Day 14: Chengdu take two

(Yep, there’s going to be a lot of backfilling on this blog. It’s just so hard to get onto WordPress when I get internet access…

Firstly, have just heard that there was an earthquake out this way overnight (UK time). It was about 500km north-west of here, and I didn’t feel a thing.

We’re just back from 3 days in the Emei Shan mountainous area, staying at lovely, peaceful monasteries enjoying the scenery and the quiet).

I didn’t sleep much on the first night at Bauguo monastery on Mount Emei Shan, and seemed to spend most of the night sitting in front of altars drinking the most fantastically fresh jasmine tea. By 4.30 I’d had enough of trying to sleep, and got up to listen to the amazing sounds of singing, percussion and brass horns of monks’ morning prayers in the semi-darkness.

Night-time at Bauguo monastery

After breakfast and the doling out of ‘monkey sticks’ (apparently we’d need them later?) we set out, taking the lazy (bus) option most of the way to the Golden Summit of Emei Shan. Leaving the bus, we walked through a monkey area (and a seriously naughty food-snatching and bag-grabbing simians they were, too) and learnt the old Chinaman’s trick that monkeys can be scared off by wooden snakes. Yes really.

I was introduced to the job of Monkey Policeman (where do I apply?!), and heard one man utter the immortal words “trust me, I’m a Monkey Policeman. I’ll get them” before  basically going in kung-fu-style on the wee blighters with his stick. That sounds cruel, but tourists feeding monkeys without thinking have trained them into bad habits (above is evidence they can easily unwrap a stolen processed sandwich). If the wooden snakes training trick fails, a small bash with the stick is the only way to keep them away.

A cablecar ride took us above the drizzle and clouds just below the 3,000m summit. We were rewarded with glorious sunshine and amazing views of mountains (Mount Gongga, 200km away, was the highest we could see) peeking out from above the cloud sea.

The Golden Summit

We still had the crap local guide with us (no, Pandas did NOT live at the same time as dinosaurs Jimmy), and so the group consensus was to do our own guiding around the summit and its various temples and statues (Chinglish sign-reading was more informative. And funnier by far). I also got ‘papped’ by a bunch of Chinese tourists who’d clearly never seen a pale-skinned ginger kid before, and had no clue that other, better-looking westerners were available.

Of course, setting out in wind and rain but hitting glorious sunshine above the clouds has it’s disadvantages: littlegingerkid sunburn. My arms have been generating their own heat for the two days since.

We then descended again, to start a full climb (not lazy this time!) from the Wuixangang gate up another part of the mountain. We started hiking along a river with many tourists, passing stalls and a couple more temples. But once the day pilgrims turned back it started getting quieter as we walked through the Jokung monkey zone (Tibetan macaques, for the monkeyologists out there), where the afternoon’s surreal diversion was provided by a guy trying to get a monkey to smoke. No I don’t know either (and the photo didn’t come out).

At the far side of the monkey area, we started the climb (1200 steps. Clearly advertised as such, though I did see two ladies attempting it in foolishly high heels!) to Hongchungping Monastery. By this time the famous Hongchungping drizzle and mists had set in and, given the close forest cover, you couldn’t see much beyond the slippery concrete ahead.

At the top was the monastery, built in 1782. Everything was wooden, creaky, damp and fiendishly cold, but we had beautiful surroundings, amazing tranquillity and even electric blankets (a luxury. Which I subsequently found was never to be repeated across the whole trip) to warm us up after the freezing cold showers.

A hundred or so steps below the monastery we also had hot (both temperature and Sichuan spice) food courtesy of Betty, the indomitable proprietress of the Hard Wok Cafe.

The legendary Hard Wok Cafe

The next morning we breakfasted with Betty (surely she is the stuff of traveller legend…there were certainly many messages from happy customers on the walls) then started our descent down the steps, back through the Swiss Family Robinson-esque walkways of the Jokung monkey zone, eventually returning to the Bauguo temple.

Peaceful valley scene

Everyone else opted to get out of the incessant rain and take a trip to the health spa, but I decided to carry on hiking and exploring. I walked about another ten miles, visiting the Laofeng Nunnery and the Fuhu Temple

Fuhu was lovely from the outside, right up until I headed into an auxiliary temple called the Albert Hall. Inside were several many-headed goddesses and hundreds of golden buddhas whose eyes followed you all around the maze-like room. A a lot of them had very strange faces, a few were doing Nazi salutes and one seemed to be eating his babies!

All in all a really creepy place. I managed to go the wrong way out, stumbling upon a strange, semi-hidden compound with massive satellite dishes. By this point my sci-fi influenced and insomnia-addled brain had gone into overdrive, and I thought I was in some kind of Jackie-Chan-baddies-meets-Bond-villain’s lair, with an annexed (Doctor Who) Cyborg Industries farm for mechanoid generation. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and may have run until my path was blocked by tree fellers just short of Chunyang Palace!

(I’m writing this having travelled back to Chengdu for the night. We leave to fly to Lhasa early in the morning. I can’t wait!!)

Day 11: Chengdu, Le Shan and Emei Shan

Hello from the mountains of Sichuan.

Yesterday we got off the night train at 5am for a day in Chengdu, including a visit to the fabulous and cute pandas. We also walked around a lovely old part of Chengdu after lunch in a city centre monastery, before a night in a hotel. A few of the group went to see Sichuan opera, and the rest of us went for local hotpot (meat and fish cooked in sizzling oil).

This morning we went to the giant buddha at Leshan which was, though spectacular, too too crowded and turned into half a day of queuing.

Tonight, and in two nights’ time, we’re staying in Bauguo Temple, a Buddhist monastery. I think I’m actually quite looking forward to being woken up a 5am by the monks’ chanting.

Tomorrow, we head for the 3000+ plus summit of Emei Shan.