Zhangbi cun 张壁村 is a tiny, beautiful, bucolic village in rural Shanxi Province. The village is famous for its underground castle, Zhangbi Gubao张壁古堡, a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the Tang Dynasty (more than 1400 years).
Here are a few of the photos we took. There will be more on Zhangbi Village and its underground castle in the coming weeks.
Zhangbi Village can be easily visited on a day trip from the ancient walled city of Pingyao 平遥.
The best way to get to Zhangbi Village is to hire a car and driver. You can also take in the Wang family courtyard王家大院 on the same excursion. It all makes for a great day out from Pingyao. We paid 400 yuan and which also included stopping at Shuanglin Temple 双林寺 8 kilometers outside Pingyao。
Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)
Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.
The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.
We have wanted to visit Fanjingshan, the sacred mountain in Guizhou province on the border with Hunan province, for many years. Unfortunately, we never had the time when we were in Guizhou. Last summer one of my students, Maria Vioque and her partner, visited and climbed Fanjingshan and here is their review and photos.
Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve梵净山
Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. According to the Chinese Tourism rating system for places of interest in China, this sacred mountain for Chinese Buddhism has an AAAAA rating (the highest score).
Just climbing up the infinite steps and walking through the lush green forest was an experience in itself, but better to get some tips in advance if you want to enjoy this unforgettable spiritual experience properly.
Starting the Ascent
On arrival, it is necessary to buy two tickets to get into the Fanjingshan Nature Reserve; one to enter the park and another one for the shuttle bus (approx 100 CNY both) to the entrance.
It’s easy to feel dizzy and a little carsick on the shuttle bus as it wizzes up the narrow zigzagging road with hairpin bends, but the amazing landscape and the delightful river flowing by the side of the road make the discomfort all worthwhile. Continue reading “Fanjingshan Guizhou Province:梵净山”
If you would like to see one of China’s greatest Buddhist sites without the hordes, then turn up at the Longmen caves – 13 kilometers south of Luoyang – in the late afternoon and you’ll have them almost to yourself.
Arriving at around 16.30 is a a good option. This will give you about 2 hours to explore the site before you are chased out by guards anxious to go home.
Take bus number 81 from the train station, or a taxi if you are in a hurry.
Accommodation: We can’t really recommend anywhere to stay in Luoyang. We spent one night at a 7 Day Inn opposite the train station. The place was cheap, but also a bit of agrimy dump. In 2002, when we first visited Luoyang, there seemed to be far better accommodation options. You are probably better off staying in the city centre.
Eating:There are a few decent places to eat around the train station, or you could try the heavily restored old town for traditional snacks.
Arriving: We arrived in Luoyang from Jincheng 晋城市(Shanxi Province). There is some dramatic scenery on the way as you drop down from the Shanxi plateau to the Yellow river plain.
Leaving: We took the high speed train to Xian 西安. Next day tickets were easy to get hold of even in August. However, the high speed train station is quite a long distance from the city center and the old railway station. You’ll need to take a bus or a taxi and allow yourself plenty of time.
The early morning mist and heavy cloud cover bestowed an eerie atmosphere over Chong’an 重安. The river was motionless and silky smooth like a millpond. The town and the surrounding scenery seemed as if suspended in a landscape painting. Silence reigned.
Then there was a shout, a curse and the haggling began. Chong’an Market was open for business.
The huge market held in Chong’an every five days is one of the best and most colourful in Guizhou. The local Miao 苗族 and Gejia 革家 ethnic groups swamp the small scruffy town in a frenzy of buying and selling that lasts the entire morning and carries on into the early afternoon.
Just a few kilometers out of Rongjiang is the Dong Village of Chejiang 车江, A rustic place with a couple remarkable structures including an enormous Drum Tower. Chejiang is a peaceful and lad-back where locals get on with life and curiously observe the odd foreigner who strays into their village.
Chejiang is really a cluster of Dong Minority 侗族 hamlets, spread out along the road heading east from the bridge. Bus number 1, leaving from in front of the Qingfeng hotel will take you there in less than 10 minutes.
The highlight of Chejiang is an enormous Drum Tower that can be seen from quite a distance. It has been fenced in and provided with a ticket office (un-staffed after 5 o’clock), but in the late afternoon, after 5 or 6 o’clock, village life around the Tower resumes.
After spending the morning strolling around Rongjiang’s huge Sunday market we were left with a few hours to kill before we had to catch the last bus back to Kaili. There wasn’t enough time to go to the amazing Dong Village of Zengchong so we looked for a closer alternative.
Walking around the market we had noticed that some ladies had come to town in the most amazingly embroidered dresses and trousers. We asked the receptionist in the hotel about them and she told us that they were Gaoshan Miao 高山苗 or High Mountain Miao from the village of Bakai 扒开村 some 15 kilometers away along the Duliu river. I had never heard the name, Gaoshan Miao, before or since so it might just be a local name for the villagers living along the Duliu River.
‘ 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
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!