The Grottoes of Shibaoshan

So I don’t want to mislead you.  It’s not like we sat around in little cafes and never did ANYTHING in Shaxi.  There were a few cool adventures along the way.  And moreso than any other town we visited, we met some other interesting travelers, who accompanied us on various excursions.

One day, we hired a van with two other couples to visit Shibaoshan, a nearby mountain temple complex.  The first stop, Shizhong Temple, was a weird amalgamation of things.  There was the old temple, newly built additions, and historical halls.  Lacking a guide or interpretive signage, I was never quite sure what I was looking at.  The buildings are nestled into the bottom of a hillside and there are trails up to the top, with little grottoes all along the way.  Some of the statues looked new; some were lovingly cared for; some were broken and falling apart.  It was weird.

The other trouble with site was the monkeys.  I’ve really grown to dislike monkeys while traveling in Asia.  I troop of macaques have decided to make Shizhong their home.  Stupid tourists (mostly Chinese, as far as I could tell) like to buy food from the nearby vendors and feed it to the monkeys, who have become very aggressive.  We were warned to hold onto Simon and raise our hands and yell if necessary.

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Look closely–there is a row of monkeys sitting on the stone railing.

I was amused to discover that the temple employees a man with a slingshot to keep the monkeys at bay.  They’d roam around quite boldly, but the second that this man stood up and reached for his weapon–zoom!–they were gone!

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Temple protectors are a very common installment in this region.  I was happy to see several more statues, similar to the ones back in Shaxi.  I really like the idea of these big, hulking guys who can know your soul and only allow the good and pure to enter their halls.  Maybe I need to employ one back home?

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In addition to the temple guardians, there were, of course, many statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

 

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From   Shizhong Temple, we moved on to the big attraction–the stone grottoes of the Nanzhao Kingdom.  These grottoes were carved in the 7th to 9th century A.D. and depict an important time of transition between Tibet and Yunnan Province.  (Remember that Tea Horse Caravan?)  Photos are not permitted within most of the area, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  But the figures were highly detailed, depictions of royalty and deities.  Despite a few centuries of vandalism and erosion, most were in admirably good condition.   I was allowed to snap a photo of this one, carved on the opposite  mountainside and more exposed than most of the others.  We were struck by how European the figure looked–it almost appears to have the halo of a Christian saint.

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Were to grottoes on flat, easily accessible land? No. Of course not. We had to hike up this mountain to see the image above. Of course. Most of the ancient grottoes are protected by the building in the background. And yeah, we had to climb up there, too.

 

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