The blooming of peony flowers attracts not only little creatures with wings, but also tourists. From the middle of April until the end of the month is the annual Luoyang Peony Festival, which draws local and foreign tourists to China's Luoyang city in Henan province.
Peonies are one of the most admired flowers by Chinese people and it is also regarded as the national bloom. Naturally, peonies have vivid colours such as red, pink, purple, green, yellow or pure white, while some may have dual colours.
It is said that in China peonies were a symbol of love during ancient times. The flowers were used as a token of love among courting couples about 2,000 years ago and today some newly married couples also use them for their wedding ceremonies as hair decoration or in a bride's bouquet. The flower also has another benefit. Since the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), people have learned how to use them for cooling the body's temperature and boosting blood circulation.
The Longmen Grottoes house more than 100,000 stone Buddha images.
Today there are a thousand varieties of peony cultivated in Luoyang. The best place to see them is in the Luoyang National Peony Garden where more than 1,000 varieties are grown along with other colourful flowers in the 250,000m2 grounds. This garden is the main spot to see the flowers during the annual Peony Festival.
In addition to the national flower, Luoyang also houses the jaw-dropping Longmen Grottoes. Located south of the city, the grottoes house more than 100,000 Buddha images, 2,800 steles and inscriptions, and about 60 pagodas in 2,345 niches on the limestone cliffs of the Xiang and Longmen Mountains which flank the Yi River. The work at the grottoes was first carved about 1,500 years ago when Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534 AD) moved the capital to Luoyang. It took about 400 years to complete all the carved works which are devoted to Buddhism.
Once you enter the place, you will find awesome stone carved Buddha images ranging from 2.5cm to over 17m in height. One of the highlights is the large cave called Fengxian Temple. It displays the huge seated Buddha image at 17.14m in height along with eight large standing statutes. These carved works of the Fengxian Temple were done in 675AD, which was during the reign of the Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang dynasty. It is also said that the face of the seated Buddha image was carved to resemble the face of the empress. To pay respect to the Buddha images, you need to climb 99 steps, which is auspicious according to Chinese beliefs.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the Longmen Grottoes contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the third century AD. The Longmen Grottoes are listed in the Unesco World Heritage sites.
Last but not least for the must-do in Luoyang, is to visit the Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Buddhism's Chan sect and the Shaolin martial art.
A performance of Shaolin kung fu.
The temple was built in 495AD, the same year as the start of the Longmen Grottoes, to accommodate the first abbot from India _ the master Batuo who devoted himself to translating Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. About 32 years later another Indian master, Bodhidharma, came to the temple. He spent nine years meditating in a cave in the Wuru Peak and was the one who initiated Chinese Zen Buddhism and the martial arts.
Historical records show that the martial arts were created for monks to exercise after the master found them unhealthy due to long meditation practices. The movements later formed the basis of Shaolin kung fu. At the beginning of the seventh century, the practice had paid off when a tiny army of 13 Shaolin monks saved the future Tang dynasty emperor Li Shimin in a battle. When he took power as the second emperor, he renovated the temple to support the establishment of the kung fu centre. At present, more than 100,000 people come to the temple each year to learn martial arts. For tourists, the temple has a small theatre to host daily performances.
Shaolin Temple was also listed as a Unesco World Cultural & Natural Heritage site in 2010.
There are many other things to see and do in Luoyang, one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. With many historical and cultural sites, this charming city filled with the fragrance of peonies is also known as one of the cradles of Chinese civilisation.
Luoyang can be reached by a high-speed train from Xi'an. The journey is only two hours. Thai AirAsia offers a daily direct flight from Bangkok to Xi'an. Visit www.airasia.com.
Luoyang National Peony Garden holds the annual peony festival from April 1 to May 5 every year. The ticket fees are usually 40 yuan (200 baht) per person, but rise to 55 yuan (270 baht) per person during April 9-25, which is prime blooming time.
The Longmen Grottoes are open daily from 7am to 6.30pm most of the year, and 7.30am to 5.30pm during winter. A night tour is available from April 1 to Oct 10 from 6.30pm to 10pm. Tickets cost 120 yuan (600 baht). Visit www.lmsk.cn.
Shaolin Temple is open daily from 8am to 5.30pm. The entrance fee is 100 yuan (490 baht) and includes a 30-minute kung fu performance.
Visit the Henan Province Tourism Administration website at http://en.hnta.cn/Htmls/City/Luoyang.
Peony flowers are in full bloom during April in the Luoyang National Peony Garden.
About the author
- Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe