Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Great Wall of China and other delights

Today is our last day in Asia, 6 months has flown by! The last 10 days have been a whirlwind of spending, sightseeing, and sleeping (badly) on trains. We left Beijing for the quieter town of Pingyao - a World Heritage Site. The town is all grey brick buildings, old city walls, red lanterns, courtyards, and horsedrawn carts. We spent 2 days wandering the alleys and walls, investigating old banks, houses, and prisons and visiting temples. Below is a photo of the Retribution Room in the Temple of the City God. You have to figure out the others for yourselves as today we can put photos on the page but not edit their layout.

This was a diarama about 20 meters long depicting scenes of torture in hell covering having your tongue cut out, being sawn in half with a timber saw, genital mutilation... Enough to deter even the hardiest sceptic. Although perhaps not given the existence of the prison down the road with associated torture rooms there as well.

From Pingyao we took the train north to Datong, a dirty town with little to recommend it except for the nearby attractions. We visited the Hanging Monastery a 1500 year old wooden structure attached to a cliffside 50m above the ground. Built to appease river gods and prevent floods, it was filled with relics of Confucionism, Taoism and Buddhism (covering their bases). Deeply impressive and slightly rickety feeling.
Then onto the Yungang Caves which were AMAZING. Started in 460AD, it took 40,000 men 64 years to complete. Dedicated to Buddha, the caves were made as repentence by an emperor who had banned Buddhism for 7 years and killled nuns and monks. Then he became ill and realised the error of crossing the Buddha. In similar fashion to the Forbidden City, it was the scale combined with ridiculous detail that made this so impressive. Incredibly, the caves didn't come before the statues, they were dug out at the same time. Huge Buddhas up to 17m high were carved from the top down in solid rock before being opened out into a cave. The walls were detailed with millions of tiny carvings in a series of caves, 45 in total, and the smallest Buddha was 3cm.
We were agog.
Then back to Beijing to visit our most famous place yet - The Great Wall of China. We took a tour with our hostel which promised to take us to the "Secret Great Wall" where no other tourists would be. As we are "travellers" and not "tourists" this sounded right up our alley. The van ride was absolutely mad, with a crazed lunatic at the wheel over or undertaking anything regardless of corners, oncoming traffic or pedestrians. Along the way we were caught in traffic jams, where engines were turned off, at the more popular entries to the Wall. Arriving alive but perhaps not unharmed psychologicaly, we were dropped in the middle of nowhere with a small track leading off the side of the road - cf other Wall options where a cable car up is the norm.
After a walk through the blossoming fruit trees the Wall could be seen beckoning on the skyline. We reached a crumbling bit of it and mounted. Ghengis would have been proud to behold. What can you say? It was a long wall. But it was the Great Wall of China, so had a certain air about it. We walked along the ramparts for an hour or so, some crumblimg and steep, others in not bad nick considering. One particularly dedicated retailer drags his stock of drinks, food and nicknacks up here every day and is ensconsed in the highest watchtower, ready to pounce. We were duly impressed and can tick that off the list of things to do this lifetime.
Nova has just left us and we are preparing ourselves for the flight to London tomorrow. A little sad to be leaving Asia but it has also become pretty comfortable so we are ready for a change of scene. Saving money might be our greatest challenge in the Tour de Europe.
For the last time from Asia, C & D


Mirrol said...

Hi to you both and bye to Asia. Thankyou for taking all of us on such an amazing journey and thankyou to Asia for keeping you almost unscathed,Cant wait to talk to you in the old country, Safe flight,hope you survive Heathrow. Much love,Mirrol

QUEEN BEE : ) said...

WOW the epic journey bangkok to beijing by bike has ended i cant believe it. well done you two for taking us on the journey too it has been awesome reading the blogs and i have thoroughly enjoyed the photos as well.Keep us posted on future endeavours.LOVE FROM BEE xoxox

QUEEN BEE : ) said...

Abina has been thinking of you both however she has never tried to get on blog and apologies unreservedly for any distress she may have caused .If you have any further issues with her please do not hesitate to contact the fool on 0800-SAMARITANS.T.I.A

Mike said...

hi guys, awesome work on finishing your asian leg. hopefully the cluster that is heathrow was no major dramas but somehow I doubt it. all the best for europe. cheer mike & anna

Barbara said...

Wow!! What a trip! Just fantastic. Love the photos - your bit of the great wall looks suitably abandoned to the barbarian hordes. Truly impressive. And as for the Buddhas - there's something obsessive about these Chinese leaders - what with terracotta armies and all. It's such a comfortable way to travel - by armchair and blog! Really looking forward to your European instalments. Take care - Barbara