Day 130: Last Stop @ Shuilian Dong
My last full day in China and one final stop along the Silk Road: some more Buddhist caves at Shuilian Dong!
Shuilian Dong, or the Water Curtain Caves (I like the Chinese name better), are about 20km outside the small town of Luomen. I traveled from Tianshui yesterday afternoon through some beautiful countryside to get to Luomen. It’s hilly (verging on mountainous) terrain, and every square foot has been terraced and irrigated for agriculture. Not rice though – just not enough water around here and I reckon the sandy soil isn’t up to scratch – but corn, grains, and lots and lots of veggies. They’re in the middle of the late summer harvest right now so there’s fresh food aplenty. Yummo.
Luomen aint nothing spesh and I’d guess I was the only tourist in town. I certainly didn’t meet anyone that spoke even a word of English past “hello” (not even the “English teacher” I met!). But I was cool with that, in fact I’m pretty happy with my decision to avoid the Chinese cities as best I could and stick to rural town or regional centres instead. These places are the “real” China after all. The people in the towns I’ve stayed have been incredibly and surprisingly friendly, helpful and accomodating – and inquisitive. The locals in Luomen were no different, and it was a nice place to finish my trip.
First thing this morning I got a taxi to drive me out to the caves. I soon realized why the driver tried to bump the price so high: the road there had been well and truly washed away by what looked like a biblical-sized flood sometime not that long ago! We drove along the riverbed for a few klicks, but in the end I had to walk the last couple through a pretty red sandstone canyon to get there.
Shuilian Dong is a mixed Taoist/Buddhist religious site nestled in the folds of a steep-sided valley. It was an incredibly picturesque place with the mix of red sandstone outcrops, autumnal leaves changing colour and the brightly coloured temples and carvings. The Taoist temple was wedged underneath a massive cliff overhang, and on the opposite side of the valley stood a 30m tall colourful carving of Buddha on the cliff wall, which dates from the 4th Century AD. The scale of it was enormous!
I’ve made my way back west to Lanzhou this afternoon to finish my Silk Road trip and I fly out for Guangzhou tomorrow (and then by bus to Hong Kong). Officially, and somewhat historically, the Silk Road did/should end at Xi’an. I would like to have got there if not just for the symbolic act of “crossing the finish line”, and I had time as it turned out, but I already had this flight booked from when I first arrived in the country (and had to think ahead to where I might be in a couple of weeks). Oh well, can’t have everything, right?
A few of you are surely going to ask me, but I really don’t know right now how I feel about finishing up my Silk Road trip. Hmmm… A bit of everything I guess! Give me a few days to think about it in Hong Kong…