Thinking of travel.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Day four of 2012 China tour.

The wooden Pagoda

Day four  of 2012 China tour.

What a beautiful day. Our route today was towards Taiyuan with a stop to visit the Hanging Monastery and the Wooden Pagoda. Both sites were about 60 kilometers from Datong.

The Hanging Monastery

The Hanging Monastery is truly a beautiful site to visit. The road off the main highway took us through some high lands. It was a two way road with many curves. Passing traffic was not an option, and of course there was traffic. After all, it was still the holiday week. We disembarked the bus at the entrance of attraction and our bus was directed to where all the other buses were lined up. It was the most far point in the parking lot.

We were passed quickly through the gates. It was crowded; people were milling about waiting their tickets. We were soon ushered through the gates and found ourselves on the way to the face of the cliff. It was a nice walk. We were in a canyon, and a river moved quietly beneath the foot bridge.

The crush of people trying to climb up
to the temples was too much for
When we arrived at the beginning of where we would climb to visit the actual buildings, I decided that the crush of people was not for me. I looked at the crowd pushing up the stair walkway and could not believe anyone would be able to advance up the grade in the amount of time we had allocated to visit this site. I looked up at the buildings hanging precariously on the face of the cliff. They were supported by poles that were lodged into the cliff wall at an angle that allow them to support the floor structure of the monastery. I tried to envision the workers that constructed the 40 room building. How did they hang on the side of the cliff and move the large beams about with out falling? I am sure some gave their lives in its construction. I believe the documentation stated that the present structure was build during the Ming dynasty but that the original monastery was started in about the fourth century.

We had decided that we would stay two hours here so that we would have time to visit another attraction during the afternoon. Looking at the crowd I calculated that it would take more than two hours to push up and climb down, so I elected to take my photos from below.
View from below.
It was at this time Greg showed up with the bus driver. Greg is a photographer who uses the old box and accordion type camera. He takes black and white photos using the large size film. I hooked up with him so that I could see how he maneuvered this large scale camera. The area we selected to set up was at the internal exit point to the attraction. When we started to climb this path we were abruptly stopped by the park police and told that we could not go up. However, after a lot of talk and demonstration of the camera told the officer that we only wanted to get a good photograph from a vantage point. Little did I know that two of our group Yukari and Camilla had somehow eluded the guard, and managed to climb to the monastery via the exit.

Greg composing his photograph
Once Greg had established the vantage point from where he wanted to photograph the old architecture, the bus helped him set, and Greg soon started to compose his image. This camera is not like our digital Kodak that we utilize today. This camera takes a negative image, and the film is very limited and difficult to locate, so one utilizes the material prudently. Greg conferred quite a bit of time composing his images. During the process people started to gather about him. They were amazed that such a camera still existed and was being use in our modern time. Greg was generous. He invited many of the on lookers to take turns under the camera cover, to look upon an image that was upside down. The crow started to grow and soon the guard was shooing the people down the trail so that others could pass.

I left Greg with his camera and took a walk along the canyon. It did not allow me to go to far as just to the left of the Hanging Monastery a large concrete dam blocked the way. The sight was awesome.

In the canyon looking towards the dam
My walk took about twenty minutes and then I returned to the bridge across the water and found a comfortable place to sit and admire the surrounding scenery. It wasn't long before some of the other joined me. They two did not want to face the dense pack of people trying to climb the stairs. We sat around talking and trying to decide who took the path less travelled. It was a time to enjoy the company of friends who had the same interests. While we were passing a quiet time I could see the road that we would take to leave and noticed that a truck had stalled and was blocking the exit lane of the highway., This was creating a bit of a traffic jam. I didn't think much of until it was time for us to leave.

Once we all grouped up and took the time to visit the rest rooms, we moved to the bus. The day was hot, so we were all looking forward to climbing into an air conditioned bus and relaxing. The bus was at the far end of the parking lot, so the walk was like a forced march. Nevertheless we all arrived a bit worn out.
Thérèse leading the choir.
We did no realise that we would be in that bus, in that parking lot, in that traffic for four hours. I have never seen anything like this in my life. The road was still blocked with the stalled vehicle. In Chinese fashion, everyone was pushing to get ahead of the guy beside them. There was traffic lanes in the parking lot; no lights to signal to move, no police to organise an orderly departure. There was only havoc. I was at the bottom of my moral. If it were not for Wendy walking about the bus talking to us, I would have lost my cool. She was a real charmer in that people did not really seem to mind.

Finally after pushing inch by inch through the gaggle of tourist busses and private cars, we were freed from the gridlock and were happily riding our bus up the winding grade of the road. The stalled vehicle had finally been towed away, and we were free as the wind. My stress meter descended to a level that was livable. It was a great feeling.

Wendy, Greg and Lili
Photo by: Anna Tsontakis-Mally

It was now quite late in the day, but Wendy told us that we still had time to visit the Wooden Pagoda. It was located just down the highway about thirty minutes from the monastery. We could see the building as we approached it. Such an impressive structure. The guide books state that the pagoda is the oldest and tallest wooden structure in China. It was build about 1000 years ago and it is supposed to be located in a Buddhist temple. Oddly I did not see any temple, unless the beautiful park that surrounded the pagoda is considered a temple. The locals say that there is an active temple build behind the pagoda, that was constructed in 2001. We wanted to go into the pagoda, but it was under renovation so was closed to the public.

Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally
Nevertheless, we did have some good light in order to take photos of this magnificent building. I believe someone told me that pagodas were the libraries in the early days of China.

Once again we climbed our bus and proceeded to Taiyuan and a welcomed meal and a comfortable bed.

My only regret with the visit to Datong was that we did not get to visit the Nine dragon wall nor the black pottery factory. There just wasn't enough time. When I travel to Datong in the future I will plan stay three nights and have two full days to visit.


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