Located in Northern Henan Province, Gongyi offers a surprising amount of Chinese culture and history. From the Temple of the Conflux to the Tombs of the Song Dynasty, there is plenty of history for those interested. For those interested in nature, Gongyi has the Snowflake Caves and the Green Dragon Mountain. It also offers a great glimpse of traditional culture in modern China, as this city has had very little influence from foreign residents. For shopping, it offers great prices on a wide variety of Chinese goods, including Tang Dynasty Three Color Pottery. A stay in Gongyi is also interesting because of the relative lack of people who speak English, although there is a local college where you can find students to act as your guide for a very low price.
One of the historical spots in Gongyi is the Temple of the Conflux; legend has it that every emperor throughout China’s history became emperor at this location. This temple sits near the conflux of the Yellow and Yilou Rivers. Not only can you visit the temple you can take a short walk to the conflux, where there is excellent dining aboard a boat and plenty of amusement activities.
Gongyi also boasts a historical temple from the Northern Wei Dynasty, called the Rock Cave Temple. This features thousands of Buddhas carved into the side of a hill. This also includes the wall of a thousand Tang Buddhas. This temple is a short drive from the Temple of the Conflux and the Conflux itself.
On your way back into town from these sites be sure to stop by the native home of Dufu. Dufu was one of the most renowned poets of the Tang Dynasty, and one of the four greatest poets in Chinese history, and his native home is just outside of Gongyi. In fact, through much of his poetry he mentions his home and the scenery around where he lived. Dufu is also famous because of his ability to communicate with the common person, while earning the respect of the highest nobles in the Tang court. Both his home and his cemetery are located in Gongyi.
During the Northern Song Dynasty, the capitol of China was Kaifeng, only a couple of hours west by train. Gongyi is home to the tombs of all of these emperors and the highest and most respected government officials. The city only maintains one of these tombs as a large park in the center of town, while locals use the others for farming around the statues and tombs themselves. It is interesting to see the difference in the tombs used for farming and the preserved tomb in the park. Although it is not necessary to visit all 13 tombs, for a farm use tomb, there is one located a short walk from the park that gives a feel for all the others.
Near the Green Dragon Mountain, is the Ciyun Temple, which dates back to the Han Dynasty. The well-maintained historic temple provides excellent views of the Green Dragon Mountain.
Kangbaiwan or Millionaire Kang’s home offers an excellent look into life during the Qing Dynasty and Taiping Rebellion specifically. This large mansion surrounded by a wall has one of the larger admission fees of any site in the area, about seven dollars, but it is well worth the price of admission.
The Snowflake Cave about 25 kilometers outside of town is a truly beautiful site with breath taking rock formations. The interior of the cave offers wonderfully unique rock formations that leave one wondering how they formed, as opposed to forming traditional stalagmite stalactite formations. The outside of the cave offers beautiful scenery and clean country air, something not present within the city itself.
The Green Dragon Mountain located to the east of the city is a relatively easy climb and has steps going up the entire mountainside. The total time to climb to the top is only about 30 to 45 minutes depending on how fast you want to climb. From the top of the mountain, you can get a wonderful view of the entire city. If you travel around to the backside of the mountain, there are streams and waterfalls that add to the beauty of the area.
Within the town, several supermarkets offer products that meet most of your daily needs while you stay in Gongyi. However, if you are looking for truly unique and special Chinese gifts or other goods, you need to find some of the local markets off the main streets. Most likely, the vendors you would deal with in these locations do not speak any English, and the markets are somewhat difficult to find. This is where a student guide would be of a great benefit to you, they could help you find these markets and help you negotiate prices, although you will get better prices if the student negotiates for you, without the vendor knowing you are together.
Overall Gongyi is a pleasant experience and one that allows you to experience traditional Chinese culture while travelling through modern China. For a thorough visit of Gongyi you should plan to spend three or four days in the city.
The easiest way into Gongyi is by train, and trains from most major cities cross through Gongyi, if by chance there is no train to Gongyi you can always find a train to Zhengzhou and then take one of the many trains from Zhengzhou to Gongyi. From Zhengzhou, there are also buses every half an hour that go directly to Gongyi or you could take a taxi, but that is quite an expensive option.
Sources: All information regarding the sites of Gongyi came from the sites themselves and local individuals familiar with the history and legends of the area.
All photos taken by Anthony Witherell