Saturday, December 3, 2011

Buddha's Grotto

Fortunately this isn't where Chinese children go to sit on Buddha's knee at the local shopping mall and receive seasonal presents... though perhaps there's money to be made with such a scheme. The Beishan rock carvings near the town of Dazu are an example of Grotto Art which received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999 and now have the appropriate tour buses, gift shops, and overpriced noodles fitting of their significance. Not wanting to fit the mold of tourists too well we decided to ride to Dazu from Yongchuan for the weekend and camp in a field.

The ride over on Saturday was very pleasant, and we found some bemused noodle-house owners in sleepy Dazu to sell us lunch before heading up the hill to the carvings. We paid our entrance fees, dodged some hawkers, found a nice lady who let us leave our bike panniers under the desk in the guide's office, and off we went. The carvings were really impressive, I thought, and most of the preservation was more sympathetic than we're used to seeing. There we no LED lights or musical tree stumps to be seen anywhere. The main significance of the carvings is Buddhist, which I find a constant struggle to understand with the enormous number of significant figures and names. Aside from the numerous Buddhas of all sizes there were some scenes I hadn't seen in temples before which I really liked.

A happy-looking Ox from a rural scene
Bemused by Buddhas
The wheel of life, but who's driving?

Then there was a grotto showing what happens to you in various "hells". It was amazing... there were cauldrons of skulls being stirred by animal-headed beasts, someone tied upside down to a pole being sawed in half, and this painful looking procedure:

I think I would like to avoid hell if this is what's involved
 And of course there was the essential comedy sign:

Perhaps only funny if you're British
Then we had to find a place to sleep for the night. In China just about every square-inch of soil is used for growing something. When the city plants ornamental gardens, the locals squeeze a few vegetables between the flowers. If there's construction going on (which there always is), the mounds of excavated dirt quickly become someone's allotment. This is an excellent thing, but it does make it tricky to find a spot for sketchy camping. On our way up to the carvings we had passed by a small temple and I noticed some steps leading up to the top of the cliff above. I though it would be worth a look. Up above the road was... yes, someone's vegetable patch, but with enough space for our small tent.

Right above that cave, is where we slept
After a good long sleep we clambered back down the slippery steps, just in time to alarm a local farmer enjoying his first cigarette of the day. Unable to explain why we had just slept in the mud next to his cabbages, we probably left him with a very strange impression of "foreigners". Fair enough I suppose...