Mati Si 马蹄寺 also known as the Horse’s Hoof Temple is a Buddhist temple complex located inside the cliff. It presents an amazing vision: an almost sheer rock wall opens in front of us, riddled with holes, caves and open galleries, with little wooden pavilions clinging miraculously to the rock.
Danxia Trip Posts:
Travel to Gansu province – travel notes of the entire trip.
Danxia Landform “Rainbow colored mountains” – must see showplace in Gansu Province.
Sunan Danxia Scenic Area – amazing rock formation of different shapes.
- Scenic Spot: Mati Temple马蹄寺 (Mati Temple Grottoes, Horse’s Hoof Temple)
- Location: Sunan Yugur Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
- Nearest town: Zhangye 张掖, Gansu province 甘肃, China
- Coordinates: 38 ° 29’11.0 “N 100 ° 25’03.1” E
- Opening hours: 8:00am – 6:00pm
- Ticket price: 35 ¥ ($6) entrance to the lower (Thousand Buddha) temple and nature reserve, 35 ¥ ($6) entrance to the temple Mati Si.
- Time for sightseeing: 2-9 hours
Mati Si Temple
According to the legend, a horse from the heaven (Chinese Pegasus) once left a mark of horse hooves here, and thus the temple got its name. The legendary print of the horse hooves now exists in the Mati Hall, serving as an indispensable treasure of the temple.
Looking at this place decorated with numerous colored flags, you realize that this is not China anymore, it is Tibet. After only a half hour journey from Zhangye, you find yourself in a completely different place in terms of spirit and culture. Religion is a foundation stone. It’s like a trip back in time for a few centuries.
The uniqueness of Mati Temple Grotto lies in the grand scale of Buddhist towers, caves and shrines in the cave.
In order to get to temple, you must first go to Mati Temple Scenic Area. Tickets are on sale at the ticket office near one of the parking lots. This ticket office place is a bit confusing, you can see no temples or attractions here, you just keep going on the road with the ticket. Actually the ticket provides an access to the Thousand Buddha temple and nature reserve. The road ends at a parking lot, surrounded by souvenir shops and snack stalls. From here, you can walk up to a viewing platform that looks out over the rock temples, or climb up a steep flight of stairs for stunning views of the surrounding countryside. To actually enter the rock temples, a further 35¥ ticket is required.
I love caves, so enthusiastically went to explore the rock turned into a sanctuary. This place will definitely be interesting for all amateur cavers. In the labyrinth of the temple complex there are dozens of temple shaped grottoes, caverns and caves, which are interconnected by a series of vertical, horizontal and diagonal tunnels and stairs carved into the rock. Walking through various halls at at ground level is easy. But in order to climb to the very top grottoes, you have to overcome a challenging way. This means squeezing through narrow passages and doorways and climbing dark staircases. Stairs on the way are not even stairs, but rather the huge blocks that make up stand up and sit down on them, sometimes using your hands or knees.
Expect to clamber up steep ladders in tunnels carved into the cliffs to see the best of the grottoes.
It all complicated by the fact that the width of passageways designed for one person, but there are a lot of visitors moving both up and down at the same time. All these flow is controlled by nobody. Chinese people, unfortunately, do not have a culture of respect for the queue. Anyway it’s worth it. Just imagine that all of these tunnels, decorated with statues, all temples in grottoes, graffiti on walls, all made by human hands into the rock! Without high-tech and dynamite. Hard work and perseverance.
Mati Si Scenic Area
The surroundings of Mati Temple are very beautiful, and the verdant hills, green waters, unusual peaks and peculiar caves are the most famous things of Mati Temple. No souvenir shops and crowds of people, almost natural idyll for nature lovers. There are some good hiking opportunities around Mati Si, such as the 5-hour round-walk that takes in Linsong Pubu waterfall 临松瀑布 and Jianpishi 剑劈石 which is famous “sword split” stone. However like everywhere else in the province of Gansu, hiking is not very easy, all the way will be either uphill or descend.
We didn’t have a lot of time. So we decided to take a horse ride to scenic spots. It cost us 100 ¥ ($ 18). We almost did not bargain. I believe it’s possible to get it much cheaper. By default, local guide leads a horse on a leash, but we asked to give us full control over the animals (do not hesitate to use a body language when you don’t know a local language). We rode slowly, enjoying the sights and responsive horses, as well as overcoming challenging climbs and descents on rocky soil. Locals ride gallop. Probably you can negotiate for more extreme riding. In this case please be aware of a mountain area around. It’s more dangerous than fields or meadows when you rides on horses.
Besides, the Mati Temple Scenic Area is distinguished for the Yugur People, which is a unique minority group in Gansu Province, living at the foot of the snow-covered Qilian Mountain in the southern part of Zhangye for several generations. They are the descendants of a nomadic tribe that originally lived in Mongolia. The territory was under the control of the Tibetan kingdom at that time. So traditions of China, Tibet and the nomadic Mongol tribes are intertwined in the culture of this ethnic group. The Yugur people are famous for their folk songs, dances and bright beautifully embroidered clothing. In terms of nutrition Yugurs are the same as any nomadic tribes of Central Asia – lamb at any time, tea with milk, fat and salt, and the almost complete absence of plant foods in the diet. You can see it with my own eyes and try in Yugur tents around.
Thousand Buddha Temple
On our way back down, we made a last stop at the Thousand Buddha Cave, another rock temple. Though smaller than the main Mati Si temples, it still occupies a whole rock face, pockmarked with caves and niches.
How to Get to Mati Si Temple?
We got to Mati Si by a taxi (more details about the whole trip). Staff at reception inHuachen International Hotel called a taxi with English-speaking driver for us. One way road took about 1.5 hours and costed us 500 ¥ ($ 85) per car for a day, but the trip included a way to Danxia landform colored mountains as well.
For public transport, you should first catch the bus to Sunan at Zhangye Nanguan Coach station in the south of town (leaving every thirty minutes), get off at Mati Si village (7 kms from the scenic area) and then wait for a mini bus or catch a taxi onwards to Mati Temple. The last bus back leaves around 4 PM.
Also you can take a one day tour to Mati Si at hotels in Zhangye. For sure you can do it in Huachen International Hotel. It cost about 200-300 ¥ ($ 35-50) per person, english speaking guide and meals are included.
Accommodation and Facilities
There is a large parking lot near by the main entrance. Numerous Chinese restaurants and souvenir shops can be found around. Hotels and campings are available for those who wish to stay overnight. You can also spend a night in Uyghurs tents as part of exploring of the culture and traditions. In general, there is everything you need to relax.