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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

China’s 4 most famous grottoes

By Teng Mu

August 15

Grottoes are an important symbol of Chinese Buddhism.

Grottoes are an important symbol of Chinese Buddhism.

Religious grottoes, which can be traced back to India, are an important part of Buddhist culture. As the religion spread in China, a number of extraordinary caves were excavated and filled with invaluable manuscripts, artwork and statues. Here are the top four.

1. Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang 敦煌莫高窟

The Mogao Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Wang Qiong]
The Mogao Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Wang Qiong]
Located in Dunhuang, Gansu — China’s northwestern desert area —the Mogao Grottoes are the biggest, best preserved grottoes of their kind in the world. They contain the original architecture, colored sculptures and wall paintings to reflect the cosmopolitan culture of China’s ancient Silk Road. Based on the site’s innumerable cultural relics, it even has its own field of study, Dunhuangnology.

Best time to visit: May – Oct.

Entry: 160 yuan/person

Transport: Take the bus from Dunhuang to Mogao Grottoes.

Opening Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

2. Yungang Grottoes, Datong 大同云冈石窟

The Yungang Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Zheng Yuefang]
The Yungang Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Zheng Yuefang]
The Yungang Grottoes contain a massive collection of sculptures (up to 50,000 pieces) ranging from several centimeters to 10m tall, bearing significant influence from the Indian subcontinent. The craftsmanship of Yungang Grottoes is the most exquisite of all. The Five Grottoes of Tanyao (昙曜五窟), the earliest grottoes excavated, boast a unified layout design representive of a highly developed period of Chinese Buddhist art.

Best time to visit: May – Oct.

Entry: 150 yuan/person

Transport: Take the bus from Datong to Yungang Grottoes.

Opening Hours:

Peak Season: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Off Season: 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

3. Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang 洛阳龙门石窟

The Longmen Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Sun Jihu]
The Longmen Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Sun Jihu]
The Longmen Grottoes stand on the banks of River Yi (伊水), a popular location with beautiful scenery. Their construction beginning during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-557) and expanding in Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Longmen Grottoes contain many imperial and noble statues from the two periods. It is said that the biggest statue was carved to resemble the first female emperor, Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty.

Best time to visit: April – May; Sept. – Oct.

Entry: 120 yuan/person

Transport: Take the train to Luoyang Railway Station and then take the bus to Longmen Scenic Area.

Opening Hours:

07:30 a.m.-06:30 p.m. in spring, summer and autumn; 07:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. in winter.

4. Maijishan Grottoes, Tianshui 天水麦积山石窟

The Maiji Mountain Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Sun Tongchao]
The Maiji Mountain Grottoes [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Sun Tongchao]
The Maijishan Grottoes are nestled in lush forests and feature great natural scenery in addition to their world-famous colored clay sculptures, still vivid after thousands of years. Fan Wenlan, a famous Chinese historian, called Maijishan Grottoes “a grand exhibition hall of sculptures.”To see the grottoes, visitors must navigate plank paths on the cliff face.

Best time to visit: May – Oct.

Entry: 70 yuan/person

Transport: Take the shuttle bus from Maiji District Railway Station to Maijishan Scenic Area.

Opening Hours: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

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