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04/03/2013

Luoyang: Resting place of tranquility II

In contrast, some tiny Buddha carvings were smaller than the palm of my hand while others were human-sized. The fine craftsmanship and the massive numbers of carvings alongside the cliff walls made me think of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The first statues were carved from AD 493 during the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534), but most were carved during the Tang Dynasty.

It's not surprising that a number of statues have been disfigured, either by time or warfare.

Don't make the mistake I did and assume that from photos and information gleaned from the Internet, Longmen Grottoes (a must-see for customized China tours) can easily be viewed in two hours.

Longmen Grottoes is just 1 km and with most of the carvings concentrated on the northern side. But the sheer number of carvings and the fact that some of them are located higher up the hillside and require climbing up stairways, not to mention the temples on the southern side, mean visitors should allocate at least three hours to take in everything at a leisurely pace.

The southern side has far fewer carvings, but has many temples and steles, including the 1,500-year-old Xiangshan Temple.

I was surprised on walking up Xiangshan Temple to see a much less ancient villa, which was where the former Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek stayed to celebrate his 50th birthday in 1936. The rooms in the villa display photos of Chiang.

This recent history pales in comparison to the surrounding statues and carvings, dating back 1,500 years. Near the exit on the south side is the grave of Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi, a former court official and governor of Henan.

Other historical sites include White Horse Temple, located a little further to the north of Luoyang, and Guanyin Temple.

There is also a royal horse and chariot museum, which features the remains of several sacrificial horse pits from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC).

Flower lovers would have heard about or visited Luoyang's Peony Festival and its many public gardens featuring the national flower.

The more adventurous can go to the legendary Shaolin Temple included in China travel packages, which is in Dengfeng, just over two hours away by bus and is favorite place for fans of Kongfu. The most common route is to take a bus to Dengfeng, then a minibus to Shaolin Temple.

The temple does not look like those typically seen in the movies. There are enough sights to take in, like Pagoda Forest, the actual temple, meditation caves, Songshan Mountain, and of course, performances by Shaolin monks.

But the most impressive sight is seeing hundreds of youths practicing kung fu in the late afternoon in an open courtyard.

Luoyang's old town is situated to the north, across Luohe River, which forms a boundary between the older and newer parts of the city.

A formidable gate flanked by towers and a high wall serves as the entrance to the old town, where you can try the famous Shuixi water banquet dishes, which stem from the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). Shuixi should be tried if you travel to China in Luoyang. It is also a good place for an after-dinner stroll as the night atmosphere is particularly tranquil.

Related Links:
http://www.travelzoo.com/vacations/asia/-1399-China-10-Ni...
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