The Tianlongshan (heavenly dragon mountain) grottoes are located 40 km from Taiyuan. To get here, we took a bus to Qingxu and then negotiated for a private car to do the round trip up the mountain for 200 RMB, including the entrance ticket.
We were driven to the top of the scenic area, from where is was around an hours walk downhill past several sights to the exit. The countryside here really is beautiful, with stunning mountains covered in lush green trees.
White Dragon Cave
The first stop was at the white dragon cave, a Northern Qi Dynasty temple built into the rock.
Inside, there was the usual statue of Buddha and a single monk selling incense. Apparently there is also a pond nearby where people would pray for rain, but unfortunately we were unable to locate it.
Manshan Pavilion Grotto
Unfortunately upon walking further down the hill we discovered that the main grotto complexes, the east and west grottoes, were closed for restoration work. However, the most impressive grotto was still open to visit. Located inside a more modern pavilion structure to protect it, this Tang Dynasty grotto contains several Buddha statues. Most significant is the giant (7.55 meters tall) Mile Buddha in the centre, which is surrounded by smaller carvings of the 11 faced Guanyin, Wenshu, and Puxian Buddhas.
These stone carvings are notable for their distinctive mixture of Indian and Chinese style, making them particularly well known to Chinese art historians.
Although upon continuing our route downhill we discovered that these grottoes were also closed for restoration work, we were able to catch a quick glimpse of them from afar, and they certainly looked impressive.
It was a real shame through that we were unable to see inside, and a personal annoyance of mine that not only would they close both grottoes simultaneously, but also that neither our driver nor the guide who tried to sell her services to us at the gate mentioned they were closed. This is something of a recurring experience at similar Chinese tourist sights, for example the Hanging Temple near Datong.
At the bottom of the scenic area, we reached this surprisingly large temple, consisting of several halls.
The entrance had a very pretty dragon sculpture on the front wall, and the usual statues of the four heavenly kings within. These looked particularly old and interesting, with the damage done to them over time revealing the internal wooden structure the clay based coating was pressed into and shaped.
We then passed through several halls and a pretty courtyard area.
I loved the interesting roof details and decorations.
Exiting from the temple, we came across an ancient tree.
From here we rejoined our taxi driver and left through this pretty gate.
Overall, despite the disappointment of the main grotto complexes being closed, it was a really lovely trip and worth the long journey.