The provincial Hénán capital of Zhèngzhōu is a rapidly modernising smog-filled metropolis with few relics from its ancient past (due to Japanese bombing in WWII). Zhèngzhōu can be largely zipped through, serving as a major transport hub and access point for the Shàolín Temple and the left-field Maoist collective of Nánjiēcūn.
A Unesco World Heritage site, the ravaged grottoes at Lóngmén constitute one of China’s handful of surviving masterpieces of Buddhist rock carving. A Sutra in stone, the epic achievement of the Lóngmén Caves was first undertaken by chisellers from the Northern Wei dynasty, after the capital was relocated here from Dàtóng in AD 494.
Sōng Shān & Dēngfēng
In Taoism, Sōng Shān is considered the central mountain (中岳, zhōngyuè) of the five sacred peaks (五岳, wǔyuè), symbolising earth (土, tǔ) among the five elements and occupying the axis directly beneath heaven. Despite this Taoist persuasion, the mountains are also home to one of China’s most famous and legendary Zen (禅, Chán) Buddhist temples: the inimitable Shàolín Temple.
Twenty-three kilometres north of Kāifēng is Zhūxiān (Vermillion Immortal). Some say it’s one of China’s four ‘ancient’ towns – the other three are Hànkǒu (trade), Jǐngdézhèn (porcelain) and Fóshān (silk). Here, the 1000-year-old craft of woodblock printing (木板年画, mùbǎn niánhuà) continues to this day.