When looking for things to do in Zhengzhou, the Longmen Grottoes is a top option. But, I almost discarded it. I look into it in the early stages of the trip planning, and I was not knowledgable of how Amap works.
A quick search on how to get from Zhengzhou to the Longmen Grottoes returns a four hours route. That is too long to be able to comfortably go and come back the same day.
But, after using it for a while, I learned the ropes of the app. The default search does not include railways. The first time, I missed that detail. So, I looked for the specific train tab. It just takes just 30 minutes from Zhengzhou East to Luoyang station!
Nowadays, I use mainly Amap to move around China. I find it more useful than Apple Maps, as it seems to have up-to-date or even real-time data.
The Longmen Grottoes like the Terracotta Warriors are far from unique. There are other caves around China with similar carvings. But it is a first-timer for me.
As I walk along the side of the river, I see the first carvings. The site has a mini-museum, gift shop and easy access to all the carvings (unless you need a wheelchair).
The Buddhas are far from the most elaborated that I have seen. But it astonishes me its sheer number and the variety of forms and sizes. Many signboards explain the symbology of the figures, and there is much symbolism.
While admiring the big central statues, another tourist asks to take a picture with me. I am the only western tourist, and my beard helps to get people’s attention. I get asked twice more to pose for selfies in twenty minutes. And, I lost count on how many times someone took a picture of me from a distance.
My guess is that many of the tourists here are part of some group from the countryside as they do not seem so used to see western visitors.
In these circumstances, I always ask for a photograph back. It is a way of getting unique pictures and to show that they may be as strange to me as I am for them.
The carvings are in different states of preservation. The most elaborated sculpture-like Buddhas in the exterior are the most damaged as their protuberances are worn down by the elements. Some carvings are closer to two-dimensional drawings and less prone to erosion.
From the upper stairs, the views of the Yi River (伊河) are disappointing. The river is a wide, beautiful and full of life. Birds fly over the water and stay around in big flocks. But, the fog tones down the view to a dull grey. What it seems a layer of smog has been present since I arrived in Zhengzhou.
Back in Zhengzhou, I visit one of the new neighbourhoods. Chinese cities are growing so fast that academics can study the impact of city design in a way that it will take decades in any other part in the World.
Many people are walking towards a modern-looking mall. Western brands are trendy, the clothes are made here anyway. But, there are also many Chinese labels with unique designs.
Going back to the hotel, I visit a close-by mall. Many shops are already closed. I go to the upper floor where I find a supermarket. But, there is no cashier, the place seems empty. As I get out, I see a China Central Television sign. I suspect that I got into a TV show set without realising. The supermarket was fake. It is not the first time that being in a mall, I end up in an offices area. At New York, I got to Google’s offices. I leave without anyone noticing.