EXTRA: Yungang Grottoes, Datong, Shanxi

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on January 5, 2015.)

A Buddha (佛) surrounded by other carvings in a cave at
Yungang Grottoes (云冈石窟), Datong, Shanxi (山西, 大同市).

August 22, 2012 - My next visit wasn't on my list of temples, but was not to be missed. Yungang ("Cloud Ridge") Grottoes is one of the four great Buddhist cave sites, and the third I've seen (I still haven't been to the complexes in Gansu, but enjoyed Longmen and Dazu before this trip).

Yungang is a World Heritage Site, and only 15 kilometers or so from central Datong--a reasonable taxi ride, and I found the bus for return.

Like many world-class sites in China, the area has undergone a great deal of development: a huge visitor's plaza with Tang-style buildings and a newly-built temple on a lake island stand between the vehicle drop-off and the caves themselves.

At last one reaches the caves. Constructed in three phases in the 5th and 6th centuries--when Datong was a capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty--they comprise about 250 grottoes and by some counts over 50,000 figures.

Although one main section was closed for restoration while I was there, I was still able to see plenty.

The two most spectacular caves I saw--Numbers 5 and 6--had a superstructure built out in front of them in 1621. Inside is one of the most magical environments I have ever been in. Not a surface is left undecorated, with Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Hindu gods--all manner of unearthly beings gracing the walls.

Other grottoes are open-faced: the viewer stands outside and looks in. Still others are "window" types--standing far back, one looks up and sees the head of a large Buddha statue looking down from inside.

Also nearby are several smaller temples and some ruins of the Great Wall.

GPS Info:
  • 40.11254, 113.1348


(Regarding problems with this map, please see the CHINA section on this page.)


More pictures can be found here.

A temple has been built on a lake island in front of Yungang Grottoes

The magical interior of a Yungang cave

Superstructure in front of some of the caves

An open-faced cave

A "window" type cave with a Buddha inside

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