A tentative step. A step that takes you from hewn rock. Safety. A step onto weather worn – boot worn – wooden boards.
Creak. Bow. Creak. Bend.
A step from shelter – one of the many shrines to Buddha. The wind hits you. Sends your cheeks rosy red and your hands hiding inside your pockets.
A glance over the side. A feeling of lightness. A fear of falling. The drop is straight down. A thin wooden barrier the only refuge from ruin… Made all the more precarious as Chinese tourists push and shove. Push…
Wriggle and worm.
Barge and jam…
Built eons ago (about 1500 years, more precisely) the Monastery hangs 75 metres above the ground. Clutching onto its rocky precipice with well placed wooden supports, chiseled holes and plateaus carved from the rock.
As you tread the ground ‘where eagles dare’, casting your gaze across the valley below, and higher into the mountainous vistas you can’t help but be awestruck by the venture of – supposedly – a single monk who started the construction of this marvel.
Spirituality fills the air. Old beliefs touch the heart. A place untouchable by mere mortals…
…Except the legion of Chinese tourists. Still pushing. Still shoving. Still striving to affect my delicate British sensibilities… I may have lost my temper. Once. But then I looked once again where I was. All was forgiven.
The monastery is a highlight in the northern province of Shanxi. Just outside Datong, a town built on its coal mining exploits, it sits juxtaposed to the recent history of the town.
Datong, is changing fast. It has made money and is ploughing money into its old town. Old town is regenerating into new ‘old town’. Ancient city walls are being restored into new ‘ancient walls’. Will this be done to preserve its history or be another ‘Disney’ experience? We don’t know. Too much construction.
Instead, we wandered the park, where foreigners dare not tread! Locals, surprised to see a westerner walking through their neck of the woods showered me with looks and asked me to engage in their games.
One game, which I dared to take part in consisted of using a whip – yes, a real whip – to spin a spinning top. Over and over again. This was fun, and quite a good workout.
I was sweating. Although that may have resulted from: 1. Hundreds of gazing eyes watching me hit – or more accurately, miss – the little spinning top and; 2. The fear of hitting a local in the eye with the whip… As they watched with closer and closer intensity.
Datong. A cold. Heart warming. Spiritual. Provincial. Experience.
Now, for Beijing. A loud. Busy. Modern. Forbidden. Experience?