An ancient cultural city dating back more than 2,000 years, Datong is located in Northern Shanxi Province. Contemporary Datong’s landscape has been shaped by the fact that this whole region holds nearly a third of China’s coal reserves. Despite visible evidence of a very healthy mining industry in the form of a blasted landscape dotted with coalmines, power stations and a huge locomotion factory, Datong region possesses some remarkable ancient sites. As the one-time capital city of two non-Han Chinese dynasties, Datong region’s biggest attraction is the ancient Yungang Caves, located about 10 miles west of the city.
Built more than 1,500 years ago, the UNESCO World Heritage listed 53 caves are a treasure trove of ancient Buddhist art. From the hewn caves themselves to the Buddhas of every shape and size, to the richly carved and embellished walls and archways depicting representations of scenes from Buddhist mythology and the lives of famous monks, the artistry is exquisite and unsurpassed in China. In all, some 51,000 statues were created, though today there aren’t quite as many. The labour required would have been phenomenal, requiring in some cases as many as 40,000 men.
Also in the Datong region is the spectacular Hanging Temple with a number of structures that defy the rules of architecture and gravity. Constructed some 1,500 years ago on a precipitous rock face, the temple literally hugs the cliff. Tall, narrow stairs and walkways connect the six halls.
About 100km northwest of Lijiang in Yunnan province is where the Yangtze River’s upper reaches, the Jingsha Jiang, channel with ...