A rip off on route to some Buddhist grottoes
Bingling Si Travel Blog› entry 320 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Portia (USA)
Julia woke me up around 07.00 and i really didn't want to get out of bed, so nothing new there. By 07.30 we were in reception, where Portia met us shortly afterwards. First scam of the day occurred as we went to store our bags and the receptionist asked for 2RMB per bag, even though our friends had paid 1RMB the previous day. When i mentioned this, the lady gave a sigh, recognised she had been busted and said 1RMB was ok. Cheeky bitch. 1RMB is basically nothing, but its the principal that counts as far as i am concerned. Wanting to save on time, the three of us jumped in a taxi and headed out to the South bus station.
The ride took around 15 minutes and i was pleased upon arrival to see it was a far less chaotic scene, than what we had encountered at the West bus station when heading to Linxia.
It was clear the guy was up to something and there was no way that we were paying this, as it would work out more expensive than taking a private taxi! He began to come down to 40RMB each, then went and got our tickets from the office, which had clearly printed on them 13RMB ($1.85). We boarded the bus and set off, with some pretty dreadful Chinese music been played to help pass the time. 10 minutes down the road the driver pulled over...
By this stage we had reached a conveniently distant place, away from the station and prying eyes, so he obviously felt comfortable with the stunt he was about to pull.
Some other passengers were joining in the debate by this stage and in the end we had to pay 23RMB ($3.30) each. It had nothing to do with the amount of money they were taking from us, it was the fact that it was paramount to robbery. Just because we weren't Chinese, we had to pay double the fare. If i did that in my country, I'd be up in court on racism charges no doubt.
Our next dilemma arrived at the speed boat ticket office, as we were asked to pay 760RMB ($110) for the boat, even though our guidebook recommended 200-400RMB. The cost got split between 8, so it was 95RMB each, but this still felt an awful lot. We were told afterwards that the boats had regulated their prices, which basically meant they had joined together to screw the visitors!
The 1 hour journey across Liujiaxia reservoir was a pleasant one, with interesting rock formations, situated within a small gorge, providing the eye candy. Having not even stepped off the boat when we arrived, my arm was grabbed by an old Chinese lady, who was trying to sell me some worthless brik-a-brak.
It took a minute or two to persuade the ticket office that the student discount didn't only apply to Chinese students, but our bogus ISIC cards should also give us a 50% discount and gladly they succumbed to this gentle persuasion and let us in for 25RMB ($3.50) each. At least something had gone right for us this morning!
Entering the Buddhist Grottoes of Bingling si, you first come upon a rock formation called the 5 monks, which juts up into the sky. A white walkway leads alongside a river, where on one side there are the grottoes and on the other side is a museum, with a bridge linking the two.
Bingling Si was created over a 1600 year time span and at its peak boasted 183 niches and sculptures, most of which are still around today. The caves glory days came under the Tang dynasty, as wealthy silk road traders paid for the growth and evolution of the Buddhist grotto.
At the first small caves that we approached, we were stopped by a guard who didn't want us taking photos and soon noticed that many of the caves seemed to have signs hanging in front of them forbidding photography. Now if they want to forbid flash photography, then I'm 100% behind them, as this can damage the ancient paintings, but just to say no photography to some areas and not others is ludicrous.
We'd paid a lot of money to come here and i was determined to leave with some documentation of my visit. Stupidly the no photos signs were also only posted at irregular intervals and there seemed little rhyme nor reason as to why. So you could actually be stood in an area where photography was permitted and be shooting the area where no photos were supposed to be taken, so this is what i did!
To be honest i found most of the caves to be lacking in quality, when compared to those at Datong and Luoyang. Some of the murals were nice and the 27m high seated Maitreya Buddha (future Buddha) was also impressive However, the 90 minutes that the speedboat had scheduled to wait for us ended up been enough, when normally such complexes warrant a good 2-3 hours.
On the other side of the river we were approached by the owner of one of the jeeps who wanted us to pay 60RMB ($8.50) to go on a 10 minute drive up the valley to see a monastery. I felt like we'd already spent more than enough and i wasn't willing to part with another Yuan, especially as what had been on display so far hadn't really inspired me. Instead we headed into the museum, which had a nice display of carvings and golden Buddha statues, it goes without saying, no photography.
Our 90 minutes had elapsed, so it was back to the waiting woman, who once more badgered me until i stepped foot on the boat.
The day out had been average, the caves were mediocre, the people were gits and the costs were high. On the plus side it had been good to catch up with Portia again and i expect i will appreciate the Mogao caves far more after the disappointment here.