By Russ Kirk
We’re in Wuwei, Gansu province, Northwest China. No English spoken anywhere. We’re off to see the 1,600-year-old Big Buddha of the Tiantishan Grottoes. This massive 45-foot-high carved sitting Buddha is 31 miles south of Wuwei.
Arriving at the turnoff to the grottoes, we find the road closed. After some pantomime with the guard and taxi driver, we can park and walk. No way to ask how far it is, how long to walk, or if the grotto is open. It’s a sunny day, pretty scenery, and, with no Plan B, we’re off to look for Big Buddha.
We’re soon in a major construction zone. Huge chunks of the steep hillside are being carved out and hauled away to widen the road. We’re walking around all kinds of heavy equipment: big trucks, caterpillars, graders, backhoes, front-end loaders, and roller compactors.
In some places, large culverts wait patiently by the roadside for their final placement. In others, parts of the road have been widened, leveled, compacted, and made ready for paving. Elsewhere there are piles of rubble with even more hillside to be added and taken away. Here, we pick our way along narrow, uneven strips of pathway through the mounds of dirt.
We pass groups of workers. Occasionally, one says “hello” in English. We answer “hello” in Chinese. Everyone laughs. We know we’ve exhausted our knowledge of each other’s language.
It turns out we’re quite enjoying our walk. The construction zone offers a unique perspective with us being right at road level in the mix of things. We’re in awe of the huge scale of the project and the number and size of the equipment being used.
Looking up, the steep, rolling green hills resembling the Scottish Highlands march straight down from the blue sky to the expanded road site. On the lower side, we’re immediately greeted by a narrow band of coniferous and willow trees continuing the short, steep march down to the valley floor.
At the bottom, our eyes settle on the patchwork multi-green and yellow farmland raggedly blending with the reservoir water. The only barrier between the reservoir and the farmland is the level of water either expanding or receding.
Forty minutes later we arrive at the ticket office with an employee sitting there. Maybe we’re in luck? No luck. Closed.
With our noses pressed against the metal gate, we can just see a bit of the front side view of the massive sitting Buddha carved out of the hillside and perched just above the reservoir water lapping at its feet. Tantalizingly close. The best we can do is look at the large sign out front showing a front view of the Buddha. Impressive.
Cost to get in: adult, 30 RMB ($5), 60+, 15 RMB ($3), and 70+, free (bring your passport for a reduction).
While we didn’t see the Big Buddha up close, we certainly had a unique, interesting walk through pretty scenery. We left feeling we had made the most of our day. Traveling is full of surprises. The key is to accept what is and go with the flow.
While in Wuwei, be sure to visit the 600-year-old Confucius Temple (close to the South Gate) — Ming-era architecture with intricately carved, multicolored wooden beams and populated with numerous statues.
Wander through the maze of courtyards with large, old-growth trees and pigeons cooing. Quiet and peaceful.
Entrance fee is 30 RMB ($5), 70+, free (bring your passport).
Search on CTrip English, Elong, or Agoda for hotels. We stayed at Wuwei Ziyunge Hotel conveniently located next to the South Gate and many restaurants and shops.
We recommend our taxi driver. We don’t know his name but get your hotel to call him (1-779-355-1574). His car number is 80744.
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