From cave dwellings in Lijashan to ancient town of Pingyao - another week, another province, welcome to Shanxi!

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May 31st 2013
Published: July 10th 2013
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Another day, another province in China… This time we were driving to Shanxi, a province somehow forgotten or lost in time it would seem as an estimated three million people still live in caves around here! And you don’t really need to be driving around for a long time trying to find the caves as they are spread everywhere around the province, you can easily spot them once you drive through the region – cave dwellings all around.

Our group leaders were saying the day before that it was going to be a long drive that day – it could be a 5-hour up to 8-hour drive depending on the road conditions, whether we would fit through one place or whether we would have to drive around it... hmmm… It didn’t make sense at the time but nobody was really questioning it as we would probably find out sooner or later what it really meant. And just around lunch time the mystery was solved! There was a bridge over the river that we were supposed to cross, but they put cement blocks at each end of it in a way that only bikes could fit right through them. Ah well… it was time to throw something on our stomachs then and think where or rather how to go next. Even though many of us weren’t that hungry, once the plate was set on our table, nobody could say no to it! It looked yummy, but tasted even better – thick noodles with pieces of chicken and potatoes in some kind of tasty sauce/soup… Just lovely! Definitely one of the best meals in China so far! Again it looked like there weren’t many tourists (if any) staying in this village ever as we got quite a lot of attention from the stuff of the restaurant and their friends – many, many photos we posed for that afternoon… Still the people just couldn’t be more welcoming and friendly. Really lovely place (no idea what the name of the village was though…too bad…)!

After lunch we hopped on the truck and continued our journey. Thankfully there was another bridge not that far away (this one open for all sorts of vehicles!), so our first detour wasn’t that long after all. The first one cause as soon as we crossed the bridge we came across another blockade – again cement blocks but this time in the middle of the road though! Cars did fit in between the blocks and so did other trucks (barely!) but our Oscar just turned out to be a bit too fat! 😉 We found out from the locals that these blocks were actually assembled there only the day before! Guess luck wasn’t on our side that day… We weren’t that far from our destination though, so it just created a few additional minutes of driving only and soon after we got to Lijiashan.

Lijiashan is a 550-old village, beautifully set on a hill with terraced caves connected with each other by stone stairways. With the sun slowly setting on the horizon once we arrived at the village, the place looked simply magical! We were staying at one of these cave rooms almost at the top of the hill, so had a beautiful view of the whole village from up there. Renting a few rooms to tourists (and providing meals and drinks for them) seems like a good idea for earning money as beside that there doesn’t seem to be much to do around here. The inhabitants are mostly elderly people. The facilities at our ‘guesthouse’ were really basic that night – no running water, no sewage system for that matter either. The woman’s toilet consisted of two holes dug next to each other with only an almost transparent and torn in few places curtain dividing it from the courtyard… The men’s toilet surely wasn’t any better as you could smell it from a mile away anyway… We did experience these conditions for one night only but people actually live this way there! I guess things like that make you appreciate what you have back at home once again…

In the morning when we were sitting on the wall outside of our guesthouse and admiring the views once again, a local elderly lady came over to us for a chat. It felt like she was really opening up to us telling her stories, sadly we didn’t understand most of it… Most of it as at some point she brought some dates for us and it looked like she was trying to explain to us that they could help us digest better – her explanation was pretty visual so I think everybody got that part! 😉 What a lovely lady! Too bad we couldn’t join in the conversation. Since there are very few people living in the village, it sure must be a little bit of an excitement for the inhabitants to see new faces around. After breakfast we packed our bags on the truck and headed to a Black Dragon Temple, set on the hill in a nearby village. Very peaceful temple, overlooking the river with some amazing drawings inside! We spent an hour wandering around it, then hopped on our truck and were off to our next destination – Pingyao!

I have read quite a few blogs about this ancient town and it seemed to have charmed many people with its beauty… well… it surely didn’t disappoint me! Old style Chinese buildings with beautifully finished rooftops all around, simply beautiful! Even the guesthouse we were staying at had all the traditional features – beautiful courtyard, big old beds with wooden frames… Charming!

The next morning we got the tickets which allowed us to visit 19 attractions around the old town as well as the city wall. There was no time to loose then, so in a small group we set off to explore Pingyao. First we needed to eat something though – one thing about going somewhere in a group is deciding where to go which can be quite challenging, it sure took us a while before everybody was satisfied about the place we would be eating at, but we managed to come to a decision after all. We found a lovely (and extremely cheap again!) place and treated ourselves to some tasty dumplings again. You could never get sick of them right? Or could you? Hmmm…. I guess we would find out sooner or later… With full bellies we headed to the County Government Office first. It was quite a big complex of buildings – among them you could find magistrate’s house and office, numerous other offices, court and prison as well. They had quite a big collection of old documents as well as clothes and even torture weapons on display here. We also had a chance to witness a show while here – I guess it was supposed to present how court cases were handled and how they looked like before. It seemed to be a funny spectacle as there were lots of laughs all around, all in Chinese of course so sadly we couldn’t join in. Then we just walked around the old streets of Pingyao visiting a couple of other sites along the way – we went to Rishengchang Exchange House which was the first ‘bank’ of China, a few mansions and some military quarters. It was scorching hot that day, so after visiting a few sites we had enough for the day.

The next morning I went with two other girls to check out the city walls. We got up on the walls through the South Gate and started walking anticlockwise with an idea of doing the whole lap, however we made it half way to the North Gate only as they were restoring the other side of the wall. Still it was a lovely walk as you could have a peek inside some of the courtyards and look at the beautiful rooftops of the old town from higher above. It was very empty on the walls as well which made the walk very pleasurable. It looked like most of the tourists just stayed around the gates rather than walked on the walls. Once we were descending the wall, the guy working at the North Gate approached us with a small card where it was written in English that he was collecting foreign coins and would appreciate any. One girl had one on her, so gave it to the guy saying it was from Australia. He looked at it from both sides and with a big smile on his face said: ‘Oh! England!’. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to correct him, we gave up – I guess he knew better after all! 😉 Later on that day, after a dumpling breakfast of course, we went to the Confucian Temple. There was a nice temple right next to it, so we stepped inside there as well – lovely, peaceful place with all the Chinese zodiac statues in front. After that we still had the whole afternoon to ourselves. I ventured on my own around the ancient streets once again admiring this lovely town! After three nights spent here, it was time to head further though, next destination: Wutai Shan!

Additional photos below
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at the Black Dragon Templeat the Black Dragon Temple
at the Black Dragon Temple

had a pleasure of posing for many pictures with this lady as she was following me everywhere! ;)

11th July 2013

I must go to Pingyao!

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