As we walked up the pathway weaving its way up the ravine, it was difficult to know what to expect of the Guyaju Cliff Dwellings; China’s largest collection of ancient dwellings gouged into the sides of stone hills. Ascending the stairs, we passed markers indicating where two former gates once stood to keep the outside world from entering the village at night. The second gate also protected the villagers’ most valuable resource, a natural spring that provided the village with fresh water. Finally, as we rounded a bend, the cliff dwellings came into view and the questions began to fill our heads, “Why did they build here? How did they accomplish the task? And in the end, why did the inhabitants leave?”
Although the administrators of the site do a decent job describing the Guyaju site and its 147 caves, there is scant information provided about who inhabited this cliff village and what became of them. What is known is that these cliff dwellings are over 1,000 years old and most likely were built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). Due to the topography, the village would have been nearly impossible to attack from the rear and the approach from the entrance of the ravine was well fortified behind the two gates. Even if invaders did reach the village, the inhabitants lived on the upper levels and the animals were housed in the lower caves, so this too provided an advantage to the villagers defending their homes. Though clearly the village has suffered some wear caused by the elements, the remains of the narrow stairs and footholds leading to the upper caves show that the villagers had been nimble and sure-footed. Though visitor access is restricted to the lower caves, there is one typical three-room cave dwelling that is accessible and the space is impressive, dry and each room has a window with a view; more than can be said for many a Beijing apartment.
Along the pathways there are a few benches to sit on, and plenty of stairs too, if you need a rest or want to take snacks or have a picnic. Do carry beverages with you as there were no vendors around when we went and the nearby modern villa project did not appear to have any open shops yet. At the peak of the hike, there is a great view of the lake in the distance and the surrounding valley.
Admission is 40RMB for adults, half that for students, and there is ample parking. Detailed instructions and info in Chinese can be found here on the Beijinger website or you can call 6911 0333 for more details. Depending on your pace, it only takes an hour or two to visit the cliff dwellings, so you can easily combine this excursion with a visit to another nearby attraction, such as the Longqing Gorge.