Of all the great rock-cut religious sites along China’s Silk Route, Bingling boasts the most grandiose setting. Its 183 caves, carved over a period of 1,600 years by a succession of dynasties, encrust the foot of vast sandstone escarpments rising sheer from the Yellow River against a backdrop of eroded, cloud-swept pinnacles. Cut off from the nearest road by the Liujiaza Reservoir, the site can only be reached by boat, which only adds to its allure.

Because of its relative inaccessibility, hardly any tour groups make it to Bingling, which infuses the site with an aura of sanctity and remoteness that is often absent at more popular Buddhist caves such as Dunhuang and the Longmen Grottoes.

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