Henan Province may not be as well known as its neighbouring province, Shaanxi, home to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but it has some rewarding places to visit, as well as a fascinating history of Buddhism, Judaism and Islamic occupation. Due to this, it has become a popular draw card on the overland route from Beijing to Xian.
Zhengzhou is the capital of Henan Province and has a population of just over 2 million. The city offers excellent transportation by rail, for both commercial and touristic purposes.
Henan Provincial Museum
If you only have time to visit one attraction in Zhengzhou, make it the Henan Provincial Museum. The museum has an extensive collection of bronze statues, Ming dynasty porcelain and other relics from the Song & Tang Dynasty.
Song Shan (Mount Song)
Located 80kms to the west of Zhengzhou, Song Shan’s peaks are over 1500m high and they are considered to symbolize earth amongst the five elements. It is also home to, arguably, the most famous Buddhist complex in China, the Shaolin Temple.
The Shaolin temple is the sacred home of Kung Fu, or gongfu as it is known by the locals. The Buddhist monks have practiced this particular brand of martial arts for centuries and the visitor can see depressions on the floors where thousands of monks have perfected their strong stance.
Denfeng is the closest town to Song Shan and the Shaolin Temple and is perfect as base to explore the surrounding attractions. As well as the aforementioned sights, the area is also popular for hiking.
Taishi Shan & Songyang Academy
One of the peaks that make up Song Shan, Taishi Shan’s peak is 1494m high and here can be found one of the oldest learning centres in China, the Songyang Academy. The highlight is visiting the two cypress trees located in the academy’s courtyard, as they are believed to be over 4000 years old.
Guangxing Tai Observatory
China’s oldest surviving observatory, Guangxing Tai dates back to the 13th century. It is reputed that astronomers at the time were asked to calculate a calendar year and, even though this occurred over 700 years ago, they were less than 30 seconds different from the accepted modern calculation.
One of the earliest capitals of China, Luoyang has been called home by 13 different Dynasties, from as early as AD25. Whilst it now has a population of less than 1.5 million and is a ghost of its former self, the city is most famous for its association with the Longmen Grottoes.
One of China’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Longmen Grottoes are famous for being one of the last remaining examples of Buddhist rock carving in China. Taking over 200 years to complete, the 10,000 statues and images of Buddha are spread over nearly a kilometre. Located 15kms south of Luoyang, these grottoes have to be seen to be believed.
Used as the backdrop to numerous Chinese films, Guoliangcun’s mountain scenery and its delightful stone-clad village make it an increasingly popular side-trip from Zhengzhou. Located one hour north of the capital city by road, this offers a chance to step back in time.
Another city that can lay claim to once being the capital of China, Kaifeng is still surrounded by an intact city wall, over 10 kms in circumference. It is reputed to be the first city in China where Jewish, Muslim and Christian merchants settled, after surviving the Silk Route.
Temple of Chief Minister
Built nearly 1500 years ago, the Temple of Chief Minister houses an amazing 7m high statue which has over 1000 arms and 100 eyes. The Four-Faced Thousand Hand Thousand Eye figure is mesmerising to say the least.
Shanshangan Guild Hall
The Shanshangan Guild Hall is a product of the Qing Dynasty, where it was built to house merchants from neighbouring provinces and provides them with a place to meet and trade.
Iron Pagoda & Po Pagoda
These two pagodas offer visitors the chance to view the oldest surviving Buddhist structures in Kaifeng.
The Kaifeng Museum houses various collections from the many and diverse inhabitants of this province.