Pilgrimage to Shaolin

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Jul 17, 2006

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Having being wowed by the stage show in Beijing, I just had to go and see where it all began at the Shaolin Temple up in the hills of Henan province. I made the "pilgrimage" with Rich and Kate, the couple I met in Pingyao. Getting there was awkward, and the entry price was steep, but it was well worth it. The area surrounding the temple has been designated a "scenic spot" and it was nice to get out of the city and into the fresh air, especially given the sleaziness of our base-city Luoyang (sex shops all over and spit-roasted dog if you wanted it, to eat I mean). The temple itself is fairly unremarkable, though it does have on display part of the cave wall against which the Buddist monk Damo meditated for nine straight years leaving his shadow on the stone. The Pagoda Forest was an atmospheric and peaceful cemetary filled with Buddhist memorials to all the monks who had lived and died at the temple. We were fortunate enough to catch the monks rehearsing for their show right outside the front of the temple. It was funny to see them "off-duty" so to speak, having a laugh when things went wrong and the iron bar failed to break. We were also treated to a half hour show in the auditorium of the school which was pretty much an abbreviated version of what I saw in Beijing but with even younger kids. As we were leaving the late afternoon training session was getting underway. There were literally thousands of kids - boys and girls - all sporting red tracksuits and practicing their forms in unison. If you've ever seen Enter the Dragon you'll have some idea of what it was like.

As another side trip from Luoyang I headed to the banks of the Yi River to see the Longmen Caves dating back to AD 494. There are literally thousands of Buddhist images carved into the stone banks of the river, though many of them have been beheaded by Western souvenir hunters. However, some of the larger and more impressive ones remain intact and the riverside setting made for a nice walk around some pretty scenery.
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