Inner Mongolia's grasslands are very much like Outer Mongolia's but the higher population density on the Chinese side becomes apparent soon after crossing the border; trees have been planted wherever there was enough shelter to give them a chance of survival.
Very soon cultivated fields are reached and it is obvious that we are now in China where population pressure makes it imperative to grow food wherever possible.
Re-entering China from Mongolia I decided to stop in Datong on my way to Xi'an to see the nearby Yungang caves carved by Buddhist monks during the Northern Wei Dynasty in the 5th century.
I was hoping to take an organized tour organized by CITS that would have included a visit to the "Hanging Monastery" some 75 kms south of here but they decided not to run it for I would have been the only client. CITS did however find me a bunk in the railway hotel where I dropped my bag not far from the station shown here.
There was no tour so I took a no. 2 bus to the western outskirts and then a no. 3 bus to Wuzhou Shan 16 kms out of town. Fifty three grottoes carved into the face of Wuzhou cliff before us contain over 51 000 stone sculptures.
On top of the cliff can be seen the remains of a huge 17th century Qing Dynasty mud brick fortress.
Starting from the west end, a succession of small caves leads to this 14 meter Buddha in cave No. 20 which is now no longer a cave but a depression exposed to the elements since the outer wall crumbled way.
Further east are several caves of various sizes and states of repair. Originally they were all protected by wooden structures similar to those seen still standing before caves 6 and 5 on the right.
These sculptures in the vestibule of cave 11 (about in the center of the photo above) show some influence from India in the style of the decorations surrounding the main figures,
It is said that the colours of these sculptures in cave No. 12 have not been retouched. I personally doubt that they could have remained so vivid after 15 centuries without a little help.
Cave no. 6 contains a two storey pagoda in the base of which are carved four niches, two of which are shown below. On the left, a well preserved Buddha facing the entrance and a more faded one on the right of it.
I would have liked to take many more pictures but it was forbidden inside the caves. I am lucky to have taken this many which I could do only because there were very few visitors when I was there. Finally I offer you this large Buddha siting in cave no. 3, one of the larger ones of the eastern group.
I was all by myself on the no. 3 bus back to town, a rare occurrence in China. That night I had Sichuan chicken in a small restaurant on Xima Lu near the railway hotel. The meat was not fresh, so much so that I could not eat it. That was the only time I was served a bad meal in China. Two rare occurrences in the same day!
The next day I went exploring Datong on foot. This is the modern Post and Telecom office on Xinjian Xilu, just outside the ancient city walls.
The 12th century Huayan Monastery, one of Datong's major tourist attractions is just inside the city walls, on the same side of the street as the Post Office. It is however well hidden behind a screen of storefronts. I had to ask directions to two or three people before finding the alley Leading to it. This is but one of the several pavilions of the monastery complex.
The thoroughfare called Xinjian Xilu (Xinjian west road) in front of the Post Office changes name to Da Xijie (big west street) inside the walls and then to Da Dongjie (big east street) further east. It and the north south Da Nanjie (big south street) are Datong's main shopping avenues. Da Nanjie takes on more than half a dozen names as it crosses Datong from north to south. It can be confusing at first but one gets used to it.