Fiona MacCarthy

China Part 3 Emei Shan.

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Another and longer overnight train of about 15 hours took us to this large town or smallish city of Emei Shan arriving in mid to later afternoon of Saturday.  Our trip notes had this to say

“Emei Shan is one of the holiest places in China, long associated with bodhisattva (person committed to the enlightment for the sake of others) Samantabhadra. At just over 3,000 metres high, this mountain of thick forest has been a centre of pilgrimage for over 1,800 years, with over a hundred temples and monasteries hidden in its peaks. The area is stunning at any time of year, from the lush greens of the summer, to the golden reds and yellows of autumn, and the clear, mystical whites of winter. Here you will visit and overnight at the peaceful Baoguo Monastery, where you’ll experience sharing accommodation with monks and waking up to the sounds of drums and prayers.”

And there was I thinking that we would be close to the celibates and for which I procured and transported a M&S knee length modesty dressing gown – unworn and largely usused.

The reality is that we as tourists were in the guest accommodation very much separate to the monks (so much for “sharing”. We were however close enough to hear their wonderful early morning chanting with seemed to come in two spells of 30 minutes each and about 30 minutes apart. We were required to be back in the monastery by 10.30pm each not and not to bring meat or alcohol onto the premises (the only rules). Consuming these outside the monastery was quite okay.

On the first morning we ascended the mentioned mountain by bus to the base travelling through narrow valleys where the rivers below us had carried large boulders at some stage. The road was busy as many pilgrims and tourists were already travelling. Did I mention it was raining or not: it was and it rained all day, slow steady rain, relentless. We used a cablecar for the lower reaches and then steps, lots of them before getting to  the rain soaked misty top. I have no doubt that the view could be amazing but it was difficult to see 40 feet in front and less at times. I’m glad I tried this but a bit disappointed with the weather.

We had been meant to go on a 3-4 hour trek once we got back down to lower levels and go to a 2nd monastery for a single night (no nearby restaurants) but the silly drenching weather meant little benefit to that plan.

On our 2nd fully day, Patrick whose guesthouse and restaurant are pictured (Paddys) and who was local transporter for us, and who arranged our laundry at an unbelievable low price, and who was busy as anything on the phone, and who could exhaust one by just keeping up with him, and who is just simply amazing: organised a day tour to nearby town with walkaround and lunch. It was to prove an interesting contrast between a provincial town about three hours from our next destination of Chengdu. Much is written in many countries of the lure of the city for those from rural areas and what remained in this town seemed to be literally those left behind.

The market area was fascinating with its live and recently slaughtered meats and fish. Many stall holders mainly with a small array of produce. I tried the black shelled eggs well one of them and it may be an acquired taste of one from childhood: rubbery texture foul! Or fowel smell. I ticked that off my list. Also tasted were the chicken feet being sold as a snack rather than attached to incidental chicken. The sticky rice was too sticky and bland to my taste. A fine threesome of local snacks and not one that would encourage me to try again but delighted to have tried: seeking justification in my positivity.

We then adjourned to a tea house run by a woman who could be my grandmother in age and her dementia afflicted husband with his long pipe. The rest of the customers were middle aged to elderly men sipping their tea and observing us in between their scarce chatter. It felt awful to observe this island of inactivity in a country that buzzes. With my palate recovered, Patrick led us off through town down back streets we would not normally venture, passed a women’s clothing shop with neat and professional displays and so out of place in comparison with everything else, across a very old bridge also photoed, a rice wine retailer, a bag repairer and many other small local shops.

Lunch was again a pleasure in its freshness and I also like the picture I took of the young mother on her scooter with her 2 or 3 year old son on a 4-legged stool between her and the steering column.

After the first 2 cities of Beijing and Xi-An, this made a most welcome change and brought us closer to ordinary folk. It was not a tourist destination either far Chinese nor foreigners and had a sense of reality to it.

On the morning after we climbed the mountain, we were told at breakfast that a landslide had blocked the road behind us after we had returned blocking but not injuring or killing any pilgrims behind us. With the soaking rains its perhaps no surprise and there is a picture or two of the impact of those rivers on the adjoining river banks.

Food and Beverage Emei Shan

Mainly at Paddys where generous portions of quality food, spicy when said to be, and not when not mentioned. Patrick was generous with his rice wine which varied between paint stripping/wall demolishing and gentler tasting fruit flavoured variety.

Snack food was enjoyed on the climb: a polish sausage type. Chinese were buying them and why not try.

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