Maijishan 麦积山 Haystack Mountain Gansu Province. 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.
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.
Tianshui – Beidao – Qincheng are three cities in one and provide a great base for a numer of great day trips and more.
In 2002 we made a route that we called the Lanzhou 兰州 – Pingliang平凉 – Tianshui天水 Triangle (Click here). This August (2009), we returned to Tianshui and Lanzhou to add a few more interesting sites to the route. Namely, the Water Curtain Caves 水帘洞 and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 near Luomen 洛门 and Daxiang Shan大像山 near Gangu甘谷. We also took the opportunity to revisit Maiji Shan 麦积山 and explore the historic part of Tianshui; Qincheng.
With good restaurants, reasonably cheap accommodation, a few sites and some remaining old traditional architecture, Tianshui makes a decent base for a number of excursions.
Tianshui is actually made up of two towns, Beidao 北道 and Qincheng 秦城. The towns are separated by Continue reading “Tianshui – Beidao – Qincheng”
Tianshui 天水: An Early Arrival; too early. I lay on the bed unable to sleep but hoping beyond hope that the train would arrive late. However, my hopes were dashed when the conductor shook my shoulder and warned that “We are arriving in 5 minutes”. The train pulled into to Tianshui Station at 3.57am exactly on time and we alighted bleary eyed.
Crossing the square in front of the station we looked for a hotel. Unfortunately, all insisted we would have to pay the full rate for the 2 hours to 6 o’clock. One receptionist suggested that we leave the luggage at the hotel and either sit in the lobby or go out until 6.00 am. My stingier side got the better of me despite Margie’s protests. So we dumped the luggage behind the reception desk and headed out to the square where a number of food stalls and small stores remained open. We grabbed a few beers Continue reading “Tianshui 天水: An Early Arrival”
Another gem in Eastern Gansu, the Water Curtain Caves (Shuilian Dong) and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 take a bit of an effort to reach, especially if you are using public transport, but reward the intrepid with a valley of Taoist temples, rock carvings and paintings, without another tourist in sight.
Unfortunately, for the next year, the path up the valley is being rebuilt and building work is everywhere somewhat spoiling the valley’s isolation. The huge carved Buddha and paintings overlooking the valley are under going restoration, but at least the scaffolding is being withdrawn and they can be seen quite clearly.
However, many of the frescos are still covered. I’d recommend postponing any visit for at least a year. Some of the path up the valley is a death trap. At one point we had to clamber and crawl around some dodgy and hastily erected scaffolding that was holding up a cliff face as rocks fell all around us. Also try not to go when it’s raining as we did. The dry river bed becomes a raging torrent.
The images and frescoes were carved and painted during the Northern Wei dynasty (AD 386 – 534) and the colours are still fantastic. The object of the restoration work seems to be to try and build a shelf above the images in order to protect them from erosion and the elements.
In order to get the best views of the paintings, climb up the path in the direction of the Taoist temple, Shuilian Dong. The surrounding scenery is spectacular with domed sandstone mountains rising up above the valley.
We hired a taxi from Gangu station for the day (200 Yuan) and took in the Sakyamuni Statue on Daxiang Shan near Gangu as well ( see the previous posting for getting to Gangu). There are frequent buses between Gangu and Luomen from where you can also get private transport to the Water Curtain Caves. There are also buses from Lanzhou and Tianshui direct to Luomen.
Whatever transport you take at the moment you’ll have to walk the final 3 kilometres to the carvings and temples. It would be a stunning walk if not for the building work. Eventually the new road will go right up to Lashao Si which will be a pity as the valley’s serenity will be lost.
The main reason for going to Tianshui is to visit the fantastic grottoes known as Maiji Shan Shiku, or Haystack Mountain. Maiji Shan is a flat-topped rock formation, set in the midst of dense green forests. There are two groups of three large statues each, the highlight of which is a 16-metre Buddha, carved on the rock face. Then there is a whole series of caves, connected by amazing walkways that provide good views of the statues, as well as the opportunity to look into every nook and cranny of Haystack Mountain.
With statues ranging from the Northern Wei, through to the Qing dynasty, there is a real sense of……..