Friday, September 09, 2011

Touch the Grottoes

Back in 2004, when we first went to Guilin and made a tour stop at a "famous" Chinese cave site (the name now escapes me), I was stunned by the proximity with which I was able to experience such wonders as stalactites and stalagmites. In other words, the tour guide and the guards (were there any?) were not concerned with the oil from my fingertips stopping the growth of these geologic marvels. If you have ever been to a tourist-style cave in the US, you'll probably recall the signs and lectures from the guides about this phenomenon.

Fast forward to this year's excursion to the Yungang Grottoes. These 50,000 Buddhas carved in stone date back 1500 years. Covered with plexiglass and housed in a temperature-controlled airplane hangar to protect them from the harsh elements? Nope. Now, while some of the caves housing the carvings have wooden railings across to protect the really large ones from being climbed on or the well-preserved ones from having their remaining paint rubbed off, there are very few areas that are off-limits. I noted plexiglass over one or two surfaces and signs requesting no photos of the large Buddhas, which is the case in any temple. This left around 49,900 that could be examined very closely. There was no concern about oily fingers!

As for the accompanying picture, that's the tiniest Buddha we found...and touched...carved around 470 A.D.



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