Straight to town.
After the great time spent at the Yungang Grottos, I still have enough time to see the centre of Datong. I was impressed by the allegedly fake walls while in the bus on the way to the caves, so my first goal now is to check if my idea was right or wrong. From the Grottos I take a bus to a central station in Datong that is located north of the walled town. Once there I’m immediately surrounded by the hectic atmosphere of this town. There are people everywhere, selling things, doing shopping or even playing cards. I can’t deny that what I saw in the morning was great but I find more prolific from the photographer point of view this kind of urban landscape. I move on in the direction of the walls and I can finally see them at the end of a large street that seems to be the commercial heart of the town. Beside the many shops there is also an open-air market. A girl is promoting clothes she’s selling with an amplified microphone singing a rap-like rhyme. There’s also food of course, this is China! Among the many specialties available my choice go to a kind of tomato pizza with no cheese but very tasty and spicy. I love it. With this energy load, I’m now ready to head toward the huge grey walls in front of me.
Building a new walled town.
When I’m finally close to the walls I realise I can’t enter to the inner town from where I am because the supposed gate is in the middle of a building site confirming my theory. And then now is the time to share with you results of my research about this town and the walls. Datong has actually a very glorious past. The town has more than two thousands years of history. It was known until 1048 as Píngchéng and it was capital two times. Once it was capital of Northern Wei dynasty for about one century (398–493). Later on, during Jin dynasty (11th century), it was the northern capital of that empire before being sacked by Mongols. In more recent times the town where relics of the past were almost disappeared, became important for its coal mines and, consequently, notorious as one of the most polluted town in China. In 2008 the newly appointed mayor of Datong broke into this sad scenario with the crazy idea of restoring the ancient walls and the old town, being aware that this meant basically rebuilding everything from scratch. In such cases there’s always who is in favour and who is against, even in a country like China. I’m personally always in favour if you’re doing something beautiful. Now after almost ten years the wall belt is almost completed but also the quality of life in Datong improved and nowadays the town became an example of war to pollution, dramatically reduced. After this short resume about Datong’s old and recent history I’m going to tell you about what I saw in this walled town. To do that I just need to walk around the huge wall belt and hopefully find an open gate.
Within the walls.
Once entered the wall, following instructions of a city map, I reach a minor Buddhist monastery. There’s no evidence of ticket office so I go inside. It looks they’re are preparing things for some forthcoming celebration. There are tables and chairs ready to be placed around and fruits, I think persimmons, drying on large wooden board. Few ladies are sitting and chatting drinking tea. I ask them with some gesture if I can go further and they allow me to go. Many small colourful statues are everywhere while inside the temples there are mostly big golden statues of Buddha. In the innermost temple there are monks praying. I avoid to disturb them too much and so I take just few pics. Once out from the monastery I head south toward the middle of the walled town. It is quite big, it is a square with sides of about 2,3 kilometres. There was an hard work also within the town. There are many new buildings and all of them are built in ‘ancient’ style. After about 30 minutes walking I found a big square with a series of huge statues of hieratic women holding a lamp. As a visitor I’m certainly positively impressed by all these attractions but the drawback is that sometimes the result look a bit artificial since real life is almost absent. One of the few original building seems to be the mosque but unfortunately the faithfuls sitting at the door are not so friendly like the ladies in the buddhist temple and they send me away in a quite rude way. Just around the corner there is a nice bar with tables outside where the french couple I met in the bus this morning is drinking some beer. I join them for some time and we exchange opinions about this town. Day is almost at its end so I leave the company and I try to see still something. I reach the drum tower located almost at the centre of the square and, afterward I see the Shanhua temple both just from outside because opening time is gone. In the old town I don’t find any bus going to the railway station so I need to walk a lot before finally crossing again the walls gate on foot. Once outside, there are plenty of buses so it’s easy for me getting back to the hotel.
It was a very long day and I’m tired so for dinner I search for a good place not far from the hotel. After walking around I decide to try a small grill place. It is basically a butcher’s shop with already made meat skewers of different kind. Owners are maybe muslims so no pork is available but a lot of lamb including also offals. Communication is simpler than expected even if they speak only Chinese. I just need to point out the skewers and ordering a beer. Now I know it is called Píjiǔ in Chinese. Skewers are served with some veggie and they’re very tasty. I’m the only foreigner in this place and other guests are often looking at me. I’m definitely an attraction in Datong because I have the impression that tourists doesn’t go so much around. Most of them go to visit nearby sights with local guides without tasting the feeling of this interesting town. For them very likely is enough to see only the Yungang Grottos and the Hanging monastery. By the way, tomorrow I have to go to see this monastery and I don’t know yet how to reach it… Tomorrow I will see. For now I leave you with the gallery of Datong and the grottos.