Zhengzhou to Luoyang
We got up at 0630, had breakfast at 0730, and were on the road by 0800. This, it would seem, is to be the regular routine. Oh well, I can get used to it. We got outside, and it was definitely winter. Probably around -5C. We settled in for the ride. We were going to the birthplace of Zen Buddhism – The Shaolin temple! As we approached, we picked up our local tour guide who would explain a lot about the history of the area, and about the Shaolin temple itself.
Before getting to the temple grounds we stopped at a Jade market. They sold all kinds of jade, most mined in the local Songshan mountains. It was beautiful. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as white jade. They had many Buddhist jade statues, and pendants. Many of them were quite beautiful, and inexpensive. The problem was that I can’t think of what I’d do with one. It was at this shop that I noticed that the shopkeepers are VERY attentive. If you show even the slightest interest in something, they pull it off the shelf, and lay it out. They also bring out 3 or 4 other items that are similar, and try to convince you of how great it would be for you to own one. Attentive is an understatement. Aggressive would be more correct. There was a HUGE jade boat, and I took a picture of it. It was spectacular.
From the shop, it was a short drive to the Shaolin temple. The temple was founded in 495 AD, and Bodhidharma came to the Shaolin in the Songshan mountains in 517 AD. He was the founder of Chinse Zen Buddhism. He apparently sat in meditation for 9 years in a cave in the mountain to be enlightened. 9 years! Shaolin monks once saved the emperor Li Shimin during the Tang dynasty, and were afforded special status by the emperor. The Qing dynasty outlawed the martial arts, and as such many fires beset the temple during that period, and shortly after. Luckily the stone artifacts were not destroyed.
We walked through the temple, and learned about the different stages of the temple. Being winter, it was pretty quiet. It helped to be able to understand the solitude that the setting afforded during its earlier time. We learned about Hui Ke, who cut waited in a snow storm for the Boddidharma to complete his meditation so that he could ask to study under him. His devotion was so sincere that he even cut off his left arm to prove it! This display of devotion earned him the right to study under the Boddidharma.
The artwork was exquisite, and the stories and history were quite interesting. There is one building in which you can see the indentations caused by generations of monks practicing their ritual martial arts. There are also Gingko trees in the courtyard with small holes in them – a result of the monks practicing “finger Gong Fu”. Ouch!
Two of the heavenly kings guarding the temple:
After the temple, we headed to the pagoda forest. It was a cemetery for monks. Different number of levels indicated differing stature as a monk. 9 was for emperors, and 7 meant he had saved someone’s life. 5 was for most monks.
There were two pagodas remaining intact from the Tang dynasty – over 1200 years ago! They were really old, and the oldest is propped up, as the recent weathering has not been kind. It was kind of eerie, just like walking through a “regular cemetery”. We took a little shuttle back to where we had gotten out of the bus, and you could see the various Gong Fu students practicing their art.
The oldest pagoda:
We left the temple to go to lunch, and on the way to the restaurant, we passed the many different Gong Fu schools that line the road to the Shaolin temple. There are probably over 50 different schools. Some with as many as 7500 students! Lunch was hearty, and we enjoyed a different local beer again.
The next thing on the list was a Gong Fu show by the Shaolin Temple Monks! As a bonus, since it was the low season, we were getting a private show. Wow. We obviously got front row seats. The monks performed many truly amazing feats of body control, such as hanging by their neck, and being balanced on spear points. They had us try to lay a solid punch into an older monk, and he didn’t even seem fazed. These guys have their training down very well. After the show, they marketed some VCD’s and some joint lotion. We picked up a VCD. It wasn’t very expensive, and I always enjoy watching the Shaolin monks.
Various Monk pictures:
With that complete, we were all bundled back onto the bus, and headed off to Luoyang. The drive was interesting, as the Chinese landscape in this province is very dry, and the hills have been extensively terraced for agriculture. There were many caves in the hillsides in which our guide told us people lived. I dunno.
We arrived at our next destination around 1430. The Longmen caves. These caves had been carved into the wall of the cliff since the Tang dynasty. Each cave, or grotto, had a carving of a Buddha, or Buddhas. The caves were exquisite. They were, unfortunately, defaced by vandals, thieves, treasure hunters and the weather. One interesting danger the caves faced was the changing dynasties. You see one dynasty worked to destroy the works of a previous one, as they didn’t want people to maintain any old allegiances. Too bad, as many of the works were very good, other than having a head chipped off, for example. There was a beautiful “Lotus Cave”, with a huge lotus blossom carved in the roof. There was one cave with over 10,000 Buddha’ carved into the walls, some as small as 3 cm tall. Each was unique in its form (seated/standing/waving etc) The prime attraction was the 17m high seated Buddha, and the surrounding carvings. These carvings were huge,and intricate. Incredible craftsmanship.
Wall of the 10,000 Buddha cave:
Lotus blossom cave:
Evening came quickly, and it was good to get to our hotel in Luoyang. We had dinner, and settled into our rooms at the Luoyang Peony Hotel. It was a very nice hotel, but the one in Zhengzhou was just a bit nicer, and seemed a bit more modern.
It’s REALLY late – time to get some sleep! More tomorrow.
Pictures at http://www.fotothing.com/dragonspeed