Majishan Grottos, located outside of Tianshui, Gansu Province, were the first grottos I visited. Although I didn’t really know what to expect, I was completely blown away by how magical they were. The visions of apsaras flying here and there, demon-like deities, and some really cool fading painting all made it so memorable. That, and it was so easy to access, that I wondered why there were so few people.
From the first moment I entered Gansu on the train in the summer of 2014, I was instantly in love. Spending about a week then, and close to two weeks this summer, has deepened my love for this beautiful province. Along with being a major destination for people seeking Silk Road attractions, there is so much more, including a Tibetan area with amazing grasslands and mountains, as well as glaciers gracing the southern edge of the province. It’s amazing that it is not just made up of desert oasis, something I discovered more of this year. The landscape is so beautiful.
Tianshui is easily reached from Xian, taking about 3-4 hours by train. As of now, there isn’t a fast train connecting the two, but I’m sure within the near future that will change. The train lets you off in the old part of town. Just outside the station is where you can catch the bus to the grottos. Honestly, of all the grottos, this was one of the easiest to get to though, as usual I was a little anxious before the trip, hoping I would be able to find the right bus with my limited, or should I say, non-existent Chinese. But finding the bus was easy, and it takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the entrance to Magishan. The entrance also happens to be the terminus.
After buying tickets, you have one of two options for getting to the grottos. You can either walk up along the road, or you can take an electric car. When I went it was a perfect day, not as hot as it had been in Xian, so we decided to walk up. I really enjoyed the walk, and for the most part it is under the trees, so you can stay out of the sun. You walk past some restaurants and guesthouses, along with a scattering of homes. It’s all a little up hill, but nothing too bad. It starts to get a bit steeper where the electric cars drop off passengers to the base of the grottos.
Magishan Grottos were carved out of a small rock outcropping. It isn’t a very large rock, but there are many layers of caves going up, so you start from the bottom and weave your way up before making your way back down. It’s more vertical than long, but there are some impressive caves in great condition. Most of the caves are smaller, and most have bars on the outside, allowing you to see in, but not great for photos. This is too bad but I understand it’s to help preserve the art.
Maybe it was because this was my first grotto, but I was amazed by it. I wondered how the heck people got up this cliff to carve and paint everything. Not to mention that all the painting in the caves, as well as the statues, are incredibly old, and amazingly still in good condition. Every time I go to a grotto I love to find the small details that have lasted hundreds of years. It is a legacy that will keep living on, especially since many of these places are under protection while others are being renovated. It’s nice that some are being restored to their original state but I really think there is something to say about how long it has lasted, and once things are painted over and touched up, I think you maybe lose a little of the charm of these old relics.
Everyone we encountered in Gansu was incredibly friendly, even if we could barely communicate. And while in Tianshui we felt like rock stars because we only saw two other tourists the whole time we were there. Judging by the stares there aren’t a lot of foreigners that travel there, which is crazy because the grottos should be much more of a tourist attraction.
The town itself doesn’t have a lot to do, aside from a really nice market with lots of different kinds of produce, especially melons, which are known to be the best tasting in all of China. It’s something about the method they use to farm them. I also bought some amazing mangos, and my favorite mangosteens. Each night there is a night market, which offers many kinds of street food, especially noodles, which are widespread in Gansu. Most areas within Gansu have their own special noodle dishes, which are all delicious, and usually spicy. The smell of chili permeates the air in the market in town, and your eyes can feel the burn when you walk past someone making chili powder.
There are a few temples both in town and in the hills surrounding Tainshui which are easy to get to by bus or taxi. Unfortunately we only had one day so we weren’t able to visit them on this trip.
- The train station is in Old Tianshui, and the markets and many hotels are in New Tianshui.
- Bus 6 runs from the train station into the new town and cost CNY3 per person
- From the train station take the number 34 bus, which cost CNY5 per person. The terminus is the entrance to the grottos.
- The entrance fee for Majishan is CNY70 per person.
- You can opt to pay CNY10 per person to ride an electric cart up to the path that leads to the grottos, or you can walk up, it’s only about 3k.
- Taking the train from Xian takes 3-4 hours, so this can be done as a day trip from Xian.
Have you been to Majishan Grottos or Tianshui? What did you like about visiting? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!