Shaolin, White Horse Monestary, Longmen Grottos
Solstice Slip road better on the train than I did, ready and anxious to disembark for new adventures. Probably got a lot more sleep as well! We arrived in Louyang shortly before seven and had the delightful experience of going from the train station to breakfast to the tour bus.
Did you notice a hotel or shower anywhere in that list? The humidity again is close to or above 100% (water dripping off things and people). Some of us had at least taken fresh clothes out to change. There were others in day old clothes. A/C on the bus helped.
This is Hunan Province, one of the poorer provinces, visibly so than Peking: at least from the cracked walls in the train station and pieces chipping off the platforms. Crumbling buildings along the station street were side by side with newer structures. This is a city of only a million people. We will not even talk about the condition of our tour bus—it has seen better days. It is probably a contemporary of Nina. Ripped seats, absent seat controls and leg space not designed for Long-Noses (Westerners).
On the way to Shaolin Cloister (and one of the five holy mountains – completely obscured by whatever is in the air) we all grogged out, exhausted from the train ride and missed most of the inevitable lecture. What I remember clearly is that the Cloister has watched over the area for hundreds upon hundreds of years, protecting the area from bandits. At some point the various fighting styles evolved. This is now the national center for Kung Foo and is one of the highest, if not the highest ranking school in the world.
We walked through part of the grounds, seeing dozens of student groups practicing before entering a seating arena to watch a demonstration. The sign that said “NO PHOTOS!” just was not understood by those who spoke neither Chinese or English (consider a German tour group in that category since all the Japanese and most of the Chinese were flashing away): my pictures are not great, but I got a couple of decent shots. Having an SLR digital camera is great—especially on manual mode. Audience Participation, the moves are not as easy as they seem.
There were the historical Pagodas-
After more meandering and seeing of buildings, we were returned to our tour bus to drive to The White Horse Temple. It was at this point that my camera quit functioning. Going, almost, but not quite completely nuts – it seems like the humidity is a bad combination with the battery, letting it run down rather quickly. I had taken no where near the number of photos as the day before. But this still left me in a panic if my estimation that it was just a run down battery was not correct.
The Temple is a collection of multiple inner buildings, all of which have the Budda in various guises and repose. The oldest statue was brought from India over 2000 years ago. The teens seemed to enjoy hearing some of the history. George and I found a small gift shop off to the side – no, we did not need incense rather a book on the temple. When you can’t take your own pictures, settling for someone else’s also works.
A bus ride to lunch – yet another round table. Oh! I haven’t mentioned that. I thought it was understood. There are 15 in our tour group – this breaks out to 8 at one table and 7 at the other. Usually it is a brave couple of our age from Landshut that joins the five of us. In the center of each table is a turntable on which all the dishes are placed. It works well, as long as people are polite and see who is in the process of dishing up food prior to spinning the wheel.
The final stop today was the Longmen Grottos. There is a young woman in the group who is taking almost as many photos as I. Her camera was doing fine and I am going to hit her up for pictures. This place matters. Along the Yi River, first in natural caves, then in ones carved out directly from the bluff face are dozens and dozens of statues. The largest caves are over two stories tall, some of the smaller, less than the length of a hand. Apparently during the Tang Dynasty and again during one other early period there were issues with robbers.
That destruction is nothing compared to what happened between 1907-1949 when Westerner’s helped themselves to over 400 of the most important statues. A good many of them can still be seen in the British Museum and more than one wound up in private collections. One plaque commemorates the 400 (yes – four hundred) missing Buddas. I am sure that this is one of the items still under political discussion between China and any country which is now home to those particular statues.
Today there are stainless steel stairs and railings bolted to the rock face so that tourists can come and see this wonder of the world. The river flows slowly by, so thick with silt and pollution that you can not see down more than a few centimeters. Visible high on the facing side are a few grottos, but those are noted empty by sign on this side of the river. In the middle, a rose and yellow painted cement Lotus Blossom seemingly floats serenely.
By this time, all of us were seriously wiped out. Without much sleep the night before, no time to wash or change clothes –we all were voting for the hotel. But first we had dinner. Please assume that the majority, if not all those we saw at dinner were tourists. I really don’t think that the groups mix much. Both from political design and the fact that where they take us would just not be affordable for the vast majority of Chinese.
The restaurant was on the 25th floor of a tower and rotated, slowly perhaps, but definitely. Over the course of our dinner we traveled from North to East. With a steady center core, the seating area circled this, with an outer window area that moved separately from the seating area. Tonite was Buffet. Noah was more than happy – he hit the grill area followed by a goodly number of the steam table dishes.
I had a great time. Not everything had an English name associated with it. What I found was that either those were the more interesting dishes or those with a lot of spice. I skipped the cuttle fish, and anything I could not completely identify. But I did find wonderful things to eat. There were spicy salads, veggies, tofu, onion small pancakes, mushrooms of various kinds and soybeans steamed in the pods. The ubiquitous watermelon along with cantaloupe was a better choice for desert than the local ice cream.
Full and exhausted, we went to the hotel. This is the first place that had no “trundle or other extra beds” so Noah actually got a room to himself. A side effect of the single child family in action –the idea of needing more than two adults in a room just is not even a concept.
The only internet availability was for pay, and neither of us decided it was worth it.