Luoyang 3 days.
On Monday we hopped an early 7am train to Luoyang about 2 hours from Xi’an at 186mph. Fast! Our plan was to spend several days in the area. Drew and I developed a plan to visit 5 UNESCO world heritage sites in 5 days. Stop number one White Horse Temple about 13km west of Luoyang. The White Horse Temple is regarded as the first surviving Buddhist temple erected on Chinese soil, originally dating from the 1st century AD. When two Han-dynasty court emissaries went in search of Buddhist scriptures, they encountered two Indian monks in Afghanistan; the monks returned to Luoyang on two white horses carrying Buddhist sutras and statues. The impressed emperor built the temple to house the monks; it is also their resting place. This was one of the least visited sites during our adventure meaning there were only thousands of people here instead of tens of thousands.
Today was the driving reason we came to Luoyang. Our plan was to visit the Longmen grottos. The Longman Grottos as they are named are one of a handful of China’s serving masterpieces of Buddhist rock carvings. Yes. They were AWSOME! The epic achievement was undertaken by chiselers from the Northern Wei dynasty, after the capital was relocated from Datong in AD 494. Over the next 200 years more than 100,000 images and statues of Buddha and his disciples emerged from over a kilometer of limestone cliffs along the Yi River. Regrettably, overtime bastards known as humans extracted in whole and parts many of the effigies of Buddha to end up in personal collections or in Museums in New York, Kansas City and Tokyo. Some effigies are returning and severed heads are gradually being restored. Many statues have clearly just had their faces crudely bludgeoned off, vandalism that dates to the Cultural Revolution (thanks Mao you asshole) were particularly badly damaged by anti-Buddhist fervor. Weather has not helped. The caves are scattered on the west and east sides of the river. It took us about 5ish hours to tour the site with 30,000 other Chinese. I literally had to push and fight to get up close to take a photo. My American tendencies of superiority and aggressiveness have come in handy at times and physically advocating for my needs has been necessary at times.
A visit of the Shaolin Temple was in for our last day in Luoyang. The Shaolin Temple is one of China’s most famous and legendary Zen (Chan) Buddhist temples. Unfortunately like most as with a number of religious sites it has been the victim of war. It was last torched in 1928 and many of the structures have been reconstructed. There are a number of structures and each contains something interesting. In the Pilu Pavilion there are famous depressions in the concrete floor as a result of the generations of monks practicing their stance work, and huge color frescos. In other building, there are other frescos of fighting Shaolin monks and paintings of other important figures. A short walk from the Temple area is the Pagoda Forrest, a cemetery that includes 246 small brick pagodas including the ashes of an eminent monk. The temple is set in beautiful mountainous area. Regrettably, Drew and I only had a few hours to fight the throngs of people and have the experience. At the end of the day, Drew and I had to get back to town because we met up with Rachel and Ben to catch the high speed train back to Xi’an. The week was winding down and Drew and I had two more stops to make before our trip was complete.