Yungang Grotto

Yungang Grotto is a cluster of caves in the cliff of Wuzhou Mountain near the city of Datong. Construction of the caves is thought to have begun in the fourth century, and since that time the caves have become a religious site of great historical importance. The grotto is particularly known for its statues that depict Emperor's down the dynasties as the Lord Buddha. Of these, Seated Buddha Cave 20 in Yungang is one of the most famous. While these Buddha's don't compare in terms of scale to statues such as the Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan province, their setting and age make them just as culturally important.

The Yungang Grotto is composed of 53 caves, and runs for about half a mile from east to west. Some of these caves are dominated by pagodas, while there are more than 51,000 stone statues in the grotto in total. The grotto first came into existence in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 - 534). Yungang Grotto art shows the influence of Indian Buddhist art, fused with traditional Chinese artistic styles. The act of hollowing out and constructing the caves is said to have taken 50 years, with over 40,000 workers struggling to complete the project. The Yungang Grotto art seen in the caves, therefore, is the labor of worshippers over hundreds of years. The grotto is one of many holy sites in the Chinese mountains, from the Himalayas in the west of the country, to Mt Tai, sacred to Taoists, in the south, and Mt Wudang, of religious importance to Buddhists, Muslims and Confucians, in the north of the country.

The caves are numbered and are widely recognized as of varying importance. The largest of the caves, cave number six, is about 65 feet in height and houses a tall column decorated with Buddhist statues and designs. The cave is filled with engravings and panels depicting the lives of sacred persons. Caves 16 through 20 are also worthy of note for their Yungang Grotto art. These five caves contain statues of Emperors as the Lord Buddha, depicting the religious theme that the emperor is the Buddha in another incarnation. Of all of these, the Seated Buddha Cave 20 in Yungang is one of the most famous. In this cave, the Buddha is depicted as martial and stately. Through the Buddha's expression, Seated Buddha Cave 20 expresses the power and glory of the Emperor.

The Yungang Grotto is located about 10 miles to the west of Datong city center. Datong, in Shanxi province, has nothing to rival Beijing attractions such as the Great Wall and the Summer Palace Beijing, so many visitors to the capital choose not to take the five-hour journey from Beijing to the city. However, Datong is often included in religious tours of China due to its fame as the City of Pagodas. Although there are only six pagodas remaining today, each one of them has a delicate and detailed design and some are more than 800 years old. The Huayan Monastery in Datong City is particularly well-known, as is the Shanhua Temple, for its vivid Buddhism frescoes.

Visitors to the Yungang Grotto can travel to Datong by bus or train, from where they can take two buses to the caves, stopping off at Xin Kai Li, or take a short taxi ride directly to the grotto from downtown Datong. The city has three bus stations and a train station, which together service most major destinations in north-east China. A bus from Beijing takes roughly five hours, while some visitors choose to take the slower trains in order to get the 7-hour night train back to the capital, and so make the journey to the caves into a day trip. Those taking flights to China will come through Beijing, as the capital has the nearest international airport.

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