I love when somewhere I’ve never heard of, and stumbleupon by accident, becomes one of my new favourite places. The Maijishan Mountain Grottoes are one such discovery.
The mountain’s sheer face rises vertically out of the ground, an oddity amongst the surrounding rolling hills. Maijishan translates as Wheat Stack Mountain as it looks (somewhat) like a solitary pile of straw.
Originally the stairs up to the grottoes were made of wood, held up by poles thrust into holes carved out of the rock face. Today metal has replaced these wooden walkways and is stuck to the mountain with glue. Apparently this is an improvement…
From the upper levels it’s worth taking a moment to turn away from all the grottoes and look outward. The surrounding area is lush and verdant, with clouds flowing over a forest of cypresses and pines framed like a sea by the peaks of the Qin Ling Mountains. This is known as the Maiji Misty Rain, and considered the most beautiful view in the Tianshui region.
The grottoes were cut out over a period of 1,500 years, starting in 384 AD during the Qin dynasty. There are now 194 grottoes and 7,200 statues. The largest statues are over 15 meters in height.
We stayed in Maiji Village, about 45km away from Tianshui, and situated at the base of the mountain. It’s a tiny little place, consisting of a crossroads, a couple of hotels and many homestay options. The restaurant we visited had a number of meat dishes, but the only vegetable on the hand-written menu was weeds. Assuming this was a translation error we asked for more details. “It’s the weeds picked from the side of the road”. When they arrived, they were indeed weeds and quite mild, but perfectly tasty.
Maijishan has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since 2001, but not yet ratified, which I find amazing. Admittedly, the coverings for the individual grottoes could do with opening up, and there’s no pretence at disabled access, but it is a serene and beautiful place to visit.