If you are in the process of planning your Xian tour, you may consider making a day trip to Maijishan Grottoes, oft-lauded as one of the four most famous ancient Buddhist grottoes in China. The other three grottoes are Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Yungang Caves in Datong and Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang.
The Maijishan Grottoes Scenic Area is located 30 km south of Maiji District (麦积区) of Tianshui City (天水市). As an individual traveler, the best option for you to go to Maijishan Grottoes from Xian is taking a 3-hour train from Xian Railway Station. When you arrive at Tianshui Railway Station, you will see a signboard pointing to Bus 34, a shuttle bus going from Tianshui Railway Station to the parking lot attached to Maijishan Grottoes. The Bus 34 is on the right side of the square in front of Tianshui Railway Station if you exit from the railway building (about 50 meters away on your right direction). Bus 34 Bus fare RMB 5, a 50-minutes bus ride.
There are several daily passing-by trains going from Xian to Tianshui. You can easily purchase your Xian to Tianshui two way train tickets from any of the ticketing offices dotted around Xian, or you may go to Xian Railway Station or Xian North Railway Station to book your train tickets. If you are going to Visit Maijishan Grottoes on weekend or China public holidays, you’ d better book your train tickets in advance.
Your whole return day trip from Xian to Maijishan Grottoes and back to Xian takes about 10 hours – 6 hour return train ride between Xian and Tianshui, plus 2 hours return bus ride between Tianshui Railway Station and Maijishan Grottoes and 2 hour sightseeing at Maijishan. So you’d better off booking your train ticket from Xian to Tianshui with departure time between 5:30 am and 8:00 am and return ticket from Tianshui to Xian between 3:30 pm and 5:00 pm.
Currently all the trains stopping at Tianshui are passing-by trains on their way from Beijing to the western cities like Lanzhou, Xining and so on. Only two kinds of train tickets are availabe for the 3-hour train ride – hard seat and hard sleeper and no soft sleeper. It is preferable to reserve a hard sleeper to give you quiet space for a long and tiring day trip. Bring some snacks with you since there are hardly any western food restarurants in Tianjinshui except McDonalds and Kentucky.
Maijishan, or Maiji Mountain is 142 meters high with an altitude of 1742 meters . The hill is large in the middle part and a bit narrow at the bottom and the flat top, resemling a wheat stack, hence the name of Maiji – a wheat stack in Chinese. One of the glamous Buddhist grottoes areas along the ancient silk road, Maijishan Grottoes were originally built in late Qin ( 384AD and 417AD ) of sixteen states period., developed and expanded through the successive dynasities ranging from North Wei, Zhou, Sui, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties.
The red-looking Maijinshan is a Danxia landform, relatively easier for grottoes carving. Currently there are 221 remaining grottoes, over 7000 statues and 10000 square meters of murals. Carved between 30meters and 80 meters in the side cliffs of Maijinshan, visitors now need to climb up the cat-walks and spiral stairways to see these caves.
The caves are hewn from the rocks on the side cliffs, but the statues inside these caves are not carved from the same rocks. Instead the statues are mainly composed of 3 kinds – stone as core covered with clay, clay statues, clay carving mixed with other materials ( wood ). What disdiguish the grottoes in Maijishan from other same their those in Datong, Mogao and Yungan is that most of the aBuddhist statues are clay carvings. The clay statues still keep a large mount of pigment. The clay statues in Maijishan are vivid, personalised with more secular life decriptions. It is worth your 10-hours round trip from Xian.
Well, follow me to have a glimpse of Maijishan Grottoes from Xian.
Arriving at 9:00am at Tianshui Railway Station which is located at Maiji District, one of the two districts in Tianshui. Walk out from the Exit, raise your head, you will see a large sign hanging on a cement pole in the middle of the square in front of the railway building. The sign points to the starting place for the Bus 34, 50 meters on the right side of the square.
The first bus leaves at 6:00 and last bus at 9:00pm. Get ready for RMB 5 to be put inside the slot for the 50-minute bus ride from the station to the parking lot of Maijinshan Grottoes. The bus leaves every 13 minutes. Line up at the front door to get a seat on the bus and get off the bus at the middle door at your destination.
It is a scenic bus ride from the train station to Maijinshan Grottoes – fresh air, green mountions and typical Chinese villagers.
Getting off from your bus and walk to the ticketing office by the entrance – Chinese traditinal decorated gate. Entrance fee: RMB 70 and RMB 15 for a return electric car which brings you up to the base of Maijishan and back. It is worth taking the golf cart for the fast and comfortabke ride otherwise you need to walk another 3km to get to the base of Maijinshan.
The decorated entrance gate to Maijishan Grottoes
Get off from the electric cart, you still need to walk up about 500 meters to the bottom of Maijinshan Mountain, passing by along a long string of food and souvenir stalls. Before starting your climb up to Maijin Hill, you’d better locate a good spot to take a panoramic picture of Maijishan Mountain with grottoes.
The east side cliff of Maiji Hill
Just follow a single trail up to the hill along the zigzag stairways taking you to different caves with good English captions introducing each major cave. Some caves are closed for protections and you have to see through the wire fence windows. The visit on the mountain caves takes about 2 hours.
The zigzag stairway leading to the caves caved on the cliffs.Walking up toward to the Grotto No. 013. Built in Sui Dynasty ( 518AD-618AD), and later rebuilt in Song Dynasty. The grotto contains a huge high-relief stone frame clay sculptures of the Buddha in the middle and flanked by two Bodihisattva, 15.70 meters high, the largest statues in the Maiji Mountain.
Have a close look at the trinity of Buddha and two Bodihisatva.
Zoom in one of the seven niches with a clear picture of the clay statue with vivid facial expressions.
Continue to move on to Grotto No.003. Also originally built in the Northen Zhou Dynasty. It is a long corridor pavilion, 36.5 meters, a representitive art of early wood structures. The upper and lower rows of Buhhda, hence the name of One Thousand Buddha Corridor.
The statues at the long corridor are seen through the mesh grills.
Continue to walk up to the Grotto No.004, also built in the Northern Zhou Dynasty ( 518AD – 618AD). It is known as Upper Seven Buddha Pavilion.
Have a close look at the statues inside the Upper Seven Buddha Pavilion.
Narrow catwalks support numerous visitors. High on the catwak with a panoramic view of the surrouding lush mountains.
Some caves are closed for repair.
After the 2-hour visit of the Maijin Mountain, walk down to the parking lot for the bus returning to Tianshui railway Station for a 3-hour train back to Xian.
If you hav any questions, just drop a line.