Visiting the Bingling Grottos outside Lanzhou was a last minute addition to a summer break tour I took in 2014 while living in China. It was really just a stopping point to break up a long train ride in between Dunhuang and Datong. After some research I found out there was a Buddhist grotto complex outside of Lanzhou, so it would work out perfectly to stop for a day before continuing on further east. I researched Bingling Grottos quite a bit, and it seemed like public transit could take the whole day though if our train was late, there was a chance we would miss the bus to get from the train station to the reservoir where the grottos are.
From the reservoir you either hire a speedboat, or wait for a ferry, which takes two hours to reach the cave. Since the train was arriving at 7am, and we were leaving the next day at 1pm, I decided that it would be better, and easier, to get a guide. This would allow us to go straight to the caves from the train station, and everything would be taken care of, from tickets to car rides and boats, etc. In the end, I was able to find a great deal that included a hotel. Our guide was great. Her name was Melody, and was from Lanzhou so she had lots to tell us about the city. One thing I learned was that a lot of famous Chinese leaders hail from Gansu.
After a bad night of sleep on the train we arrived in Lanzhou, very early, and more than a little groggy. It was sad because we were on a brand new high-speed train, way fancier than all the other trains we had been on. But our bunkmates were an elderly couple who snored louder than any other humans I have heard before. Together it made it impossible to get to sleep. My husband and I moved into the hallway and drank a beer and the rest of this gross liqueur I had bought (thinking it was whisky) before getting on the train. We had to try and knock ourselves out, because the snoring wasn’t going to stop. Sadly it didn’t help me too much, and I ended up feeling really cranky and tired, and later a little nauseous from driving through stop and go traffic.
After getting off the train and getting our train tickets for the next day, Melody took us to breakfast. We were going to eat the famous Lanzhou Beef stretch noodles. We arrived at the restaurant and I was still feeling queezy from the drive and the gross liqueur. I think the driver noticed I was pale and encouraged me to eat more soup and broth. The soup was warm and delicious. The bowl of broth and noodles came with different sides: a boiled egg, strips of beef, and pickled veggies. It was a Muslim restaurant and Melody said it was the best in town. I assume this is true because there were so many people. But it was also the day after Ramadan had ended so all day we saw many Muslim families out enjoying the day.
The drive out to the reservoir took about an hour or so. Melody knew one of the boat drivers, so we had someone waiting for us. The day was beautiful, with blue skies and a nice temperature, and the boat ride out was absolutely beautiful. I have to say that Bingling might not be the most impressive of the grottos we saw, but the sheer beauty of it’s surrounding, and the boat ride getting there, made it one of my favorites. That and there were hardly any people there.
As we walked through the grottos Melody gave us some information and history about the different murals and statues. She also showed us different rock formations that had been named after things they resembled, for example lovers rock, which looked like two people kissing–> See photo below) The grottoes had lots of signs with English that gave us other information, but it was still nice to be able to ask Melody any other questions we had. After spending about an hour or so wandering around, we headed back to the boat. The ride back was just as nice as the ride in. I would have loved to stay at one of the villages surrounding the reservoir and hiked through the beautiful hills, maybe a goal for my next time visiting the area.
Our hotel was Tibetan themed, and the inside was beautiful, with pillars adorned with gold and Tibetan imagery in lively colors. After showering and taking a walk to enjoy the cool afternoon and explore a little bit of Lanzhou, we decided we would just eat at the hotel restaurant. Our waitress was a cute young college student who was studying English and Spanish. She was very excited to practice her English with us. She helped us order a few things, and talked with us throughout our meal.
Our trip to Lanzhou was very short, but I really enjoyed our journey out to the grottos, as well as the delicious food. As we left Gansu heading towards Datong, I decided that Gansu was one of my favorite places in China. First, it is incredibly beautiful, with many different types of landscapes, and second, the people are incredibly friendly. Gansu, is one of the top provinces in China that I want to explore more. And with the new addition of high-speed trains that run through Gansu, it has become easier to get to all the different destinations, especially the Silk Road sights.
Have you been to Bingling Caves, or any other Buddist Ghottos along the Silk Road? What was your favorite Grotto?