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Exploring the Longmen Grottoes and White Horse Temple

by Margaux Schreurs   - Jul 9, 2015
 
After our day at Shaolin Temple and a pretty crazy night hanging out with the other guests at the hostel, most of whom were also traveling to Luoyang for the first time, and were keen to introduce us to baijiu (白酒), traditional Chinese rice wine, we wanted to spend our second day exploring the Longmen Grottoes (Lóngmén Shíkū; 龙门石窟) and checking out the White Horse Temple (Báimǎ Sì; 白马寺), some of the other most famous sights in Luoyang.
 
The Longmen Grottoes, added to the UNESCO World Heritage List barely five years ago, are located in the south of the city, and we decided to get a taxi there as taking the public bus required switching buses. Simply saying ‘Longmen’ to the first taxi that we hailed got us to the caves without any problems. Entrance was 120 RMB when we went.
 
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The river that runs along the Longmen Grottoes
 
The sign at the gate explains some of the history of the grottoes. They were started in the year 493, when Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty decided that the capital city of China should be moved to Luoyang. The caves are spread over a kilometer with more than 2,300 holes, caves, dagobas, and more than 100,000 statues. The caves here were a vital part of understanding the history of the area at the time.
 
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The caves, niches, steles and holes that make up the Longmen Grottoes
 
After paying the entrance fee, we strolled along the river and could gradually see the caves and holes come closer. Once you realize just how many there are, this site becomes even more impressive and you realize just how much time you’re going to be spending here. 
 
Wanfo Cave (Wànfó Dòng; 万佛洞) is one of the most famous caves in the complex, getting its name, which means ten thousand buddhas, from the fact that there are 15,000 small statues of Buddha in the southern and northern walls of this cave. 
 
Another part that we were amazed by was the Fengxian Temple (Fèngxiān Sì; 奉先寺), which was built in Tang Dynasty and is the largest grotto in the entire complex. It is 36 meters wide, and about 41 meters long. There are multiple appearances of Buddha in this huge grotto.
 
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Fengxian Temple, one of the most famous caves 

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One of the many caves at the site
 
If you are into Buddhist sculptures and architecture, you could definitely spend an entire day walking around the site. However, we decided that we also wanted to visit the White Horse Temple before heading back to Beijing later the next day, so after two hours of strolling around and taking in the sights we got a move on and got a taxi to the temple.
 
The White Horse Temple in Luoyang is different because it not only has a Chinese style temple, but it also has a huge Indian-style temple on the site, as well as Thai monks practicing in Luoyang, as we were extremely surprised to discover!
 
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The entrance to the White Horse Temple in Luoyang
 
According to Chinese history, the temple is the first Buddhist temple to be established in China in 68 AD under the patronage of Emperor Ming in the Eastern Han Dynasty (during the time that Luoyang was the capital of China). The temple is located just outside the walls of the ancient city, east of the city, and is popular with China’s modern-day Buddhists because of its historic value. 
 
You might need two hours or more if you wanted to visit the entire complex, as the grounds are pretty big: a total of 13 hectares, or 32 acres. Some parts of the temple were refurbished in the 1950s, and again in 1973 following China’s cultural revolution. 
 
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You will see a lot of monks at the White Horse Temple as the temple is still an active hub of Buddhist activity
 
The Indian-Chinese cooperation temple was completed in 2008 in the International Garden Complex, one that is a close replica of India’s famous Sanchi Stupa. This area is gorgeous and the gardens here are also relaxing. The different architectural styles within the temple complex alone make it worth the visit, never mind the peaceful atmosphere.
 
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The Indian part of the White Horse Pagoda in the International Garden Complex
 
We were sad that our visit didn’t coincide with Luoyang’s peony festival, which celebrates Luoyang’s most famous flower. The festival is held every year between April 10 and 25, and large crowds come to see the flowers in the city, and at the White Horse Temple specifically. Next time we visit Luoyang we will wait until its beautiful flowers are in bloom so as to get the most out of this gorgeous city and its tourist attractions.
 
Following our visit to the temple we got back to the hostel, packed up, and went to explore to find some typical Henan food for dinner. We ended up going into a random restaurant across the road from the hostel, and ordering some Luoyang Water Feast (Luòyáng Shuǐxí; 洛阳水席). Tons of dishes and soups came out of the kitchen, and we were thrilled to try so many different flavors. To be honest, we didn’t even realize you could make so many different soups! Fish is also a traditional food of the area, and we happily ate some carp that was boiled and deliciously seasoned. 
 
If not the sights or to explore past the city of Luoyang, I can see myself coming back to this area for the food alone. And hopefully in the near future!
 
 
 

About Writer

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Margaux Schreurs is a translator, editor and writer living in Beijing. She was born in the Netherlands, and became interested in China and Chinese culture after her first Chinese language class while living in Singapore. She holds an MSc in the anthropology of China from the London School of Economics, and since then has written for several publications throughout the world about her travels and about current affairs, in print and digital media.
 
 
 
 

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