Shanxi, China Datong 2002.07.09 - 07.10

Yungang Shiku

16 km west of Datong are the Yungang Shiku, or Cloud Ridge Caves. Most of these manmade caves were dug between 460~494 AD. Over 50,000 Buddha carvings cover the inner and outer cave walls. It is said that rulers of the Northern Wei dynasty came to these caves to pray to the gods for rain.

Sporadic restoration of the caves has been ongoing since the 11th century. Today, some of the interiors are vivid with colored sculpture while others are fragments of crumbled stone. The best preserved caves are blockaded with a perimeter fence. Fortunately, most of the carvings are visible from the barrier.

Admission to Yuangang Shiku is ¥50 (¥25 with student card).

Datong is 5 hour by train from Beijing Station West and 16 hours by train from Xi'an. From Datong Station, city bus 4 goes across town and terminates at Xinkaili (¥1). From Xinkaili, city bus 3 stops directly in front of Yungang Shiku (¥1.5).

Alternatively, you can pay DTCITS (Datong China Int'l Travel Service) ¥100 for transport to both Yungang Shiku and Xuankong Si, the hanging monastery 65 km southeast of Datong.

A 14-meter tall seated Buddha is fully exposed in what was once Cave 20. Water erosion collapsed the ceiling and exterior walls of the cave.
A painted Buddha has center seat in a pillar that supports the ceiling of Cave 6. Surrounding the Buddha are detailed carvings similar to those that cover the interior walls.
Some of the most colorful and elaborate carvings decorate the interior walls of Cave 11. For preservation purposes, public access into the cave is denied.

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