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Taiyuan - Shanxi Discovery including Pingyao - 8 days
As one of the earliest centres of Chinese civilization, Shanxi was known as the state of Jin. When Qin Shihuang, the first emperor, unified the country, Shanxi became the political and cultural centre of China. With its Great Wall defenses, the Datong region of the north became the most important defensive bulwark between the Chinese and the northern nomadic tribes.For centuries Shanxi served as the center of trade and banking, with the term "Shanxi Merchant" once being synonymous with wealth.
The well-preserved city of Pingyao in Shanxi also shows many signs of its former dominance as a centre of trade and banking. In the Qing Dynasty, Pingyao served as the centre of the Chinese banking industry. Today, Pingyao is famous for its UNESCO ancient city walls and ancient China's Wall Street for its financial importance in history.
Day 1 Arrive Taiyuan
Met on arrival and transfer to hotel
Visit the Jin Memorial Temple in the company of your guide.
Taiyuan is located in the central part of Shanxi Province and is the capital of the Province. It was originally built at the end of the Spring & Autumn Period (770BC to 476BC) and has a history of over 2400 years. Due to this long history, there are many cultural relics and places to visit and Taiyuan has gained the reputation as the "Ancient Art Museum". The Jin Memorial Temple, located at the foot of the Xuanweng Mountain to the southwest of Taiyuan, was built over 1500 years ago in memory of Shu Yu (Zhou Wu), the founder of the state of Jin.
Day 2 Taiyuan to Datong
After breakfast depart Taiyuan to Datong (320km). During the four hour drive you will pay a visit to a local village church and make a short stopover at some remains of the inner Great Wall.
Datong lies west of Beijing, not far from the Mongolian border, on the route of the Great Wall and on the railroad track to Mongolia and Siberia.
Datong is the main base of industrial energy sources, the well-known "city of coal". This industrial city is interesting because of its Buddhist shrines, created in the 5th century AD when Datong was briefly capital of the Northern Wei. During this period the town prospered and the Buddhist religion, actively fostered by the Wei rulers, flourished and produced some of China’s finest Buddhist art.
After lunch, drive to Yungang Grottoes.
The Yungang Grottoes are a treasure-house of rare and splendid Chinese sculptures and ancient Buddhist art. Located about 16 kilometers west of Datong, they were built in compliance with the lie of the mountains, more than 1500 years ago during the Northern Wei Dynasty. The complex is one kilometer from east to west and is the largest of its kind in China.
The Grottoes consist of a series of 53 caves and over 51,000 stone sculptures classified into three major categories. The stone carvings of the Grottoes, compactly structured, exhibit superb workmanship and a rich variety of themes.
Day 3 Datong to Mount Wutai (250km)
Pay an early morning visit to the Nine Dragon Screen, then drive to the most spectacular Hanging Temple.
After lunch, continue to the Wooden Pagoda which is considered to be one of the three most renowned pagodas in the world.
Continue to Wutai Mountain for overnight.
Nine Dragon Screen Constructed in 1392 and one of only three in China, it was supposed to offer protection to the mansion of the 13th son of the first Ming emperor. The Nine Dragon Screen is said to be the largest screen of its type anywhere in China. It is 45.5 m long, 8 m high and 2.02m m thick and consists of 426 pieces of glazed tiles. In ancient times, the screen served as a barrier by keeping passers-by from peeping into the house and making visitors tidy themselves before meeting their hosts.
There is a pool in front of the screen and the inverted reflection of the screen in the water makes it seem to come to life.
Hanging Temple: Located in Hunyuan County of Shanxi Province, Hengshan Hanging Monastery was built at the later period of northern Wei, about 1400 years ago. It is an immortal masterpiece of ancient architecture and is the crystallization of workmanship and resourcefulness. The Hanging Monastery with Cuiping Mountain behind, is opposite to the renowned north mountain - Hengshan Mountain.
The clusters of architecture, over 40 buildings in all, are evenly distributed and well-balanced in height. In the monastery are over 80 statues, some are cast with bronze, some with iron, some with clay and some are carved out of stone.
Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, the Child Giving Avalokitesvara, Ludongping of Taoism and others, are living together, friendly and harmoniously, which give one some thought that each and every sect of religions wants to capture a seat in such an extraordinary monastery.
The Hanging Monastery has established its unique position among the various temples and monasteries with its characteristics of "peril, workmanship and miracle".
The perilous situation of the Hanging Monastery makes one feel dumbfounded. Walking a few miles deep into the canyon, you will see in the curling up clouds and mists, pavilions in the air, hanging on the precipice. These pavilions are propped up by a few pillars with a diameter of an ordinary bowl. The majority of the building body is suspended in the air. The layout of the monastery structure is in excellent symmetry with variations, well-connected though scattered at various points, and still in good proportion though extraordinarily complicated. The main structure consists of over 40 halls and pavilions, all of which are made of wood. The mountains are excavated at halfway to create grottoes and within the niches Buddha is enshrined. Monasteries like this, more, than 1000 years ago, can be lauded as "superb craftsmanship excelling nature".
The workmanship of the Hanging Monastery lies in the fact that with the supporting beams as its basis and the skilful utilization of the hidden rocks, the whole building is uniquely well-knit into an integral whole and the balustrades are artistically connected.
The miracle of the Hanging Monastery makes one feel as if he were in the imperial palace. Entering the monastery courtyard, you can find auxiliary pavilions on the north and south ends well-proportioned and connected with hanging ladders. There hanging on the precipice, are two grand flying towers with three layers and nine ridges. The main part of the tower is basically hanging in the air, standing facing each other from north to south. In between the two towers is a broken cliff several meters long; a plank road is built along the face of the cliff. It is the most precipitous part of the Hanging Monastery. There are corridors surrounding three sides of the Flying Tower. You can climb up and down with the help of the stone balustrades; it looks as if you were in the labyrinth. On each side of the plank road are carvings of tall Buddhist statues, sitting on the cliff with serene dignity and composure.
Wooden Pagoda: located in Yingxian County, about 70 kilometers south of Datong, it was built during the Liao Dynasty and has a 900 years history. Regarded as the "First Pagoda in the World" and a gem in the architectural field, it is the oldest and highest wooden Pagoda in China. With a height of about 67 meters, and a 30 meter diameter at its bottom, the Pagoda appears as a five-storey structure, but is in fact, a total of nine stories with four hidden inside. The Pagoda was jointed only with tenors and mortises, without any nails or rivets at all. It stands firmly and remains intact.
What's more, the large Buddha statues with different countenances and postures hosted in it, display a very high level of craftsmanship. The Pagoda is a perfect combination of science, art and religion.
Day 4 Mount Wutai
Today’s tour around Wutai Mountain will include Xiantong Temple, Pusading (Bodhisattva Summit) Temple, and the Big White Pagoda and Shuxiang, the most spectacular monasteries on Wutai Mountain.
Enjoy a Buddhist Vegetarian lunch.
Take a chair lift up the hill to Dailuo Summit. The 15 minute ride will enable you to enjoy a birds’-eye-view of the whole Taihua Town. Drive to the nearby Nanshan Monastery. Those willing to climb the many steps will be rewarded with a magnificent cluster of temples built in the Ming Dynasty. Sitting on the steps of the tranquil temple, watching the last rays of sunset makes you feel that you have really transcended yourself and that all your worries have been left behind.
Mount Wutai was important enough in ancient China to have been depicted on a mural at Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves in Gansu. Furthermore, Wutai contains two of the four remaining Tang Dynasty buildings left in China and fortunately, because of its somewhat isolated location, these and many other temples survived the Cultural Revolution.
Mount Wutai, located in Wutai County, is one of the country’s four well-known Buddhist shrines. It is the only Chinese mountain mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, and the only mountain where both Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Lamaism are practiced. For hundreds of years, Mount Wutai has been China's most sacred Buddhist ground, mainly because it was here that the highly revered Wenshu Pusa (Manjusri), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Virtue, once lived and taught Buddhism.
Xiantong Temple: with 400 halls, originally built in the year 68AD during the Eastern Han Dynasty, the temple is the largest and oldest temple on the mountain. It houses the amazing Beamless Pavilion, which contains no beams and is supported through a complex set of interlocking pins. The impressive Bronze Pavilion is made from 50,000kg of bronze and is a perfect replica of a wooden pavilion. The interior houses thousands of tiny Buddhas and there is a huge 5000kg bronze bell cast in 1620 in the Ming Dynasty, which is the largest bell in the region. A Buddhist sutra of over 10,000 Chinese characters decorates the body of the bell. The hall of Buddhist Scriptures in the temple, keeps more than 200 pieces of Buddhist work.
Pusading (Bodhisattva Summit) Temple: the largest Lama temple on the mountain. Climbing 108 stone steps (the same number of beads as on a Buddhist rosary) lead to a Qing-dynasty memorial archway supported by four pillars, to the Temple on Lingjiu Peak, behind the Xiantong Temple. You will see four characters reading "Lingfeng Holy Ground", in the hand-writing of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722), on the tablet at the top of the archway. It is said that once you have walked up the stone steps and entered the Lingfeng Holy Ground, all your worries will disappear. Tibetan and Mongolian Lamas stayed here during the Ming and Qing dynasties believing that Wenshu Pusa once lived in the same place.
The Big White Pagoda: The 75.3-meter high Tibetan styled White Pagoda, designed by a Nepali in 1301, has become a symbol of Mount Wutai. Inside the pagoda, there is a small India-made iron stupa, in which some remains of Sakyamuni are kept.
Nanshan Temple: With a history of 1200 years, the main hall of the Nanshan Temple houses 17 painted figurines. It is the natural setting of this complex that makes it so beguiling. The buildings extend down the mountain side offering beautiful views of the surrounding ranges.
Its eaves stretch out and the hall does not have a single column. Its outer appearance looks simple and its structure concise.
Day 5 Mount Wutai/Pingyao (310km)
Drive to Pingyao in the morning, the trip taking you about 4 hours. After lunch,visit the renowned Qiao Family Compound en route.
Qiao Family Compound: the home of a powerful trading family with significant commercial influence even beyond Shanxi, as they were in the trade sector of a nationwide business. The buildings continue to be well maintained despite the fact that the Qiao family have ceased to have any influence since the 1940's.
Located twenty kilometers north of Pingyao and built in 1756 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the compound is fortified behind a 10-meter high wall with battlements.
At each of the four corners there is a watchtower that defends and protects this 4,220-square-yard mansion with 313 rooms, six main courtyards and twenty minor ones. An 80-meter- long passageway runs from east to west, to divide the complex in half. The inner courtyards and passageways have been designed to form the shape of the Chinese character for the words 'double happiness'. The roof styles are varied from dramatically sloping to curved or terraced eaves. In classical Qing style, roof ridges are decorated with floral and fauna patterns.
Within the wall, a road has been constructed around three of its sides to give ready access to the various buildings, which between them have an array of some 140 chimneys, each with a unique design. At the western end stands the ancestral temple of the Qiao family. Above each side of the main door, the family’s motto is inscribed which goes 'Descendants be righteous, brothers show mutual care and so may the family prosper.' Beyond the gate there is a screen wall on which is carved the Chinese characters for Longevity.
It was this mansion that was used as the setting for the famous film 'Raise the Red Lantern' directed by Zhang Yimou.
Day 6 (Thursday) Pingyao (B, L, D)
After breakfast, you will visit the old city walls (Recommended visit time: 1 hour) and then walk to the ancient government office (Recommended visit time 2 hours).Have lunch in one of the local cafes and then visit the Ri Sheng Chang Exchange Shop (recommended visit time 1.5 hour) and theChenghuangTemple(recommended visit time 1.5 hour). We have free time for sightseeing and shopping in Ming and Qing Streets.
Accommodation in Pingyao, Lizeyuan Hotel
Pingyao: a small city, famous for its well-preserved ancient city walls and streets. As it borders on the southern edge of theTaiyuanBasin and joins the Loess Plateau to the south, it has been an important communication hub in the old days, along the banks of theYellow River. Its advantageous location benefited the city to became a famous commercial center throughout the country.