Having spent the morning in awe of the Longmen Grottos, next on the quick Henan itinerary was 白马寺, or Bai Ma Si. This temple is the first Buddhist temple built on Chinese soil back in 68A.D. and unlike Shaolin Temple it is much more impressive.
According to legend, an Emperor dreamed a spirit entered his palace so he sent some scholars to India to bring back the sutras. After a few years, a couple of monks safely returned to China on a white horse so a temple was built. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but you get the drift.
After touring Bai Ma Si, our guide took us to a cave dwelling. These dwellings are unique to the Henan and Shannxi provinces. You could understand our confusion, when the driver turned down a quiet road from the 4 lane highway and said that we are here. Of course we looked at each other as if to say, do you see a cave because I don't.
As we meandared down this road there was a small village, with an elderly gentlemen who was there to greet us. As we walked a little further, he told us to look down, and this is what we saw.
Yup, a cave dwelling, though not in a hill/mountain as we imagined but dug down from the road. Apparently there are two types, one that's built in the side of a cliff which is what we were expecting, and the other built downward from a road. The earth in this province allows for these types of structures. In fact at one point Mao lived in one of these types of structures, hiding from the Japanese.
The gentleman that we met, resides in this cave dwelling and has for his entire life, in fact his brother has one just down the road. At one point there were 30 members of his family who lived there, and now most have opted for the more modern lodgings.
These buildings are connected to other cave dwellings, in case of invasion, one could easily use the underground passegeway to safety or visit his brother if he's too lazy to climb the steps and walk down the street. These homes are cool in the summer and hot in the winter. This proud owner showed us his sleeping quarters, kitchen,(which by the way was four times larger than ours), the area where livestock was kept, storage space and the well, which would hold their food. The well had these holes so that you could climb down, but usually they put a child in the basket, lowered the basket, and then the kid would gather the food needed, and they would hull the child and the basket back up. The beauty of these homes allows the families to live there for approximately 2 months before going out to the local market. It was quite nicely self contained.
Not what we had expected, but Mark and I were quite impressed.