The Longmen Grottoes, aka the Dragon Gate Grottoes, are amongst the most celebrated cultural sites in China, and a proud member on the UNESCO list. Needless to say, it is often ranked as the #1 attraction in Henan Province – I agree with both hands and feet.
Home to some 110,000 Buddhist statues carved into the steep limestone cliffs over a kilometer-long of what I would call, a “man-made natural gallery”, visitors are guaranteed the value of their 120 RMB entrance tickets. You can mark my words. I think I’ve travelled quite a bit in China to be a little credible in commenting that most of the tourist sites overcharge their zealous visitors like a starved mosquito landed right on an unaware, bare arm.
The sophistication of the Tang dynasty is encapsulated in these intricate stone carvings, which range from lilliputian miniatures no bigger than our palms to colossal titans beyond 3 stories high. Below are some pictorial perspectives:
The Vairocano Buddha – the tallest (17m), most representative and most photographed statue in Longmen, the quintessence of Buddhist sculpture in China.
It is speculated that the slightly plumpish and serene-looking Buddha was fashioned to resemble Wu Zetian and was termed a “Chinese Mona Lisa”, or as the “Mother of China”.
This is a rare piece of natural stone, the Chinese call it a “peony stone”, formed naturally when peony flowers fossilised with marbles. Peony stones can only be found in Luoyang, further declaring its status of scarcity. It is said that there are many fake peony stones being sold at local souvenir shops, though I have not sighted any myself. Would love to bring a small one home, to be honest, even if it’s fake, and hang it right next to my matching skirt, perhaps. ;)
The word “Zen” in Chinese.
“The Longmen Grottoes illustrate the perfection of a long-established art form which was to play a highly significant role in the cultural evolution in this region of Asia.”
Connecting the West and East Hill Cliffs is a man-made bridge above the Yi River.
Most of the carvings are nested on the West Hill, but the view from the East Hill is way more spectacular, especially during nightfall.
I was informed that the Longmen Night Entrance (龙门夜游) catering to tourists after 6pm has now been cancelled. The park closes at 6pm, and all tourists have to now evacuate by 7.
Twilight fell. The sky transformed into a dusky blue backdrop littered with tiny silver stars. Cousin and I lingered our way along the East Hill, catching the now vacant, changing Longmen by surprise. Like an embarrassed lady, she shied away, flustered, in glowing shades of red, yellow and blue.
Nightfall arrived. And we left. Throwing a last reluctant glance at this wondrous masterpiece in silence.
Travel Tips and Information:
- Opening hours: 7:00 – 18:00
- Entrance Fee: RMB 120
- How to get there:
- By taxi: 30 mins from city centre, costs about RMB 60
- Estimated time for sightseeing: 2 hours
- More information on channelnewsasia.com/henan
Read more about my journey in Henan, the cradle of Chinese civilisation:
- Peony Festival in Luoyang (洛阳牡丹花会）
- A Visit to Emperor Wu Zetian’s Palace （一代女帝，武则天）
- The First Buddhist Temple in China （中国第一佛教古刹）