Coal mines, caves and cliff-face temples
Trip Start Jan 10, 2008
87Trip End Oct 03, 2008
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We have been wowed by so many stunning skyscrapers, brand new freeways snaking all over the country, monster tankers for exporting and importing, enormous shopping malls, swanky new hotels, entire cities almost ablaze with neon lights... and of course this big new China, which is going through a growth spurt like the world has never seen, has a darker side... its intense pollution.
I know there are many more negative aspects to China's economic expansion than simply pollution (such as the displacement of millions of people) but it's probably the most serious and worrying by-product and it's something that's impossible to avoid when travelling through China, especially in this region
Our overnight train from Xi'an passed through some seriously harsh and uncompromising industrial townships and cities. It was quite sad to see so many towns almost completely blackened by pollution from countless mines and power plants and coal yards etc etc. We saw dusty, smokey truck traffic jams running for miles and miles, we saw the mid-afternoon sky turn mennacingly dark as we headed through the worst polluted areas, we never saw a single star, we saw farmers tending to crops jammed between the roads and plants and hillside, we saw hundreds upon hundreds of people, including children playing on coal mounds, dirtied and blackened by the pollution just like the towns they live and work in and we also noticed the pollution on ourselves, wiping your eyes, noses or ears would produce dirt (although not much), similar to the filth that gets in your nose after any decent journey on the underground in London and of course we noticed the smell of it all, a thick scent of coal and other burning materials.
We were certainly glad to be simply zipping through on the train but it was a sombre scene, realising the amount of unfortunate people that have to live amongst such filth let alone the damage being done to the environment. But then perhaps many of these people consider themselves fortunate because they are at least part of the economic boom and are able to share in at least some of its riches, if not an infinitely small portion
Anyway, after all the great things I've had to say about China, I think it's important to make note of some of the not-so-pretty stuff.
So onto our visit to Datong, or more specifically, two stunning sights within a short drive. About the only thing of interest actually within Datong is the gigantic coal power plant, the largest in the country, which astonishingly is singularly responsible for all of Beijing's electricity.
The main purpose of our visit was to go and see the Hanging Temple of Huanyan and the Yungang Caves. The Hanging Temple is a monastery afixed to the side of a cliff face. It's a fairly stunning piece of architecture considering it has withstood countless storms, earthquakes an ferocious winds for over 1500 years (it was built in 491AD). Another interesting fact is that the monastery contains religious sculptures and reliefs from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The Yungang Caves were also a fascinating sight to visit. Carved into the side of a hill was an elaborate collection of Buddhist temples, some housing giant Buddha statues plus a beautiful collection of reliefs and stone carvings
I'm not sure there's much more to say about the two sites. The pictures probably tell a better story for how beautiful they are.
It was great to be able to visit the two sites in one day and get a glimpse of the giant power plant on the drive so 24 hours was all we needed and we were back on the train the following morning for the 7-hour journey to our final port of call in China, the capital Beijing.