Photo Essay: Amazing Buddhas in Living Color at Yungang Grottoes, Datong, China

The first time I heard of Datong, it was in a Saturday morning Mandarin Chinese class.

Anyone who has ever studied a language class will remember their share of dialogues in that language. Especially the ones you encounter when you’re just starting out. There was nothing terribly special about the dialogue that referenced Datong. It was just a conversation about places to travel — places that happened to be close to Beijing. A kind of, “Hey let’s go to Datong!” suggestion.

Datong, China? What’s in Datong, I thought.

Then I cracked open my dogeared copy of Lonely Planet China, and discovered Datong was home to one of the most spectacular displays of ancient Buddhist cave carvings, the Yungang Grottoes. I was familiar enough with the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, an extraordinary collection of Buddhist cave carvings that I eventually visited in 2009.

But the Yungang Grottoes had a huge draw over its counterpart in Luoyang — color. Brilliant, vivid, inspiring color.

It’s one thing to witness a collection of Buddhist carvings, and another to see them painted with royal blue, gold, scarlet red and many more striking hues. Just beholding these great works of art in color felt like a spiritual experience itself.

Who would have thought the humble and windswept city of Datong, deep in the heart of China’s northern coal country, could deliver such an experience?

I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite pictures from our recent visit to Datong’s Yungang Grottoes, when we braved below-freezing temperatures to see this wonder of China.

The scale of the Yungang Grottoes is incredible itself. You feel dwarfed just by the imposing cliffs that house these historical treasures.

Just consider how high up this statue is…

Or how enormous this one is!

But the true wonder of the Yungang Grottoes is tucked away within several caves that still house full-color carvings, murals and statues.

This massive Buddha, crowned with royal blue hair and a golden face, is one of my favorites.

It’s amazing how many colossal Buddhist statues we found at the Yungang Grottoes — many more than the Longmen Grottoes.

I highly recommend a trip to Datong, China to view this extraordinary world heritage site.

Wishing all of you a wonderful March, filled with colorful adventures of your own!

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6 Replies to “Photo Essay: Amazing Buddhas in Living Color at Yungang Grottoes, Datong, China”

  1. I went there in 2008! I absolutely loved the caves and was lucky enough to have the whole place to myself (and my two friends) because it was freezing and there was a lot of snow so no one else dared to go. Did you also visit the hanging monastery?

    BTW, is there a fast train from Beijing to Datong now? I remember it took me 8 hours to get there in a super crowded slow train!

  2. Awesome! Yan and I really enjoyed looking at those photos. Hopefully, we make it there some day. Liying Temple in Xihu area was terrific, too.

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