Mǎtí Sì

Cave in Mati Xiang

Mǎtí Sì translates as 'Horse Hoof Monastery', a reference to when a heavenly horse left a hoof imprint in a grotto. Between the 5th and 14th centuries a series of caves were almost as miraculously built in sheer sandstone cliffs and filled with carvings, temples and meditation rooms. The caves are reached via twisting staircases, balconies, narrow passages and platforms that will leave your head spinning.

The grottoes are not in one area but spread over several sections. The most accessible are the Thousand Buddhas Caves (千佛洞石窟; Qiān Fó Dòng Shíkū) just past the entrance gate to the scenic area. Within this complex is the Pǔguāng Temple, where you’ll find the relic of the horse hoof imprint. The Mǎtí Sì North Caves (马蹄寺北石窟; Mǎtí Sì Běi Shíkū) are above the village (2km up the road from the Thousand Buddhas Caves) and feature the more dizzying platforms as well as a large grotto with a tall golden Buddha.

Mǎtí Sì is 65km north of Zhāngyè, and one or both of the main caves may be closed outside of April to September. The best way to get here is to hire a taxi in Zhāngyè (¥160 round trip, including the temple drive).