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Mountain monasteries

Let's trek and stay on holy Mount Emei.

Time for our Intrepid trip - Mountains and Monasteries - to live up to it's name.

Sunday - Trip to Leshan and then onto Baoguo Monastery

We were due to meet at 9 in the lobby. Breakfast was supposed to be provided by the hotel until 9 am, but at 8:30 we were faced with 12 empty or almost empty dishes and 3 empty jugs of ?
No amount of gesticulating to staff got any more food brought out. Takes "first in best dressed" to a new level. From what others said, we didn't miss much. This has been my least favourite place to stay.
Amanda scored a banana from a passing fruit vendor, but when I went out to get one, he was gone, as vendors on wheels are known to do.

We had a private bus today to take us first to Leshan. In addition to Ling, our guide for the whole trip, we also have local guide Nathan with us for the next two days.

We've got used to bag scanners all over China for everything from trains to museums, but this bus station made us laugh. The security guy waved the 13 of us through, leaving our backpacks on our back, which was appreciated, but not I'm sure by the monk who they made put his shoulder sachel through the scanner.

Two hours by bus had us to Leshan. We could barely see the buildings on the other side of the river because of the smog, still. We got on a boat to take us out into the river and past the BIG Buddah statue, but before we did so, EVERYONE had to don an international orange life vest. How funny was it to watch as the Chinese tourists showed me several different ways how NOT to put on a life vest. The Buddah statue at Leshan is over 70 metres high and is apparently the biggest stone Buddah in the world. It took 90 years to be carved into the side of a cliff 1300 years ago and with ears 7m high, it was much more impressive than the traffic jam of weekend tourists we could see trying to walk down the cliff face to the base of the statue.

Back on the bus, it was another hour and we were at Baoguo Monastery on the lower slopes of Emei Mountain one of China's four Buddist holy mountains. Built in 1615 and the largest monastery on the mountain, Baoguo was to be our home for the night and we instantly felt relaxed as there was a palpable feeling of peace.
Entering by stepping over a large step to enter through an elaborately decorated doorway, the monastery had incense and candle offering racks with Buddah statues behind that. Follow a few convoluted pathways and through a cloverleaf shaped doorway, up a few more stairs and we were at the upper temple, beside which were our rooms for tonight. This is a really special place to stay.
Sometimes I go camping and rough it, sometimes I stay 5 star - tonight I'm sleeping in a temple.

Random Malcolm observation - I know that Buddists consider all living creatures to be sentient beings and therefore are vegetarians and won't kill anything, so what was with the guy walking around the monastery spraying the plants with insecticide? I respected their rules of no alcohol, meat or killing things, including the BFO cockroach under my bed, so what about aphids?

We all jumped in taxis to head to a nearby village for a late lunch together. Unfortunately our driver took us to the wrong village, fortunately we had Ling in the taxi with us and she could tell him in Mandarin where to go, literally. Unfortunately, the driver got back on the highway and headed up the wrong side of a dual carriageway, fortunately we survived and he took a side road to the correct village. Going the wrong way was a short cut. You probably think I'm joking and things on the road can't be as bad or a silly as I describe. Trust me they are. Today I saw a motorcyclist on hairpin mountain roads, without a helmet like everyone else, talking on their mobile phone. I'm loathe to say, "I've seen it all." because I know there's more to come.

Lunch was great, just like every meal we've had, and likewise, rediculously cheap. Some of the group went off from there for a 'village tour', but Amanda and I caught a cab back to the monastery and just had a relaxing afternoon in a peaceful environment.
Wandering around the monastery with my camera, as The Wandera is wont to do, I got some special photos both before and after dark.

Monday - Time to go to over 3000m high on a mountain.

Today would be a day we start low, go high, come back down and then hike high again. I will explain.
6:30 start with fried egg sandwiches, a banana and jasmine tea for breakfast.
With everyone carrying a 'daypack' with things we need for the next two days, we walked from Baoguo Monastery to the town and caught a local bus up the mountain. Two hours of hairpin bends took us from 550m to over 2000m. Walking up a bunch of steps took us to the cablecar station, and from there we were whisked to the top of the mountain. There were no views on the way up as it's foggy up here in Mt Emei.
WOW! As we walked the last few steps to the summit, we saw something I've not seen since I was in Lijinag - blue sky. Amazing but true! You probably think I'm kidding about China being blanketed in smog, but that is my experience. I've not seen blue sky in weeks, just smog, and I've travelled a few kilometres across the country, not just in cities. What an environmental nightmare. Then where does it blow? It doesn't disappear, it just becomes someone else's problem. Our guide Ling lives in Chengdu and told us that the thing that amazes her about Tibet, where we are going next, is the blue sky. Living in Chengdu, she honestly can't remember when she last saw a blue sky, just smog. What did I tell you about not taking the simple things in life for granted.

On the top of the mountain at 3077 is the Golden Summit, named after a giant gold Buddah statue. It was only built 4 years ago, and I'm sure it's only gold paint, but it's impressive nontheless. As people burnt incense and candles amongst elaborately ornate buildings, the whole thing was very photogenic. Oops. Too many photos again.
At this height we were literally in the clouds and they swirled around us, occassionally obscuring things, but it was mostly clear. Given that FOG is usual for 70% of the time its fair to say we got a 'good day' there.

Cablecar back, then a local bus back down for two hours had us at Wuxiangang Park, a different spot to our start point today. Stopping first for a late lunch, it would be a long hike up many steps to reach our bed tonight at Hongchunping Monastery.
A verdant valley enveloped us as we started off. Lakes passed on our right side as a stream gurgled by our left. Vendors selling everything from Chinese medicinal mushrooms, tourist trinkets and fresh fruit, to boxes of butterflies passed us by as we headed upwards to Qingyin Pavilion. Our guide pointed to a particular butterfly, featured in most of the framed sets for sale and told us it was endangered. With people catching them to pin down and sell, I'm not surprised. I AM surprised that the Buddists don't demand such killing not take place on their holy mountain, or a least that the legions of pilgrims don't buy them and by doing so, take away the demand.
Why doesn't the government lead and make it illegal? When you come to China and see for youself, you realise that there's a gulf between what China tells it's people and the rest of the world and what it is actually doing. An extinct butterfly or two are the least of their worries.

Jampons carrying lazy Chinese jogged by. What is a jampon? It's a chair for one person, suspended by bamboo poles carried by two porters. My wallet could afford it but my conscience could not. If I'm too lazy to walk myslelf, then I don't deserve to be here in these mountains.

We passed a big wall of green, moldy and ancient-looking rock carvings depicting a classic Chinese scene. It appeared to be carved into the cliff wall and I was impressed, that is until the guide told me there's a reason that the sign describing the scened depicted by the 'carving' fails to mention a date for a reason. That reason is that it was only made a couple of years ago and it's just moulded concrete. With the humidity and rain here in the forest, it didn't take long to get moldy and old looking. I really can't get over how much of what you seen in China as 'old' and photogenic, are really just new fake reproductions. Seriously, even the Great Wall that you visit is reconstructed. Thanks both to Mao's Cultural Revolution and also to China's love of knocking down old stuff and building new, there's precious little that's genuinely old.
As it was the whole 'trail' was a manicured path of perfect steps, pavers and a hand rail. Not what most of the world calls a 'hiking trail'. The forest that surrounded us was lush and damp, making me thankful that there was no sign today of the downpour last night. As hundreds and then thousands of steps passed beneath us, the crowds thinned out to nothing. Just us and our guide and the forest. Magic.
We'd been told that the final part of the trek was the "1000 steps", after a few thusand of them, we kept asking, "Was that the thousand steps?" Seems they were just a warm up and just when we needed it least, the 1000 steps were waiting for us. At the top was the Hard Wok Cafe with cold water. We were all soaked and not from rain. It's SO humid up here in the mountain forest. Refreshed, it was another 218 steps to the Hongchunping Monastery.
Yes, they have hot showers and we wasted no time in making use of them and putting on clean dry clothes.
What a view from the loo. It's so far down that you can't help say "Wee." when that's what you're doing. Fall off and you'll probably yell, "Sh#t!".
A wander around the monastery was a must. It is ancient and generous in the use of timber with ornate and colourfully painted carvings in abundance. Our rooms are comfortable and we seem to have the place to ourselves, not even seeing the 15 monks who live here. Magic mountain monastery? Absolutely. What a place to be and not somewhere I would have found travelling independently. A tour benefit.
There's CCTV cameras around the monastery and I suspect they're not put there by the monks. Communist China 'tolerates' religion, but it doesn't trust it and does what it can to make it hard for people who practise it. You want your monastery? Well, we'll monitor your monastery. No Monk-ey business.
For dinner, we walked back down the 218 steps to Betty's Hard Wok Cafe. Dodgy pun, but great food and a spectacular view across the valley deep into the rain forest. Betty is like the matriarch and you feel like you're in her home and she's the grandma fussing over you. Nameless hubby knocks up the nosh from an open air kitchen with a view across the forest that I'd love to work with.

Tuesday - Long hike back to Baoguo Monastery.
Staying in Hongchunping Monastery was very peaceful, until you are woken by gongs and chanting at 5:30 am. During the night there was a thunderous storm and it poured with rain so I was expecting to have a wet hike today. Turns out it didn't rain again. Can you believe that apart from the hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge that Amanda and I did on our own, the only rain we've had on this whole trip has been at night. It has poured the last two nights but we've had lovely hiking days. Unusual apparently, but I'm appreciative.
Breakfast at the Hard Wok Cafe was a delicious banana, chocolate pancake made with honey from their own beehive.
Beginning our descent, the 1000 steps were just the warm up.
A sign warned us to watch out for the "Terrible monkeys". Tibetan Macaques, these monkeys have been fed by people, so now they expect food from people passing, harassing them and stealing things from them. The solution is simple, but not to the Chinese, DON'T FEED THE MONKEYS!, but that's too easy, in fact they sell you little bags of food to give them, which makes the monkeys lazy for their own food and just compounds the problem.
We didn't see any pandas in the forest, but I did see a cobra that came down the trail and past me. Alerted by those in front, I saw it coming so got my camera out and took a photo as it went past me so I can ID it. Lucky I like snakes.
With such a specacular array of butterflies today in the forest it was like being in a butterfly house there were so many in so many different shapes, colours and sizes, with some as big as a small bird. It turned into a case of butterfly oneupmanship. Just when I would spot a magnificent one, someone else would spot an even better one.
A Collie dog walked past us and I got a few laughs by asking the dog if it was a mango lassi.
Nearly five hours later, we arrived back at Baoguo Monastery to our stored big backpacks and waiting bedrooms.

The rest of the day and evening are free time with no planned activities.
Amanda and I went into town for lunch stopping at the first place that had an English menu, otherwise you have even less idea what you are ordering.
This menu featured lots of pork, just not the kind of pork we're used to. With pig's heart with mashed garlic, terrine of pig's elbow, stir-fried pig's kidney and even 'crispy pigsnut', I settled for 'Salted pig's tongue with peanuts'. I like tongue, but hadn't had pork tongue before. It was good, but I would have trimmed off the gristle and fat that they left on. Amanda's "3 vegetable soup" was actually 3 kinds of mushrooms and was delicious.
Walking back we were treated to a mating display of two irredescant green butterflies just a metre in front of us. If you thought that the random fluttering flying style of a butterfly meant they weren't good fliers, think again. After dancing and fluttering around each other to see if they liked each other and wanted to make caterpillars together, one hovered perfectly still, whilst the other flew vertical circles around it. 20 seconds later they both swirled together, shooting upwards to about 50m high and going their separate ways. Wonderful.
After a relaxing arvo resting after our morning hike a few of us went to Nathan's Cafe, run by the wife of our guide on the mountain Nathan. Not sure why it doesn't bear her name as she does all the cooking. The menu tonight was identical to the one we'd had at lunch elsewhere and it turns out that every restaurant in town has the same menu and prices which is all set by the local authorities.
The front of the menu read, "The price of Pricing Bureau of Mount Emei supervises and checkes the branch to supervise. Complaints phone 12358" Makes it hard to compete. Sometimes China is full-on capitalist and other times the communism side surfaces. I'd had enough tongue for one day, so smoked duck and rabbit dishes were chosen amongst those of us that went out together.

Wed - 09/09/09 Auspicious day in China with 9 a lucky number.
We left our mountain monastery retreat this morning for the 2.5 hour bus ride back to Chengdu.
If you haven't already read it, you can go back to my Chengdu blog and read Part 2 and pick up my trip from there.

Confucius says, "Girl who works in post office, probably called Mai Ling.

Posted by TheWandera 21:19 Archived in China

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