My wife Joan and I visited her mother during Spring
Festival 2001. The rest of the world calls it Lunar (or
Chinese) New Year, but the People's Republic doesn't like
the religious associations of that, and calls it Spring Festival.
It was not terribly festive; fireworks were banned in metropolitan
Beijing, and there were no parades. There were street fairs at
various places, but they featured stalls selling food and crafts
more than performances.
A bad flu bug I came down with delayed our planned cave
visits, but on Thursday, February 8th, we collected a neighbor
friend, Xiyue, and set out. Xiyue is a young manager at a
telecommunications firm, and Joan's family has known his
for many years. Joan thinks of him as her younger brother.
We had considered hiring a car and driver for the day, but
the companies that did that would not commit to definite
terms. One said that a charge for waiting at the cave would be
"up to the driver." We could not rent a car and drive ourselves,
because foreigners are not allowed to drive in China. Xiyue
doesn't drive. Ultimately, it seemed easiest to hail a reliable looking
taxicab and negotiate with the driver about the waiting
and return trip. After some minutes standing at the curb
ignoring herds of small "buttless" cabs, we spotted an empty
VW taxi and flagged it down. The driver agreed to take us,
and we piled in.
We scaled the cave trip down to just one definite cave,
with a possible extra stop at a nearby gorge that might contain
caves. The definite cave is Jing Dong Da Rong Dong (Capitol
East Grand Cavern), and is owned and operated by the village
of Hei Dou Yu Cun (Black Bean Gorge Village). That's in Ping
Gu Xian (Ping Gu County). The name Jing Dong Da Rong
Dong looks like some kind of doo-wop lyric when written in
Pinyin (our letters), but it sounds very different in Mandarin.
As for Hei Dou Yu Cun, we'll leave that alone. The village,
while still in Beijing, is about sixty miles from Joan's mom's
place. Thursday was the smoggiest yet, with visibility down
to about a quarter-mile. There was no apparent improvement
in air quality during the two-hour drive to the cave. When we
arrived, the taxi meter read Y220 (about $27), and the driver
agreed to wait for us and drive us back for a round-trip total
of Y400 ($50).
The cave was apparently discovered in 1996 after the
village Party boss noticed vapor rising from a vent in the side
of a small mountain in winter. It was found that water in a
canal on one side of the mountain was the same as that in a
spring on the other side. Finally, a trip to Stone Flower Cave
southwest of Beijing convinced the Party boss that his
mountain was "hollow". Excavation broke into an extensive
(2500 meter) cave system, and development began. The cave
opened to the public in 1998. Development included building
a large, ornate entrance building, with carved stone railings
out front reminiscent of those at the Temple of Heaven. There
is also a very large Buddha sitting on top of the mountain.
The majesty of the Buddha is somewhat diminished by the
cell-phone tower next to him, and by the cable-car line up to
his feet. February is definitely the off season at Da Rong
Dong, so the cable car was not running.
Admission to the cave was Y112 for all three of us.
Photography is not normally permitted inside, but we were
able to persuade the guide to allow us to take some pictures,
since we were her only tour members. The public areas of the
cave are floored with polished stone, which might better have
been left rough, as it got pretty slick in a couple of wet spots.
The cave is well decorated with formations, including a
number of very nice stone draperies. Most of the formations
are active, and still dripping water. Numerous illuminated signs
in Chinese and English label formations the operators have
made up names and stories for. "Old wise man does bird a
favor," that sort of thing. Other signs of the same type enjoin
you with "No Spiting," and warn you to watch your head in
low spots. The lighting follows usual Chinese practice of
enhancing the colors of the cave, but the colored fluorescents
used in Da Rong Dong are not as blindingly obnoxious as
the spotlights in Stone Flower Cave. I was glad I'd brought my own flashlight, so I
could see what I wanted to. The operators of Da Rong Dong
also felt compelled to assemble formations broken during
development into creative groupings, which seemed like
gilding the lily, given the very impressive quality of the natural
ones. Large formations near the walkways are protected with
heavy wire frames covered by plastic netting. A boat ride
near the end of the tour features steel boats that look like
elongated oversized washtubs. Joan and I took a ride like
that in Silver Fox Cave a
couple of years ago, and weren't eager to repeat the
experience. We also passed on buying admission to the place
at the end where photography is normally allowed, and tea is
When we exited the cave 1½ hours after entering, a wind
had come up, and visibility was up to about a mile. We sat in
the large (unheated) exit lobby and rested for a while. One of
the attendants said that the Black Gorge had a couple of
small cave-like features, but they were high up on the walls
of the gorge, and the climb was slippery. We decided to pass
on the gorge and head back.
It was now about 3pm, and traffic had increased. As we
entered the outskirts of the city, the car frequently sat
motionless. In keeping with Beijing taxi driver protocol, our
driver set the parking brake each time. He wasn't as crazed as
many of his comrades; he didn't go into the oncoming lane
to pass slower traffic, and actually drove for minutes at a time
without blowing his horn.