We woke up bright and early to get a bus to the Longmen Buddhist Caves this morning before the wave of tourists hit.
It was a little drissly outside but our weather app said that it would be clear within the hour so we put our trust in our iPhones and headed to the bus stop without our waterproof jackets or umbrellas.
The bus took just under an hour – we ate our bananas and peanut butter biscuits on route – and got off at the last stop. It was still raining a little as we walked past stalls selling umbrellas and ponchos as well as breakfast stalls. I stopped off at the latter and bought a breakfast wrap filled with noodles, grated cucumber, bean sprouts, lettuce and black bean sauce (I’d noticed last night that I’m losing weight on my bum so I’m trying to get some extra calories in!)
The Longmen Buddhist Caves
We bought our tickets for the caves (no student discount) and walked the set route beginning on the west side of the site. Unfortunately the rain really started to fall as soon as we walked through the entrance so we were soaked from the first sight of the Buddhas….
Unlike in Dazu where a large collective told a single story/ scene of Buddhism, the Longmen caves seemed to have been individually created, each carving telling its own story.
1km of limestone cliff wall along the Yi River has been covered with over 100,000 images and statues of Buddha and his disciples over 200 years – ranging from tiny (almost 2cm tall) to huge statues almost 20m tall!
There are 3 main caves along the West Side: the Three Binyang Caves, the Ten Thousand Buddha Caves, and the Losana Buddha Statue Cave but in between each there are tiny statues dotted along the route, each carved into smaller caves in the limestone rock.
The longer you look in each cave the more details you could pick out – what may look like a bumpy wall, on closer inspection, could be a few hundred tiny Buddha statues!
The design of the Buddha and his disciples varied throughout the caves. Some were thinner, some were rounded, others were sitting down and others were standing. Some had long ears, whereas others had rounded noses. It was really interesting to see how much they differed!
After crossing the river to the East Side via the bridge the carvings were a little less grande but still really impressive! We also got to visit the Xiamshan Temple – after climbing up the many steps to reach it – which was well worth it (especially as I got to eat my giant pearple on the way up!)
On the way back to the bus stop we stopped for lunch and looked in a few of the market stalls long the way. I bought a Buddha necklace and a wooden plaque with a rooster (my Chinese birth year), as well as my name and today’s date etched/ branded into it using a heated tool – I’m planning on sending this home when we get to Hong Kong so my parents can hang it up in my room…