My friend and I arrive in Zhengzhou and it is raining. Despite the rain, and a sleepless night on the train, we decide to start sightseeing right away. We get on a bus bound for the Longmen (or "Dragon Gate") Grotto, located in the ancient city of Luoyang about three hours away.
Fortunately, it has stopped raining by the time we arrive. It is quiet here, especially after a rain. I see a stone path and green mountains in front of me. A couple of butterflies are playing in a nearby cluster of flowers.
We walk down the stone path and pass through the main gate to the grottoes. A guide comes to meet us. I can now see the two mountains in greater detail, and see a river flows between them. Our guide tells us the mountains are named East Hill and West Hill, and the river is the northbound Yi River.
I now fully understand what we'll be seeing. There are rows upon rows of caves carved into the mountainsides on either side of the river. Each cave is filled with Buddhist art.
Walking inside the caves, I see entire walls covered with carved Buddhas. Our guide tells us that if the neck of a Buddha is carved with fleshy layers, it probably dates to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when plumpness was considered the height of beauty. If there are no love handles, it was probably carved during another dynasty. I make sure to follow the guide closely for all these special details.
Among all the caves, two stand out to me. One is the Ten-Thousand Buddhas Cave, carved during the Tang Dynasty. At the rear of the cave is a statue of the Buddha Amitabha, around which sit fifty-two attending bodhisattvas on lotus flowers. The sides of the cave are decorated with over ten thousand tiny carvings of Buddha. I marvel at craftsmanship over one thousand years old.
The other standout cave is the Fengxian Temple, the largest cave in the Longmen complex. The main Buddha is over 17 meters in height with 2-meter-long ears. I peer into the face of the statue and see a plump face, peaceful eyes, and a smile on the lips.
I am impressed not only by the scale of the Longmen Grottoes, but also by the attention to detail apparent everywhere. After enjoying the sculptures, we step onto a bridge that spans the river. Even on the sides of the bridge are intricately carved Buddhas and lotus flowers.
On the bus back to Zhengzhou, I reflect on my visit to the Longmen Grottoes. The beauty on display lingers in my mind. I feel respect toward the skilled craftsmen who gave the world such wonders.
Don't wear brightly colored clothing or you will attract many types of insects. (I made the mistake of wearing a saffron yellow jacket and had to put it in my bag.)
It's better to bring a camera with a wide-angle lens ¨C to make capturing the scale of the cave art possible when it's impossible to back up.