Shanxi – In search of Duke of Mt Deer

14 10 2007

Since watching the Duke of Mount Deer, I always wish that one day I could visit the infamous Wutaishan where it was rumoured that the Qing Dynasty Emperor Shun Zi (Emperor Kang Xi’s father) went to become a monk. So, mid of April this year, I decided to fulfil my long time wish and planned my own trip to Shanxi province in China (where Wutaishan is situated).

There is no direct flight to Shanxi so I have to fly to Beijing and took a domestic flight to Datong, a city in Shanxi. As the domestic flight is early the next morning, I took the opportunity to walk around Beijing, a place where I have not visited for the last 10 years. I revisited the Temple of Heaven, the venue for worshipping the heaven and pray for good harvest in the Ming and Qing dynasty. Other places that I went included a pleasant walk along Wangfujing Street, Tiananmen Square, Main Stadium and Olympic Village for Beijing Olympic 2008, the Hutongs and local old Siheyuan Houses.

Datong

Very early the next morning (I have to woke up at 4 am!!!), I went to the airport to catch my early 7 am flight to Datong, the northern city in Shanxi. It is one of the 24 historical and cultural cities in China, neighboring Hebei Province to the east and Inner Mongolian to the north. This place used to be considered as the barbarian place and part of Mongolia as it was located outside the Great Wall beyond the Yanmen Pass.

The Yungang Grottoes (Cloud Ridge Caves) in the outskirts of Datong is a treasure trove of Buddhist carvings unrivaled in the world with a variety of more than 51,000 statues. Yungang Grottoes, together with Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, Dunhuang Grottoes and Maijishan Grottoes in Gansu, are considered as the Four Greatest Buddha Grottoes in China.

I also visited the original Jiulongbi (Nine-dragon sacreen) built in Ming Dynasty in front of the mansion of Ming Emperor Taizu. The Qing royalties loved it so much that a relica of the masterpiece was erected in the Imperial Palace and Beihai in Beijing. Other famous structural buildings of the Liao Dynasty include the Huayen Temple and Shan Hua Temple.

The next day, on my way to Wutaishan, I dropped by Xuankong Si (Hanging Monastery) at Mt.Hengshan. Built precariously on sheer cliffs above Jinlong Canyon, the monastery dates back more than 1400 years. Its halls and pavilions were built along the contours of the cliff face using the natural hollows and outcrops. It is really a great architecture work and I wonder how the workers managed to build such a temple hanging on Mt Hengshan in ancient times where technology is not that advance. Before reaching Wutaishan, I made one last stop at Yingxian Wooden Pagoda, the biggest wooden pagoda in China. It was built by Empress Xiao of the Liao Dynasty (the Liao Empress in the show “The Yang Warriors”).

Wutaishan

The scenic ride to Wutaishan (Five-terrace Mountain) from Yingxian took around 3 hours. When I almost reach Wutaishan, the driver suddenly asked me to see the snow. I initially thought he was joking, but no, it was really snowing!!! The other name of Wutaishan is called Qing Liang Shan meaning Cool Mountain, where the temperature at the mid of summer is no more than 20 degree Celsius. The mountain is said to be the most beautiful during winter season as it would be covered wholly in white snow. But few people have the guts to visit it in winter due to the extremely cold temperature and also the roads up and down the mountain would be block by snow. Hence, I was overjoyed at the sight of snow falling. I have expected the mountain to be cooling at this time, but I have not expected to see snow as this is coming to the end of spring!

Centered on the beautiful monastic village of Taihuai, it is one of China’s four sacred Buddhist Mountains. It lies deep in an alpine valley enclosed by the five peaks. I visited a number of temples in Mt Wutai, including Xiantong Temple, Tayuan Temple, and Fo Mu Cave. However, the most scenic view was at the peak of southern terrace, as well as the Dailuo Peak. At the top of these 2 places, I really feel like I am at the top of the world (but there’s a price to pay, which is the freezing sensation!)

Taiyuan & Hongdong

After spending a couple of days climbing up and down in Wutaishan, I left the place and went to other parts of Shanxi. I visited the Jinci Temple in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. Jinci Temple is a combination of historical cultural relics (the place where the Zhou Dynasty Emperor commemorate his mother) and beautiful landscapes and is known as a little Jiangnan in Shanxi.

About 2 hour drive from Taiyuan is the Qiao Family Compound. Built in 1755 (Qing Dynasty), this well-preserved and exquisite structure used to be the residence of Qiao Zhiyong, who was a famous businessman during the Qing dynasty. Now it is reputed as a bright pearl of North China’s residential architecture. It was used to film the popular movie “Dahong Denglong Gao Gao Kua” (Hang the Red Lanterns High).

In Hongdong, I visited the Big Chinese Sholar tree (the place where it was believed that our ancestors came from) and Susan Prison, a Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 AD) construction and the earliest surviving prison still in China.

Yuncheng

Yuncheng, located at the most southern part of Shanxi, was the place where Guangong (the famous red face character in the romance of the 3 kingdoms) was born. I have visited the Guangong Temple in Luoyang, where Guangong’s head was buried. That’s why when the driver suddenly asked me if I was interested to make a trip to Yuncheng, I immediately said yes. I would say the long 4 plus hours of journey from Linfen is worth it as the temple, being in his hometown, is the most respected Guangong Temple in China.

Linfen

After the visit, I went back to Linfen and visted the Yao Temple, an important cultural relic with more than 1400 years history. It has been the place for people to offer sacrifice to Emperor Yao in different dynasties.

The journey to the Hukou Waterfall from Linfen is a tiring journey along winding mountain roads and bumpy roads. I almost felt as if I am back in India when I travelled on this kind of road!!! But when I see the Hukou Waterfall, all my grievances about the journey were gone. The sight was spectacular. I understand from a local guide that when the Yellow River runs all the way from Qinghai Province to the border of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, zigzagging to Jixian in Shanxi Province and Yichuan in Shaanxi Province, it suddenly finds it way through a narrow valley guarded by flocks of flourishing forests on both sides. The riverbed of the Yellow River narrows from 300m to 50m, turning the tranquil river into a turbulent one. It is this narrow path that makes Hukou Waterfall popularity unequalled in China. The tremendous water splashes on the rocks, causing countless waterbeads and foam, then water funs from which visitors may notice a colourful rainbow by chance. The water fumes curl upwards, turning from yellow to grey, grey to blue, which people call “smoke from the river”. I went down to the bottom of the waterfall also which is called Long Gong (or the dragon palace) and got myself all wet from the Yellow River water rushing down the waterfall!!! It was really a fun experience :=P

Pingyao

My last stop at Shanxi was at Pingyao Ancient City. It was built in 1370 AD during the Ming dynasty. Though it had been repaired in Ming and Qing dynasty, it has kept the original look of the early Ming dynasty. I visited the Rishengchang Financial House Museum, the Ancient Qing and Ming Street, and the Gu Xian Ya (Yamen in Old China).

I transferred from Taiyuan back to Beijing to catch my flight back to Singapore. While waiting for my flight in Beijing (which is at midnight), I spent my time visiting the Ming Tombs and the Summer Palace, also known as Yiheyuan, and enjoyed the Beijing roast duck at Chuan Ju De, the famous roast duck store in Beijing. Apart from the incident in Pingyao, I would say that my whole Shanxi/Beijing trip is really fun and enjoyable. I got a taste of what a Ke Zhang (a shop in ancient days that people slept overnight) living is and experience sleeping on a Kang in the Ke Zhang in Pingyao. Anyone interested to go there again? I can pass to you my itinerary.

Tips:

– One important thing about Shanxi is that the hotels might not have currency exchange counter and it is rather difficult to change Chinese Yuan in this province. So, if you intend to buy things, remember to bring more Yuan there, as a lot of places don’t accept VISA or Mastercard.

– Caution for travellers to Pingyao: the local guide is not very honest and conned us into entering a building where we are forced to see our fortune. And the worst part is that they refuse to let people leave if you don’t pay up for their “service”. So beware!

– The road to Hukou waterfall from Shanxi is rough, but much much better than Shaanxi (if you are travelling from Xian). Hence, I will suggest that you visit the waterfall with Shanxi trip (and it’s nicer over this side).

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8 04 2012
The Carefree Traveller’s Book of ABC ~ D is for Datong « The Carefree Traveller ~ Wanderer from the Little Red Dot

[…] read more on Datong and the other interesting cities/towns in the Shanxi Province, visit https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2007/10/14/shanxi-in-search-of-duke-of-mt-deer/. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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