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So impressive and untouchable; You may be thinking “How the hell was this built?” when you get your first glimpse of The Maijishan Grottoes. Looking at the Grottoes, I could only describe it as looking similar to an anthill with walking paths running throughout the mountain it’s carved into. On a lower scale, however, it is a profound spiritual oasis.
The Maijishan Grottoes are one of the four most famous Buddhist Grottoes in China. The other 3 being: The Mogao Grottoes further to the west in Gansu Province, The Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi Province and The Longmen Grottoes outside Luoyang City in Henan Province.
The Maijishan Grottoes lie just a few miles south of the legendary Silk Road and are easily one of the most underrated sites in all of China. Its hand-carved caves reach as high as 80m up the 142m Maiji mountainside. The name ‘Maijishan,’ which means ‘wheat stack’ comes from the giant, haystack-like appearance of the hill.
This incredible rock-cut architecture dates back to the Later Qin Dynasty (384 – 417 AD) when Buddhism first reached China from India with the Silk Road. 194 caves complete the grottoes and contain more than 7,200 (!) hand-carved statues and sculptures ranging from 16 meters to 10cm tall. In 2014 the caves were added to UNESCO’s famous list of World Heritage sites.
Carved into the hillside are newly built pathways. The architecture and ability of man to create the original pathways remain a mystery.
The walkways are not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. During my visit, there were at least four tourists that completely “froze” on the paths. They needed the assistance of the guards to help them down to the safer ground.
The earliest written records of the Maijishan caves comes from the biography, ‘Memoirs of Eminent Monks’ which explores the lives of two monks named Tanhong and Xuangao. These monks were said to have meditated at the grottoes along with more than three hundred other monks. With its profound history and breathtaking art, this is a destination definitely worth the visit.
Entrance Fee: 90 RMB, plus 15 RMB from a shuttle bus from the entrance of the park to the foot of the mountain, it’s about 3km
Opening hours: 9.00 – 17.00
Additional Information for The Maijishan Grottoes.
Reaching The Maijishan Grottoes is a bit of a pain. But it´s possible to take a long day trip from Xian to here.
There are located about 45Km/28 miles southeast of Tianshui City. You will most likely have to spend a night in Tianshui if not making the long day trip from Xian. Tianshui lies halfway between the two major cities Lanzhou and Xian, so the most obvious way to get here is while travelling between the two.
It´s about 4-5 hours by bus or train to both cities. There are more than 30 trains a day passing by Tianshui to Xian heading either west or east.
There´s a shuttle bus (bus nr 34) that leaves from outside the Tianshui Railway Station to the entrance of Maijishan Park. The bus is supposed to leave every 15min between 06:30-19:30.
Tianshui was once the first stop that the Silk Road in the Gansu Province. These days it´s nothing more than a sleepy old city with a population of 3,500,000.
There´s no tourist industry here except for The Maijishan Grottoes so there are no hostels and most cheap hotels don’t accept foreign tourists (a very common thing outside the tourist trail in China).
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