (Inn) 碛口客站: One of China’s most Charismatic Hotels

 Qikou Inn 碛口客站

Qikou kezhan

This must be one of China’s most charismatic hotels! It may not win any prizes for luxury, but its location and ambience are unbeatable.

The Inn or hotel, reportedly built some 300 years ago, is set right on the banks of the Yellow River 黄河, just before one of the river’s huge, sweeping bends. On the other side, the dry and barren hills of Shaanxi 陕西省 province stretch as far as the eye can see.

Qikou Kezhan

For centuries, Qikou town 碛口古城was an isolated but significant outpost as, for kilometer after kilometer, along either bank of the Yellow River, there were no other towns in sight.  In its heyday, it served as an important trading port between the provinces of Shanxi 山西省 and Shaanxi 陕西省, with hundreds of boats docking at its wharf. Today, standing on the few remaining, rickety wooden boards and overlooking the placid brown waters, all this activity is hard to imagine.

Qikou kezhan

The Inn has had an equally colorful history, first as home to the various merchants who plied their wares along the Yellow River and later as a base for the Red Army during the War of Resistance against Japan.

Qikou Kezhan

It’s a handsome, two storey, grey-brick building with two courtyards, a small tower and a lovely, covered terrace overlooking the river. Rooms are cave- like, with huge, rounded, latticed windows and bamboo screens hanging in front of the sturdy wooden doors. The beds are [Read more →]