China | Longmen Grottoes

Well, yesterday went so flawlessly that the next day couldn’t have possibly followed suit. Indeed, somewhere in between taking out train tickets and handing off train tickets, we were one ticket short. It was so bizarre – like it vanished into thin air. In this way, we lost our fourth travel partner, Luke, as we had to sent him off to Luoyang so he could see the Grottoes and make it on time for his onward train. In the end, we exchanged two tickets and bought a third for a later train that was largely empty (thankfully). Luoyang is much bigger than expected (as are most Chinese towns, it seems), and we searched laboriously for a room. Turns out, there was only one hostel/hotel that took foreigners at all, so we were stuck with elevated prices. However, this was in some ways fortunate in that it resulted in an unplanned reunion with Luke later that evening. The day’s entertainment was provided when we ate at a small noodle shop that sent us through the back alley for what can easily be described as my most horrifying bathroom experience EVER. At first, the boys thought I was being overdramatic, but when Brent emerged from the bathroom’s depths in silence, we could only laugh. He even put it in his top 3, and that is really saying something.

Today, we made our way to the Longmen Grottoes despite the damp weather. One overpriced admission later, I was staring in amazement at a scene unlike any other: thousands and thousands of reliefs and sculptures carved into the cliffs alongside a quiet but sizeable river. There were more buddhas than I could ever count, or imagine, for that matter. One could wander appreciatively for kilometers alongside the river, or climb the winding stairways up the cliffsides. The carvings ranged from a few millimeters in height to several dozen meters, the grandest of all towering over us in shocking grandeur. I haven’t the faintest idea why it’s not, but the Longmen Grottoes should be more famous. Period. How many generations of devotion and talent went into these rocks? How many patient hands slaved over every detail? I have never seen a river scene quite so mesmerizing.

In typical Asian style, you can really crawl about, even into empty buddha spots in some places. Most of the time, it’s possible to get quite close to the works, or even touch them. The ticket lets you into both sides of the riverbank, including the Xiangshan Temple and Bai Juyi’s tomb. Thus, we explored the area for hours and returned with numb cheeks and drenched windbreakers. On the way back, we watched a little shop producing some kind of gelatanous candy in much the same way you pull taffy, and so purchased a box in excitement, only to find that we could only ingest two each due to their richness and heavy texture.

Speaking of food, Luoyang may really take the cake.

During dinner, we went to a restaurant that we had previously sampled and enjoyed. However, we got a terrible surprise: our chicken dish was covered in the most horrible thing I have ever put in my mouth. It was what we later discovered to be the Sichuan pepper, though why people consume such things is truly beyond me. It reminded me of the sensation one gets when eating a clove straight, except that it burns your mouth so horrifically and then, to top it off, proceeds to remove all sensation in the area of contact, but leaves a pulsating numbness that is only overshadowed by the frighteningly pungent taste. It has even been compared to a “mild electric current” in print. For me, this is simply baffling. I could not get my hands on enough Coca Cola, but found that even this was poor aid. As Brent was watching my quietly, I offered to give him 10 yuan to eat 3 of them. He agreed and, after chewing on three little peppers, immediately regretted this decision, later citing it as one of his worse decisions in life. Another top 3 for Brent in Luoyang. And this is a gift that keeps on giving; hours later, on the terrible train ride to Beijing, I could still taste the peppers in my mouth in shuddery waves. So, cheers to Luoyang, with its wonderous toilets, frightening peppers, and utterly fantastic grottoes.


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