Friday, August 28, 2015

Shizhong Grotto and Shibaoshan Mountain

Prior to reaching our day's destination of Shaxi in Yunnan, we drove up Shibao Mountain to visit the Shizong Grotto. In accordance with the requirements set by the organization protecting this site, we had to take (and wait for) a van which then drove us to the entrance. Ominous clouds had already been gathering while waiting for the van to come, and by the time we reached the entrance, the heavens had let loose. Although grateful to have been kept dry in the van, I admit to have been rather impatient while waiting for over a half hour before the rains had let up enough for us to begin our hike.
The triple-arched gateway leading down to the grottoes of Stone Treasure Mountain (otherwise known as Shibaoshan) indicated that this was an important culturally protected site.
Once leaving the well-surfaced stairs past the gateway, our hike became a bit more difficult. The torrential downpour had washed red sand and dirt over the pathway. Rushing water still flowed over many areas, requiring concentration on where to step and hopefully not slip. The path winded around and included natural steps. I decided that it was more important to watch my step (while holding an umbrella due to the falling rain) rather than try to take photos, especially since my guide was going at a quicker pace.

We started at the Stone Bell Monastery, which contains some of the best Bai stone carving in southern China. We didn't linger at the temple, but moved on towards the grottoes, some of which date back 1,200 years. 
According to the ShaxiChina website, there are over 140 carvings in the seventeen Shizhong grottoes. Many offered an insight into the Nanzhao kingdom during the 9th century. My guide said that the sculpture of the eight kings of China is considered one of the finest works of Chinese Buddhist art. One sculpture depicted Guanyin, with a gap where her heart was plucked out to show her dedication to Buddha. Many of the carvings were blackened from incense or smoke from candles.  Some damage from the Cultural Revolution was noted, such as decapitated heads and gouging. The color from paint was noted on a few grottoes.

Perhaps its most famous carving is of the female genetalia, which is visited by women to boost fertility and promote a smooth childbirth.  Although the practice of applying oil on the carving is no longer allowed, its blackened appearance is still present.
Photography was not allowed past the temple, but I did capture a pretty landscape shot prior to entering.

Entrance to the temple

Read more about and see photos of the Shizong Grotto and other temples on Shibao Mountain on GoKumming.

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