Only 60 Stories to the Top, China

Monday, August 3, 2009

We took a bus to our next destination, Leshan, and while not exactly the lap of luxury, the bus was 8 steps up from the train! Leshan’s claim to fame is home to the world’s largest Buddha – the Grand Buddha – with fingernails larger than most humans.  This Grand Buddha is the pride and joy of the locals.  Carved into a cliff face overlooking the Dadu River and the Min River, he sits an impressive 234 ft high.  His ears alone are 15 feet long and you can have your very own picnic on his feet. He was built to protect the boatmen on the river and calm the swift currents.  Ninety years in the making and he is still standing proud and strong!

Everything that we see seems to require a hike up and this was no exception…up and up we went…past other statues and bridges, to the top of the mountain where we could pause and admire this great example of “the bigger the better”.

Entering the park

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Love the bamboo trees!

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Hidden caves – ready to be explored

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Some interesting sculptural elements in the park

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And a beautiful waterfall

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And the big guy himself – the Giant Buddha of Leshan, carved out of a hillside in the 8th century and looking down on the confluence of three rivers is the largest Buddha in the world.

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Later, we stood in a line to traverse down the mountain so that the great buddha could be viewed from the bottom up.

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Okay – this subject is coming up again — the Chinese are line cutters. They have no concept of personal space.  Seriously, this is a skill learned in kindergarten – how to wait in line – they need to check to see if it’s actually part of the curriculum. Now maybe it’s because there are a billion of them and things can get crowded – I don’t know – but line cutting is an issue – jeez!

The line only moved every 10 minutes or so because the guards limited the number of people who could be on the steps trekking down.  But that didn’t stop those behind us from trying to scoot around the side – even as we were at a standstill – they just kept trying to squeeze around on one side first – we would block them – and damn if they didn’t go right to the other side!  Finally, we all banded together, the nine of us, and stood three across – shoulder to shoulder – and stood our ground.  At one point, treking down the narrow mountain steps, several of us paused to snap a quick picture of Buddha and at least 15 of them yelled (loudly) in Chinese at us to (I’m assuming) Get going!  No stop!  The more they yelled, the more obstinate we all became.  The rest of the way down, we blocked the route and stopped frequently.  Okay – we were definitely a bit pissy about things – but we’ve been experiencing this now for a couple of weeks. I thought they were going to have a heart attack they were all so worked up! We were a little worried that they might start spitting on us…but we

I thought there were going to be heart attacks occurring they were so worked up! We were a little worried that they might start spitting on us – but we remained spit free to the bottom.

Now THAT’S a big Buddha!

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and a big Budha toe!

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Leaving the temple grounds, we pass burning incense

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And candles burning…

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I find that while the natural landscape of China can be, at times, very beautiful, the man-made structures (outside of the temples) are not so.  I’ve been looking for attractive architectural buildings and have yet to see anything other then plain concrete buildings.  Now the bigger cities have glass structures, some of which are attractive, but elsewhere, only a gray concrete jungle.  They all appear to be apartment complexes. I don’t recall seeing one house in the two weeks I’ve been in China.

Tonight we sleep with the monks – literally.  We’re at the Baoguo Monastery.  We hopped on another public bus and headed for the mountains.  Along the way, the driver was kind enough to stop once or twice for bathroom and vomit breaks.  We didn’t have any problems with the drive, but a half a dozen of the Chinese travelers regularly removed themselves to the side of the road to empty their stomachs each time we stopped. It was truly a very windy road…we felt sorry for them.

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At this particular rest stop, you walked directly into the ladies room (I use that phrase literally) from the outside. There is no door – just a doorway. Immediately inside is a raised concrete platform running the length of the room  – perpendicular to the doorway. The platform is raised only 6 inches. A hole is cut into the concrete every 24 inches with two raised concrete footprints on either side of the holes. This is where you squat.

So, basically, I walked in and caught a glimpse of a Chineses woman’s hoo-haw. One of those moments you wish you could un-see, but you can’t.

We all moved into the room as best as we could and worked our way down to a hole that was a bit further away from the door. Good thigh muscles certainly make this experience more pleasant and sanitary.

The Baoguo Monastery is one of the oldest wooden structures still standing; built in 1013, the temple was constructed without the use of one nail, instead relying on a complex system of interlocking beams and brackets.

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We climbed up 50 steps to reach the living quarters…with our luggage.  I’m now hating all of my possessions and considering throwing away everything but my toothbrush. We were taken to our rooms and then given a quick tour of the facilities.  Home sweet home.

Amy’s and my room

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Not a headboard that you want to lean into and relax – Is it dirt? Is it mildew? Is it mold? Your guess was as good as mine – thank God for my sleeping bag/sheet! for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about – it’s one of the best things I brought with me. It’s like having your own traveling sheet AND pillow case set. I HIGHLY recommend this for anyone traveling and not staying in 4-5 star hotels! These things create a wonderful feeling of “clean and safe” between you and the world. Think back to the overnight train rides…

Sleeping Bag Sheet

This is the common area just outside our room — which is the door on the left – where we brushed teeth and washed our faces in the morning.

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Additional communal washing areas

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Dinner, as usual, was Chinese fare, something that we are all getting used to AND tired of – but Italian restaurants are few and far between in this land of white rice.  Tonight, we’re packing overnight packs and leaving the bulk of our luggage here.  We will be staying overnight at the Hongchungping (HPC) Monastery tomorrow night.

Deciding what would be packed required some serious thought as we would be hiking uphill for 8 hours the next day with whatever we took with us on our back.  It was interesting how quickly things lost their importance.

We all shared the communal shower that evening and sank onto our board beds.  You notice I don’t use the word mattress any longer. I don’t think they really are mattresses – but boards with some bunting wrapped around them. Interestingly enough – I had the best night sleep on that bed!  I do believe I’m adapting.

We woke up at 4:30 am to the chanting of the monks and their drums.  This is why you stay here – for a truly unique experience.   A couple of us got up to watch and listen.  Yet another experience that I won’t soon forget.  So often the traditions of a country are played out specifically for tourists and you know that it’s not entirely real.  This was the real thing and we felt honored to be allowed to observe for a few moments.

Breakfast was delivered in a plastic bag – two pieces of white bread with a fried egg inside.  I ate the egg. I would have handed over a $20 for a banana – haven’t had a lot of fruit lately.

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We swung our packs onto our backs and started off to town on foot to catch a public bus up another mountain.

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Our guide Nathan, explaining the upcoming activities – hiking, hiking and more hiking – up and up and up some more. A picture of our day is starting to emerge…

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Emei Mountain is one of China’s four Buddhist mountains. It is a cool, misty retreat from the sweltering heat of the cities – which we felt immediately and were grateful for its relief.  The scenery is lush and beautiful with scatterings of temples, carvings, tea trees, bridges, and waterfalls.

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It was a steep walk up to 3100 meters – over 9,300 feet.  At the start of the trek, we passed shacks renting large winter parkas.  About 5 minutes into the hike, we stopped and stripped.  No need for a parka ladies and gents!

Rich and his new BFF – for some reason – the men wanted pictures with Rich. This was probably the 4th picture in as many minutes with some random stranger who walked by. Wierd.

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We were carrying the additional weight of water with us also after having been warned by our guide that the bottled water on the mountain was “fake” water and not drinkable.

This is the very first section of the hike up

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At first, there are lots of people, but soon things thinned out

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Amazingly, they continue to sell stuff every inch of the way of that mountain!

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I will not even attempt to identify what’s in these containers. Certainly not buying or eating it.

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Finally – some fruit! They were selling watermelon and banana’s – I am so happy 🙂

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That was hour one. Slow because of the sheer number of people – things to gawk at – the view, the stalls, the people. By the second hour, the numbers had thinned and we had all split up and were moving upward at our own pace. The altitude was playing havoc with my breathing and it was a tough climb – up the whole way.  By hour three I had found my happy place and it wasn’t on the steps of this mountain – I was hallucinating.

Our reward at the top was the Golden Buddha.  Many of you reading this will think my next comment is bunk…but I turned the corner to see the Buddha and thought to myself…”well that wasn’t worth it”.

But it was…

 

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And, after I’d had a cup of tea, caught my breath and relaxed for some time at the café at the foot of the Buddha – we took that cable car down -which if you’ll recall had been an option going up. But no, I’ve got to keep up with the younger crowd!  I have just recently discovered that I’m the oldest person in the group.  Mandy is 41 and Sara is 44.  But they took the cable car up and I didn’t so I’ll just pat myself on the back for a minute here.

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Back onto another public bus and another winding trek up another section of Mount Emie. This is the start o4-hourher 4 hour hike – up to the HPC Monastery.   The only way to get to this monastery is to hike there – so we all had a healthy respect for the other travelers we encountered in its hallways later that night.  We didn’t get started on this trek until almost 3:00 so our guide, Nathan, had us moving at quite a brisk pace!

This was the starting point – it gave us a hint of the beauty we would see along the way.

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Everything that goes up the mountain – goes up by back breaking labor. And there goes a flat screen TV — and some mattress’s — and some beer

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Now keep this picture in mind when you see us enjoying a beer later this evening. Someone had to carry it up. Just glad it wasn’t me.

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Along the way, we encountered what the locals call “the monkey tollgate”.  The monkey forms an important part of Chinese mythology, and there is a saying “With one monkey in the way, not even 10,000 men can pass”.  Some of these chimps are large and remaining cool as you’re passing by them can be a challenge.  One woman who passed us a couple of minutes earlier had been bitten and was bleeding.  We thought that the Chinese teased them too much and that contributed to their aggressiveness.

 

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This little one had something wrong with his eyes.

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Monkeys were even carved into the rock walls

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We’ve noticed throughout China, that English translations are not written by the English – but we are impressed there is an English translation.

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All along the way, you could purchase just about anything from fresh watermellon and other fruits to water (that might be fake), coke and corn on the cob!

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Peanuts, olives and tomato’s

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And of course…chotchkies

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Soon we passed through the lower sections and up into the mountains where clean, clear water was flowing from every corner of the forest – splashing on the rocks and spilling into the trees – making everything green and fresh smelling.  Along the way, hikers removed hot shoes and soaked their feet in the cold water. We wished we had the time to pause, but alas, getting to the top before darkness fell was the priority.

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Mount Emei is also notable for its exceptionally diverse vegetation, ranging from subtropical to subalpine pine forests. Some of the trees there are more than 1,000 years old.

 

Pagota crossing

When petite pagodas support both ends of a suspension bridge…well…you just have to cross, even if they aren’t leading in the right direction.

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The carvings are life size and tell stories – this massive carving cut into the side of the mountain depicts the scene of the Kangxi Emperor’s visit to Emeishan in the 17th century.

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Carvings like this dotted the mountains as we climbed, each revealing a new layer of Emei’s history.

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Everything on this walk has been like opening a present every time you turn a corner  – spectacular scenery – beautiful carvings – stunning views. If you can picture the quintessential Chinese mountain scene painted on a rice paper scroll, with mist-shrouded mountain peaks and long stone stairways connecting ancient pagodas perched atop cliffs, then you can picture Emeishan.

Pagota crossing 2

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Like the cable car…there was another option for getting to the top…and many people chose it

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Finally, the words we were all waiting to hear – we’re almost to the top.  Nathan yelled out to us from his position at the head of the line “This is the last 1200 steps”.  Our first response was – YEA!

It took a minute for the information to process.  1200 steps is the equivalent of a 60-story building.  Perspective people.  This was the LAST section of the hike – I’m guessing that we’ve climbed a building the height of the freaking moon by now! That last 60-story building was a doozy!

The monastery was as cool as the first one we stayed in and well worth the hike. We would be sleeping the monks tonight.

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We found our rooms and went to explore the facilities.  That’s always our first stop…to check out the bathrooms and the showers.  Toilets with a view and a communal shower – par for the course!

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Standing outside the toilets and shower in some consternation.

Showers – it was a rounded walkway with shower heads along the inner wall

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While the toilets themselves might leave a bit to be desired —

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— the views from the toilets were amazing – overlooking the entire forest

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This was where the monks prayed. The small round pillows on the floor are what they kneel on.

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We walked back down two sets of stairs to get back to the Hard Wok Café, owned by a local farmer and his wife. Just remembering how the food and drinks had gotten here left us with a true appreciation for our meal.

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The kitchen

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The proprietress was charming and very excited to have us!  She served us french fries which made everyone happy and then our standard Chinese fare.  But the kicker was the breakfast menu – which we pre-ordered for the next morning. Chocolate, banana, and apple pancakes. Happy Days!

I slept for 9 hours that night on the hardest mattress yet – without moving once.  “Slept like the dead” would be an accurate description.  After a truly awesome breakfast of coffee and chocolate and banana pancakes, we took off down the mountain.  Down – what a lovely word.

Now this is where I’m a little embarrassed. We got back on a bus at the bottom of the hill and headed back to the Baoguo Monastery – except for Rich, Katy and me.  We detoured to the 5-star hotel down the street – the one with the hot springs and a bar.  So there you have it – I jumped ship for one night – because I could – and it was lovely!

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The restaurant that served steaks and wine 🙂 Happiness in a bottle.

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And this little beauty helped me forget for a few minutes, how much pain I was in from the most recent mountain hike.

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And before anyone says anything consider this —

AND the next  three nights are on a boat — so I needed a little down time before that next big adventure.

Would you believe that everyone is still getting along?  The younger girls have become fast friends – giggles and jokes – gags and tricks.  They’re having a great time together and they crack the rest of us up!  Rich has the patience of a saint and it’s been good to have at least one man with us. He provides an element of sanity and sense that is sometimes desperately needed in this mish mash of estrogen.   Next stop, the Yangzi River and the Three Gorges boat trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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