Suitcase and World: Bingling Temple.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bingling Temple.

It was an early wake up call this morning. We had to hit the road at 6:30a. It was still dark when left Xiahe behind. Our destination for the morning were the Bingling Temple,carved into natural caves and caverns situated a canyon just north of where the Yellow River empties into the Liujiaxia Reservoir near Linxia.  The grottoes are only accessible by boat.

Along the way, a lady boarded the van. Eric introduced her as our boat captain.

By 8:30a, we had arrived a parking lot alongside what looked like a lake. It was run down kind of place. Old storage boxes were set up for vendors to hawk their food and products from. The area was littered with trash. I hate the sight of the plastic strewn about everywhere!

We followed our boat captain to her awaiting boat. We each carefully boarded and donned the life vests that had been provided. The things looked brand new.

Forever trying to hide their faces from the camera, except for Mal who's given up trying :-)

The captain, who has obviously driven the boat many times before, skillfully navigated us away from the dock and into the open waters of the lake.

It was early morning and there were barely a handful of boats around. Sadly, I noticed bits and bobs of plastic trash floating in the lake.

Nothing I could do about them so I turned my attention to the mountains that ring the lake.

We sped along, towards a gorge. The scenery here is stunning and would have been even more so if not for the haze that drapes the air. The last time I was on a boat in China was 7 years ago when I did a cruise of the Yangtze River. Even back then, there was a persistent haze in the air. I wonder if the Chinese have ever seen a truly blue sky?

Up the gorge we went and as we neared the landing dock, the mountainscape got even more dramatic. It truly looks like the craggy mountains you see in a Chinese painting. From a Chinese aesthetic, the mountains are absolutely gorgeous.

The captain turned off the engine as we neared the landing dock. One by one we disembarked. We then followed Eric to the ticket office and entrance to the grottoes.

A long, winding path took us around the hillside in which the caves were carved into. 

At the end of the path,  we could catch a glimpse of the giant Buddha that is an iconic symbol of Bingling.

Bingling means 'ten thousand Buddhas' in the Tibetan language. The caves and grottoes that make up Bingling Temple were works in progress for more than a millennium. The first grotto was begun around 420 AD at the end of the Western Qin Dynasty. Work continued and more grottoes were added during the Wei, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

Over the centuries, earthquakes, erosion, and looters have damaged or destroyed many of the caves and the artistic treasures within. Altogether there are 183 caves, 694 stone statues, and 82 clay sculptures that remain.

As we walked along, we admired the statues that had been placed inside many of the caves and grotto niches, the numerous frescoes, and the carvings on the cave walls. I noticed that there was an upper walkway with sets of steps leading pretty much up to the very top of the hill. Unfortunately, there was a barrier prohibiting us from taking the stairs so we could only admire what we could see from standing on the lower level.  As I walked along, I would pause to marvel at how all the statues, carvings, and frescoes were created and wondered in amazement at how vivid the colors of the frescoes were.  I took way too many photos so here are just a few.

At the end of the walkway was the large carved Maitreya Buddha that stands more than 27 meters (88 feet) tall.

In contrast to the statues tucked inside the caves and grottoes, it was obvious that the giant Buddha had been restored as the lines of the carved edges were just to sharp.

The walkway crossed over what looked to be a semi-dry stream bed. From our new vantage point, we could take in a front on view of the Buddha and the grottoes and caves we had just walked by.

We stopped at a pavilion to take a look at a giant reclining Buddha. Every Buddhist nation has at least one and every one claims theirs is the largest. No claims on this one but it is most certainly old and in my humble opinion, humbly elegant.

On a separate, smaller section of caves were more statues and carvings.

We continued on the walkway which snaked its way around the various boulders of stone.

We eventually crossed back over to the dried river bed which was now a small stream.  It was a really nice day for a stroll in nature.

Perched high up on the boulder wall is a small temple.

A small pavilion, if you will, extends out from the hillside to enable visitors to see the temple. We had walked passed it on our way to the grottoes.  Now, it was time to visit it.

We climbed a lot of steps to reach the small temple that was cut into the face of the boulder.   On the way up, we passed by a wall etched with Chinese lettering - presumably the names of donors who funded the construction of the temple.

Guarding the temple is a very old and frail looking Chinese man. He was simply dressed with a blue cap atop his head.

As I approached, he noticed my camera and made certain that I did not take any photos of the Buddha statue inside the temple - I could only look which I did for just a few short seconds. There was a prayer altar with a few incense sticks poking out of the sand. All four of us made a 1 yuan donation and the other three then took joss sticks, lit them, said a prayer and inserted the stick into the sand. We found out afterwards that, not surprisingly, private donations paid for the restoration of the temple after the Cultural Revolution and for its ongoing maintenance.


From the temple, we took in a nice view of the river and the surroundings.  What a pleasant place for this old man to spend his day working!

As we were about to leave, I wanted to shake the man's hand after finding out that he has not only been the caretaker of this temple for the past 28 years but he's also planted many of the trees and other greenery on the grounds of Bingling. In fact, he lives on the site. I don't know if he gets paid or not but if he doesn't it couldn't be much. Looking after this place is, I think, a labor of love for him. Eric told us he is 85 years old and for that age, the man had a remarkably firm handshake. After me, he shook everyone else's hands as well. He was so cute, willingly posing for photos.

 On our way back down the steps, we encountered a tiny, old Chinese woman on her way up. Yim labeled her as Mrs. Temple. We asked Eric if she was the man's wife and the old man answered that she was. She had a plastic container with her and I suspected that it was a tiffin carrier. Indeed, she was bringing lunch to her husband. She was just about the sweetest thing ever. I leant down to smell the carrier and then gave her a thumbs up, pretending I could smell the delicious food inside. I think that flattered her as she then invited us to join them for lunch. Such a sweet offer which of course, we graciously declined. Though if I was here on my own, I might have taken her up on her offer :-)

Continuing our way down from the temple, we passed by a heap of plastic bottles.  Tourist trash as I am certain that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Temple drink bottled water.  This stuff will be here forever unless someone removes them and takes them to a recycling facility.

From the temple, we retraced our steps back to our boat where our boat captain was waiting for us. 

On the way, a woman in a pink hat crossed paths with us.  For a few seconds, I thought she was our captain only to realize that she was a vendor asking if wanted to buy water from her.  All pink hatted Chinese women look the same to me.....only kidding!

Our lady boat captain was waiting for us by our small boat.  We all piled in and and enjoyed the short ride back to the parking area where our driver and van were waiting for us.

It was a pretty short visit to Bingling and despite the fact that Eric told us pretty nothing about it, I enjoyed strolling along the walkway and seeing all the beautiful statues and carvings.  It's amazing to think that some of what we saw dates back almost 700 years!

It's lunchtime next!