The Yungang Grottoes are located in the ancient city of Datong in Shanxi Province, west of Beijing. The Grottoes, comprising 51,000 statues in 252 caves, were built in the 5th and 6th centuries AD and represent the outstanding achievement in Buddhist cave art of this period. Of particular note are the Five Caves created by the monk Tan Yao in AD 460-465 which have a unity of layout and design. The Hanging Monastery, an hour south of Datong, is another highlight of the region, with the 1,500 year old Buddhist temple hugging the side of a cliff.
Mount Wutai with its five flat peaks is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. Its has 53 monasteries which have been built over two millennia since the 1st century AD. These include the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, which is the highest ranking timber building to survive from the Tang Dynasty, and the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple, containing a huge complex of 500 statues, representing Buddhist stories woven into three-dimensional pictures of mountains and water. The beauty of the snow-covered peaks and thick forests has been celebrated by Chinese artists for centuries.
The oasis town of Dunhuang, set amidst desert landscapes and the last stop before entering the feared Taklamakan Desert, was an important stop on the Silk Road. The nearby sand dunes are known as the Singing Sands and can be explored on camel to see spectacular views of Crescent Moon Lake. Dunhuang is also the location for the famous Mogao Caves, a series of Buddhist shrines dating back to the 4th century AD. The 492 caves contains thousands of statues and 45,000 square metres of colourful murals, created by travelling monks and merchants and constituting some of the best Buddhist art in China.
Leshan Giant Buddha
The Giant Buddha of Leshan was carved into a cliff face on Lingyun Hill overlooking the confluence of the Dadu and Min Rivers. Begun in the 8th century AD and taking almost 100 years to complete, it is the largest Buddha statue in the world, being 71 metres high.
The mountain of Emei Shan is one of China's four most sacred Buddhist Mountains and was the site of China's first Buddhist temple in the 1st century AD. It has been a place of pilgrimage ever since with many temples and monasteries on the mountain. The summit at 3099 metres can be reached on foot or by cable car to Golden Summit (Jinding Peak) where you van visit the impressive Wannian Temple. There is also very diverse vegetation on Mount Emei, ranging from subtropical to subalpine pine forests. Among the species found are the silver apricot, a huge range of fungi and medicinal herbs and trees over a thousand years old.
Dazu Rock Carvings
Baoding Shan (Treasured Summit Hill) in the Dazu area is renowned for its Buddhist rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Created by monks, the carvings are of outstanding quality and depict both religious and secular matter. The highlight is a reclining Buddha which is 31 metres long and 5 metres high.
Taoism was founded by the philosopher Zhang Daoling on Mount Qingcheng in AD 142, which is celebrated in a series of ancient temples on the mountain, built during the Jin Dynasty between 265 and 420 AD.
The city of Luoyang is located in Henan Province. It is most famous for the Buddhist Longmen Grottoes which are located in caves along the River Yi, 13km south of the city. Built during the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD, they represent a high point in Chinese stone carving. Over 2,300 grottoes contain more than 100,000 Buddhist statues (the tallest is over 17 metres), 2,500 stelae and 60 Buddhist pagodas. Other attractions near Luoyang include the White Horse Temple, China's first Buddhist Temple, or watching the locals practice tai chi, dancing or sword fighting early in the morning in Peony Square.
Mount Taishan is the most revered of China's five sacred mountains, with Chinese emperors having made pilgrimages there for over 3,000 years. It has inspired Chinese artists and scholars (including Confucius) and was an important centre of activity for the Buddhist and Taoist religions. Today, rock inscriptions, stone tablets and temples bear witness to these influences and are integrated into the natural landscape of the mountain. The summit can be reached on foot, comprising 6,000 steps, or more conveniently by cable car, rewarded with magnificent views over the landscape below.
Lushan National Park
Mount Lushan in Jiangxi Province is one of the spiritual centres of Chinese civilisation. There are approximately 200 historic buildings within the national park, including Buddhist and Taoist temples, of which the most famous is the East Grove Temple. The beautiful landscape of the area has been an inspiration for Chinese art, poetry and philosophy.
Mount Sanqingshan National Park
Mount Sanqingshan National Park is located in the Huyaiyu mountain range in the northeast of Jiangxi Province. It is an area of beautiful and unique scenery, with concentrated granite pillars and peaks, mixed with temperate forests, numerous waterfalls and lakes. Mount Sanqingshan has been a Taoist shrine for over 400 years and contains many Taoist relics, stone carvings and temples.
Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains
The valleys and slopes of the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province are the setting for this complex of temples and palaces. Although it was built as an organised complex during the Ming Dynasty, it contains Taoist temples from as early as the 7th century.