Touring Zhangye? Don’t Miss These Unique Attractions!

Zhangye (formerly known as Kanchow) is a prefectural city in the People’s Republic of China’s central Gansu Province. It borders Inner Mongolia on the north and Qinghai on the south. It is home to some of the most spectacular and unique attractions China has to offer.

Wooden Pagoda Temple

Also named Wanshou Temple, Wooden Pagoda Temple is a preservation site of cultural relics located in Zhangye County. It was built during the Zhou dynasty and has been restored several times during the Sui, Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties.

The Scripture-stored Tower and Wooden Pagoda sit gracefully in the center of Zhangye city. At first, the pagoda had fifteen floors but was later altered into nine after several periods of restoration. Before the Ming Dynasty, the pagoda was made of pure wood with no nails or rivets. The whole pagoda was supported totally by a bucket set structure and wooden pillars.

The existing Wooden Pagoda is now a half-timbered pavilion-like pagoda. The pagoda is 32.8 meters high at present. The ebb and flow of the wooden pagoda reflect the changes of the area through time.

If history is the root, then culture is the soul. As one of the few well-preserved wooden structures, the fourteen-hundred-year-old Wanshou Temple Wooden Pagoda is not only a Buddhist pagoda, but a cultural symbol that combines architecture, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Its special architectural style and great value in history and culture have captured the attention of national academic communities and tourists from all over the world.

Mati Temple Grottoes

Nestled among the Linsong Mountains in northwest China, is Mati Temple Grottoes, one of the Hexi Corridor area’s Three Buddhism Sanctuaries. The Yulin and Mogao Grottoes are the other two.

Mati means “Horse Hoof” and refers to the folk-tale about a horse deity that left a hoof print on a piece of rock when it entered the secular world. Both the mountain and the temple were named after the mati, though the Yongle period of Ming Dynasty it was renamed the Puguang Temple. The piece of rock with the horse’s footprint is still stored in this temple.

The scenic area is divided into seven groups of grottoes: Jinta Temple, Upper, Middle and Lower Guanyin Cave, North and South Mati Temple, and Thousand Buddha Cave. There are more than 70 grottoes and caves here.

The earliest grotto is believed to have been built during the Eastern Jin era, around the late 4th and early 5th century, by a monk and his disciples. Originally meant to be a reclusive venue for meditating, studying, and all around living, the venue had to be expanded for flocks of disciples had been drawn in by its reputation. Over 1,000 monks simultaneously resided there during its heyday.

Nineteen grottoes were created during the Yuan Dynasty. These grottoes are spread over an extensive area circling the Mati Temple. Some can be up to over 10km apart. The Jinta Temple is one of the most well-preserved among the grottoes, and also happens to be one of the highest in aesthetic value.

Zhangye Giant Buddha Temple

The Zhangye Giant Buddha Temple is situated right in the hub of Zhangye. The temple houses the largest indoor reclining-Buddha in the country–a kind of Buddhism art which can be seen in various locations in China. Its ear alone is around 13ft, which is big enough for eight people to sit on at one time. Its middle finger is large enough for one person to lie on it.

Ten of Shakyamuni’s disciples stand behind the back of the reclining Buddha, which coincides with the Buddhism story about their presence when Shakyamuni died. Besides the reclining Buddha, statues of the Eighteen Arhats line the side walls.

Another prominent attraction is the Amitabha Thousand-Buddha Pagoda from the Ming Dynasty. It is one of the “Five Element Pagodas” in Zhangye. Wu Xing refers to the Five Elements ubiquitously used in Chinese philosophy, geomancy, alchemistry, and medicine. The Five Elements refer to the Earth (土), Fire (火), Water (水), Wood (木), and Metal (金). There are five pagodas in scattered around Zhangye that stand for these five elements, including the “Earth” one inside the Giant Buddha Temple.

Zhangye Danxia Landform

The Zhangye Danxia Landform is located in the middle section of the Hexi Corridor and home to a spectacular one-of-a-kind scenery. “Danxia” is the word used to refer to the rosy glow that casts onto the clouds before sunrise or when the sun is setting and was used to describe the reddish sandstone found there.

Danxia is also used when referring to the ravines, pillars, self-standing peaks, and other kinds of misshapen sandstones that have the reddish tone, shaped by multiple factors as tectonic movements, weathering, water erosion, diastrophism, etc.

The Zhangye Danxia Landform is the second largest Danxia Landform within China and looks like it has been sheared, chiseled, axed, gashed, scooped, and chopped randomly by god’s hand. It is believed that these random forms and figures started taking shape over 6 million years ago.

The color of the rocks was created by the sediments and minerals carried in the water. Apart from the usual shades of red such as magenta, maroon, auburn, ruby, crimson, cerise, fuchsia, and burgundy, you’ll find other colors like teal, amber, cyan, emerald, beige, turquoise, and gold. The colors shift according to the time of a day, the weather, and the season.

Danxia Landforms can be found sporadically scattered around a dozen locations in China.

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Lesley Daunt

Lesley Daunt is a travel writer that has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Huffington Post, Examiner, Digital Journal and more.
Lesley Daunt