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If you want to see where Chinese civilisation – one of the oldest in the world – began, then a trip to Henan is a must. Here is a list of not-to-be-missed sights to take in the province’s natural wonders and cultural history…

More than 200 kings and emperors of more than 20 kingdoms lived in Henan. 

Henan has been home to many firsts, including the first to receive the title of World Geological Park from UNESCO in 2004 for Yuntai Mountain. The protected and untouched park is made up of springs, waterfalls, pools and mountain peaks. Cornell Peak is the highest point and sits 1,308 metres above sea level. Yuntai Waterfall and Red Stone Gorge are the park’s drawcards. The former stands 314 metres tall and is the highest waterfall in China. The latter is a giant gorge that allows a slow-running turquoise valley to run through its contrasting red rock cliffs. You can easily access the waterfall and gorge from a purpose-built walkway, which hugs the sides of cliffs and valley banks.
Also known as Shaolin Temple, Shaolin Monastery was founded in the 5th century and today remains the main temple of the Shaolin School of Buddhism. It is also frequently referred to as the home of kung fu. Here, martial arts movements are based of the movements of animals, insects and, sometimes, mythological figures. Martial arts clubs from around the world make pilgrimages to Shaolin Monastery. Spend the day weaving your way through the many halls, uncovering the rich history of kung fu and watching kung fu in actions at shows held in the Wushu Training Centre.
Longmen Grottoes are among the few surviving masterpieces of Buddhist rock carving in China. Chiselers commenced the series of sutra stone carvings during the Northern Wei dynasty following the relocation of the Henan capital from Datong in 494 AD. The subsequent two centuries signaled a period of significant development with more than 100,000 images and statues of Buddha and his disciples emerging on over a kilometre of limestone cliff wall along the Yi River. There are 2,300 caves and niches in the steep limestone cliffs over the stretch. These contain almost 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, more than 60 stupas and 2,800 inscriptions carved on steles. The earliest caves to be carved were in the late fifth and early sixth centuries in the West Hill cliff, all of which contain large Buddha figures.
Along the southern bank of the Yangtze River towers the rugged and impressive Mount Song. Known as the central mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China, its summit stretches 1,500 metres above sea level and the various peaks surrounding Mount Song continue for 64 kilometres. You’ll find Shaolin Monastery sitting within the mountainous area, so you can tick both off your bucket list within the one day.