Noilly Prattle: China – Winter 2016 (Shaxi, Shibaoshan)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

China – Winter 2016 (Shaxi, Shibaoshan)

complimentary condoms
     This little item fell out of the TV cabinet in our room at Cato Inn this morning. Apparently supplied complimentary by the government--to facilitate the now-defunct one-child policy I imagine.

entrance gate to Shibaoshan
        We hired a car and driver to drive us up the winding road, honking and passing regularly, to the entrance to Shibaoshan (Stone Treasure Mountain), about an hour's exhilarating and seat grabbing drive from Shaxi, where we were to take a tour bus within the national park. According to Road Buddy's guide book (I call it the “bible”) the tour bus was supposed to drive from one point of interest to another in the national park. Wrong.

oddly Hindu-ish looking bas-relief carvings - (photo taken on the way down) 
        The first anomaly we noticed was that the tour bus bypassed what looked like the first obvious point of interest (some bas relief carvings on a cliff face that looked, in glancing as we sped past, like Hindu figures). Then the bus just climbed and climbed up the winding road full of switchbacks (with nary a point of interest in sight) in what looked, to our overheated imaginations, like another wild-goose chase. We had began to wonder and were holding a fevered discussion about “what the hell is going on here?” when the bus finally stopped and dropped us off. We looked around and at the driver, perplexed, but, looking bored, he merely pointed off in the direction of a gate that, we assumed, we were supposed to follow.

gateway to the mountain trails
the hiking trail
        So, we followed, went through a gateway, that turned out to be the entrance to a steep hiking trail, well-enough paved with many steps, that kept going down until we came to a fork in the path and a sign in Chinese. We chose the left path that led to Shizhong Temple, a temple perched on, and partially carved out of, the cliffside. There were now indications that many of the places in “the bible” were actually located in the area and had to be accessed on foot, not at comfortable bus stops for quick off, photo shoot, and on again to the next stop. We thus, spent the next two to three hours hiking up and down (not to say trudging at times) these mountain trails.

take your pick
"seems to grow out of the red rock"
eroded sandstone
       Shizhong Temple seems to grow out of the red rock in which it is embedded in its green forested landscape. Unfortunately the temple seemed to be guarded by some kind of stern looking police guards instead to the usual monks hanging around Buddhist temples. We were informed that no photos were allowed. One of them shadowed us as we climbed up to the part of the temple that has a group of Buddhist figures carved in the rock. The temple facade is merely a gallery about 2 meters wide fronting the cliff face in which the Buddhas are directly carved. I was able to evade our shadow and grab one quick photo before he suddenly reappeared, unsmiling, from another direction. Whether he caught me or not, I don't know, but I did get one shot of the carved figures. He did seem to be watching (always unsmiling) more closely though!

main courtyard of Shizhong Temple
the forbidden photo -
figures  carved directly into the cliff face

frescoes on cliff outside the temple
        The carvings in the Shizhong Temple were carved in the Nanzhao Kingdon period (8th - 9th Centuries CE) when Buddhism was introduced into Yunnan and the Dali/Shaxi region. There are some nice frescoes also done in the cliffside around the side and back of the main temple complex where photos were not forbidden. Another interesting thing was the rock formation in much of the area. The eroded red sandstone (see above), part of the so-called Danxia landscape, is reminiscent of the scaly skin of some amphibians such as alligators and crocodiles.
Shizhong Temple

hexagonal pavilion overlooking the valley of Shibaoshan

Shizhong Temple in its Shibaoshan mountain landscape

        We were pretty exhausted as we climbed back up to the bus area and gratefully sank into a seat to await departure, which took about 15 to 20 minutes, for the trip back to the entrance gate where we met our driver for the trip back to Shaxi.  

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