An­cient delights

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

And here is some­thing im­por­tant – don’t lose it’, I am told by Nick, our lo­cal guide. I look down. It is a name badge on a lan­yard to be worn around my neck. ‘How nice’ I think, ‘this is a good way of get­ting to know ev­ery­one’s name’. So why is my name Nick?

I have joined a group tour around China which is to visit some sites off the beaten track – not just the cap­i­tal cities of Bei­jing, Xi’an and Shang­hai. These hol­i­days are al­ways taken with a lit­tle bit of trep­i­da­tion. Group tours make vis­it­ing coun­tries like China eas­ier, but what will my fel­low trav­ellers be like? (fab­u­lous); Will we get on? (yes); Will the tour be full of long days? (some); flea-bit­ten ho­tels? (no) and medi­ocre food? (pos­si­bly).

I look at the lan­yards worn by other mem­bers of my group. Their name ap­par­ently is also Nick – per­haps this is a joke to break the ice? How­ever, all even­tu­ally be­comes clear. The name refers to our lo­cal guide, and his mo­bile num­ber is printed un­der­neath his name. How­ever, it is the mes­sage that is printed on the back, in Chi­nese, which is the win­ner. ‘If this per­son is lost, please con­tact the per­son on the front of this card’. How thought­ful! Now if we wan­der off, all roads will lead back to Nick. What a bril­liant ini­tia­tive!

And so be­gan my two week ad­ven­ture around a small part of a very large coun­try. In all, we cov­ered 2,800 kilo­me­tres, trans­versed moun­tains that were 2,000 metres high and ex­plored some stun­ning sites. Here are a few of my favourites.

Yun­gang Grot­toes

The Yun­gang Grot­toes lie close to the city of Da­tong. Reached by a six and a half hour train trip from Bei­jing, this city has a long history of im­por­tance to an­cient em­pires be­cause of its lo­ca­tion. Founded in 200 BC by the Han dy­nasty (then called Pingheng), it lies in a basin which is bor­dered on three sides by moun­tains, with passes only to the east and south-west. In­ner Mon­go­lia lies di­rectly to the north and west and so for many cen­turies, the city was the cen­tre of in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the Chi­nese and out­side cul­tures. Dur­ing the ‘pe­riod of dis­unity’ fol­low­ing the break­down of the Han dy­nasty which ruled all of China, the coun­try split ge­o­graph­i­cally into north and south with dif­fer­ent rul­ing fam­i­lies. The north was ruled by a suc­ces­sion of dif­fer­ent houses – the 16 king­doms (304 – 439 AD) and then the North­ern Wei dy­nasty, founded by the no­madic Toba Wei, was the first of five North­ern dy­nas­ties (386-581 AD). The North­ern Wei set up their cap­i­tal first at Da­tong (from 398 – 494 AD) but later moved it to Luoyang. The city was re­named Da­tong in 1048 AD and was a sec­ondary cap­i­tal for the Liao and Jin dy­nas­ties (be­fore be­ing sacked by the Mon­gols) and it con­tin­ued to be of strate­gic im­por­tance dur­ing the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties.

To­day, Da­tong is the largest pro­ducer of coal in China with a third of its pop­u­la­tion coal min­ers. Our guide told us that in 2008 it was a very dirty city, where ev­ery­thing was cov­ered in black coal dust. But they have worked hard since then to clean up both the city and their tech­nolo­gies to find cleaner meth­ods of us­ing coal, as well as de­vel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies to re­place coal. They have also spent a large amount of money re­build­ing the an­cient city walls in a bid to make the city more at­trac­tive to tourists. On our way to the grot­toes we pass a vil­lage that is ded­i­cated to the coal min­ers, with hous­ing, a hos­pi­tal and shops. The grot­toes lie very close to the old coal mines, and our guide told us that in the past, the enor­mous trucks car­ry­ing coal would pass close by to the grot­toes, leav­ing black coal dust on the faces of the

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.