Cut honeycomb-like into five sandstone hills, 55km northwest of Guyuan, are 132 magnificent grottoes housing 300 Buddhist statues. They date back 1400 years, from the Northern Wei to the Sui and Tang dynasties, when this region was an important gateway in the eastward spread of Buddhism and the westward movement of goods on the Silk Road. Cave 5 contains the largest statue, a colossal Maitreya, standing 20.6m high.
A little further uphill, the finest statues are protected by the 6th-century Yuánguāng Temple (圆光寺, Yuánguāng Sì; caves 45 and 46) and the 7th-century Xiànggúo Temple (相国寺, Xiàngguó Sì; cave 51), where you can walk around the interior and examine the artwork up close – amazingly, the pigment on several of the statues is still visible in places, despite the obvious weathering.
To reach the caves, buses run from Wenhua Xilu, by the two big hospitals opposite the Xiaochi night market, to Sanying (三营; ¥8, one hour), from where you’ll need to take a taxi for the 40km return trip (¥120 including waiting time) to Xūmí Shān. Between May and October, buses run direct to Xūmí Shān (¥20, 90 minutes, 7.30am, 1.30pm, 5.30pm) from near the hospitals.