Fifty kilometers west of the Yongjing County, the Thousand Buddha Caves of Bingling Temple is on the Jishi Hill. Boating from the nearby Liujiaxia Dam, one of China's hydropower dams, for several minutes, you can see the Jishi Hill on which the caves are excavated.
Bingling is a transliteration of Tibetan, which means Ten Thousand Buddha, just the common name of Buddhist caves in China. They were initially made in 420 AD by daring Buddhists who descended from the cliff on ropes to carve their masterpieces, and expanded several times through the ages. Nowadays, there still exist 183 niches, 694 stone statues, 82 clay sculptures, and 900 square meters of murals. All the statues, sculptures and murals exhibit superb craftsmanship, and have great artistic appeal. These caves, which stretch for 200 meters, include the caves of Western Qin, North Wei, Sui, Tang, and Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing dynasties. Within and on the cliff are a series of winding walkways and stairs that will lead you around the site.
The most imposing is the statue of Maitreya (the Buddha of the Future), which is 27 meters high, and stands out as the first sight of the caves from the river. Its cover has fallen off, possibly because the Buddha was made of straw and stucco over an inner wooden frame.
Cave No.169 is the oldest cave from the Eastern Jin period (a disturbed period in China's history when China was split into several states). The cave has 24 niches, which contain nineteen stone Buddha and 39 clay figures. Murals on the wall are dedicated to Buddha, Bodhisattva, Apsara, etc. This cave, also holds the earliest epigraph of any of China's caves.
The Grottoes have great value for research of the history of Chinese painting, and the spread of Buddhism during that time. Between June (sometimes as late as July) and October, tourist boats depart daily from the dam to Bingling Temple, while during the winter months the water level is too low for boats, and there is no access by road.
Besides the temple, the journey itself is impressive, especially within close proximity to the caves. The cliff face, 60 meters high, is part of the northern side of a gorge formed by the Yellow River. Below the caves themselves is the Liujiaxia Reservoir, that will take a good three hours to cross, allowing you to enjoy at your leisure the stunning scenes before you!
How to get there: (Source: ctrip.com)
Independantly, take a bus from Lanzhou's West Bus Station bound for Yongji, getting off at the Liujiaxia Port (usually depart 07:30, 80km, 2.5hrs, RMB10). Catch a boat bound for the temple from here. The boat trip costs around RMB80 (no student discounts) and takes about three hours. You can also bargain down the price for a motorboat (up to 8 people, one hour, around RMB500-600). The last bus back to Lanzhou departs at 5pm, if you miss this you may have to stay in Yongji.
Convenience, and often competitive prices, would suggest that you should try the travel agencies. There are many in Lanzhou and most of them will, in season, be able to arrange a tour to the caves for between RMB200-400. They normally will provide all transport there and back and a ticket entrance fee. (Photo: travelchinaguide.com)
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