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The Horse’s Hoof Temple: Mati Si 马蹄寺

After three days of trekking in the desert on the back of a camel and sleeping on sand dunes (not as soft, warm or comfortable as it sounds, but more on that adventure in the next post) I can barely move, such are the depths of my camel-riding agonies, so forgive me, today’s post is light on words but instead lush with pictures of one of the best places we’ve yet visited in our first 10,000km around China. 

Intriguing, extraordinary and quite magical, the Horse’s Hoof Temple is a place that should be a massively popular attraction, but thankfully isn’t. This is the sort of place you want to enjoy all by yourself.
Mati Si (literally Horse’s Hoof Temple, named for the imprint left by the hoof of a Chinese pegasus) is an ancient Buddhist temple complex dating back some 1500 years. A series of temples spread over several miles on a long, undulating sandstone cliff face, the temples face the stunning snow-peaked Qilian mountain range and look out over a fertile, lush alpine meadow filled with wildflowers. 
骑骆驼,睡沙丘(并不如听起来那般柔软暖和舒适,我会在下一篇文章中介绍相关的探险),在沙漠中艰难跋涉了三天后,我几乎动不了了,就好像得了骑骆驼综合症,因此,你们得原谅我今天的文章很短,代之以丰富的图片来展现我们环中国游首个10,000公里中最好的地方之一。
迷人,脱俗,极具魔幻色彩的马蹄寺理应会受到极大关注,但谢天谢地,它并没那么受捧。这属于你想要独自品味的一类地方。

马蹄寺(顾名思义,因一匹飞马留下的蹄印而得名)是一座佛教寺院,其历史大致追溯到1500前。绵长起伏的沙石悬壁上散落分布着一系列的寺庙,绵延数英里,寺庙都面朝壮丽的雪景——高居祁连山脉顶端,俯瞰开满野花的肥沃富饶的牧场。
与令人印象深刻的险峻的悬空寺相比,位于山西北部的悬空寺需要经由摇摇晃晃的木梯和走道才能到达,而马蹄寺则直接坐落于悬崖的中空部分。数百个容纳有佛像的迷宫般的石窟和洞穴由极夺人眼球又令人目眩的一系列垂直的,水平的,呈对角线的隧道连接,而阶梯都直接开凿在岩石上。

In contrast to the impressively and precariously cantilevered Hanging Temple in northern Shanxi, reached by rickety outer wooden stairs and walkways, Mati Si is hollowed directly into the cliff itself. The labyrinthine collection of some several hundred temple shaped caves and caverns are all reached by a spellbinding and dizzying series of vertical, horizontal and diagonal tunnels and stairs carved directly into the rock. 

More than a little decrepit compared with the World Heritage-listed caves of Yaodong and Dunhuang, Mati Si is refreshingly free of crowds, free of guides, and free of souvenir sellers. I just enjoyed exploring the site, unrushed and unhindered, each dark tunnel leading to a Buddha niche filled with a riot of colour and pattern.

Sometimes the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts, seeing the immense beauty of nature and the ingenuity of man, is a much more powerful experience than a hundred famous temples.
与早前名列世界遗产之列的窑洞和敦煌相比,马蹄寺没有拥挤的人潮,没有导游,没有兜售纪念品的摊贩。我沉醉于景点本身,没有喧嚣推搡,每一条幽暗的隧道都通往一尊色彩绚烂造型丰富的佛像。

有时候这是与你自己的思想独处的机会,欣赏壮丽的自然美景和人类的巧夺天工的杰作所带来的震撼,远胜一百座有名的寺庙。

Mati Si – the main temple, set into a cliff

The outdoor stairs, for the truly devoted. I took the tunnel instead.
Horse’s Hoof Temple: Mati Si 马蹄寺
Gansu Province 
About 65km south-south-west of Zhangye township at the foot of the Qilian mountain range
Co-ordinates:  Lat: 38.486396° Long: 100.417540°
Admission: 35 yuan per person to the lower (Thousand Buddha) temple and nature reserve, additional 35 yuan per person for entrance to the main temple. Students half-price, under 1.3m free.
Open 7 days
For information on getting there from Zhangye this website has useful information