Weekend visit to Luoyang, Henan Province
The Luoyang Peony Festival is held in Luoyang City every year from mid April to mid May. The festival attracts thousands and thousands of visitors and this year I was one of them. The flight from Beijing is just under two hours and once in Luoyang there are many other famous sights to see. But firstly more on the peony festival – it is the emblem flower of Luoyang and it is said that since the Tang Dynasty, no other Chinese city has been able to rival Luoyang in growing peonies. There are over thirty-five peony gardens in Luoyang and I visited two. Unfortunately on the day before I arrived there was a huge downfall of rain so many of the peonies in one park were without petals but on the day I departed, my tour guide took me to another park where the peonies were in full bloom and absolutely beautiful.
It was founded in the Northern Wei Dynasty and remains one of China’s oldest Buddhist Temples. It is reputed to be the ‘number one temple under Heaven’ and is famous for its association with Chinese martial arts particularly Shaolin Kung Fu and Chan (Zen) Buddhism.
Thanks to Kung Fu movies it is probably the most famous Buddhist Temple known to the West. The Monastery has been destroyed and re-built many times and the current Monastery dates from after 1928 when it was mostly destroyed by fire. There are several overpriced souvenir shops within the Monastery which make the environment less serene but I guess money has to made from a variety of ways. One of the most interesting sights was a tree used by the Monks to practice finger punching – it has deep holes in the trunk from the constant punching – amazing!!
I am told that the robed monks at Shaolin are all highly skilled fighters but cannot be considered genuine monks. There are genuine Shaolin monks in China but they keep a low profile and are not found at Shaolin. I am not sure how true this is but times have certainly changed for the Monks; clearly using modern communication devices is part of their daily life – I saw one robed monk using his mobile telephone in the grounds of the Monastery.
The grounds also include a Pagoda Forest, a graveyard for Buddhist dignitaries through the ages. On average the pagodas are less than 15 metres high. The layer and shape of a pagoda depends on several factors; a buddhist’s status and attainment and prestige during his lifetime. The Forest is the largest of China’s pagoda complexes.
Another famous site in Luoyang is the Longmen Grottoes.
My tour guide said that an early departure would beat the crowds….so not true!!
I think there were as many tourists as there are statues – and there are more than 100,000 of these. I only saw one other group of westerners so we were the highlight of many a Chinese visitor’s day. I now know how movie stars feel with being stared at constantly – although a quick ‘Ni Hao’ from me brought smiles all around every time.
The statues are incredible; carved into 1400 caves and range from 25 mm to 57 metres in height. There is a little boat that for 25 RMB you can take to enjoy a ride along the Yi River, allowing for a long distance view of the grottoes.
The Longmen Grottoes are similar to the Yungang Caves in Datong – having now seen them both, my preference is Datong – I just think they are more impressive!
And maybe the best part of the trip – all flights on time – unbelievable but true.