>10 day trip

China : Jiuzhaigou : of brilliant blues and walking shoes

Continued from here

The next morning after a breakfast we headed out early at 6:30 am to Jiuzhaigou.

Jiuzhaigou is simply the kingdom of lakes and waterfalls. There are 118 mountain lakes and 68 waterfalls in all.

Tips:

  • Go as early as you can. The area is huge and you do have an option to walk all the way but despite the insanely beautiful scenes if you have only one day there, do not attempt it. However, they have a very convenient shuttle service that takes you between view points.
  • Decide in advance on the points you definitely want to cover and spend time there. Covering all of them is just not possible at leisure within a day. Instead, visit those you really want to and re-visit spots if you have time left over at the end of the day. Despite taking the shuttle between spots we walked about 18km that day.
  • Food is about 4 times the cost in the city. If being within a budget is in your agenda-pack snacks/fruits as lunch the day you visit here. Otherwise, food is available at one point mid-way.
  • The place has lovely views irrespective of the season- just that they are very different. I recall being blown away by it even in winter which is a good option if you want to be on a budget. The best season to go is the autumn since you have the foliage adding to the beauty with a riot of colour- however, this is both the most expensive and most crowded season- up to 4 times as expensive. So choose as per your preferred tradeoff.

Braving the crowds our guide managed to get us tickets into the area. Since it was summer, the area was more crowded than in winter though lesser than in autumn.

We took the shuttle at the entrance to the farthest point so we could walk back to the start. On the way you have announcements introducing the various spots you’d see. And it utterly confuses you wrt which one you like the most since everything passes by in a minute leaving you craving more. I have to mention the bus drivers are the most sharply dressed drivers I’ve ever seen and I believe they look like they could immediately star in a Bond movie.

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A duck casually nesting with her little ones amidst white blossoms in one of the lakes

Arrow Bamboo Lake: the arrow bamboos around this lake make it a haunt of the Giant Pandas. Understandably with the crowds, you can’t expect to see any of them there though. Just as we passed by it, as if the place needed anything to be more touching,  we saw a duck and her nest full of ducklings casually propped atop a grassy patch with flowers balanced over a couple of logs in the water.

Arrow Bamboo lake Jiuzhaigou

Panda Lake: This is supposedly the spot where Pandas like to come in and play, hence the name. This had the most visible schools of tiny fish of all the water bodies we saw.

Panda Lake Jiuzhaigou

Panda Lake Waterfall: Further down the lake we’d walk on to a pretty scene with a gushing waterfall amidst the emerald backdrop.

Panda Waterfall , Jiuzhaigou

5-Flower Lake – Has bigger fish than the others and more colours due to the algae in the water.

5 Flower lake , Jiuzhaigou

Long Lake: this is the largest lake in Jiuzhaigou and on my previous trip, this was the first view of mine into this bright blue paradise and I was instantly in love. It is a tranquil lake in the blue-green shade you fall in love with over and over again in Jiuzhaigou. It has verdant mountains bordering it with the last stubborn residues of snow still visible on a couple of them afar.

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Multicolor Lake: This one’s story is the most whimsical of all. The colours are said to be from that of a fairy’s rouge palette. It’s hard to really compare each of the splendid scenes in Jiuzhaigou, but this is said to be the most beautiful of them all.

Nuorilang Fall: it is the widest and highest waterfall in China and is almost the symbol of Jiuzhaigou. It is several 100 meters wide and roars through the greenery and can be heard even from afar. Its majesty and beauty leave you transfixed in wonder. Legend has it that it was just a platform but there was a monk who got a spinning wheel to a village. A girl quickly learnt it and was teaching other girls to spin. However, a cruel man named Roza kicked her and the spinning wheel off a cliff. To avenge this, Roza and his accomplices were pushed down the mountain by the torrents thereby creating this waterfall.IMG_0757-2.jpg

Pearl Shoal Waterfall – named so since the water jumps up like pearls from the surface of the shallow, clear pebbled floor and a 100 tiny waterfalls finally join into a large wide, stunning waterscape that takes your breath away with careless ease.

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Rhinoceros Lake

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While walking through the seemingly endless concoctions of brilliant blues it’s easy to hurry and miss the tiny packets of delicate allure with the flowers on our pathway- in calm purples, cheery pinks, bright yellows, flaming reds and flawless whites the little stops to just admire them make the trip so much more charming.

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Tiger Lake: I’ve always felt the Chinese tourist spots and scenes are named very imaginatively and this one takes the cake. Here the trees form stunning reflections on the water, the leaves ever so perfectly shadowed on the surface.  This was imagined to be like a tiger’s coat on the water and hence the name.IMG_3103.jpg

Sleeping Dragon Lake: The long yellow calcified surface below the lake was imagined to be a dragon and hence the name! We could notice the yellow area in the water but I guess its true shape would only be visible from above.

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5 colour lake: This is perhaps the smallest of the lakes we saw. But the colours! Jewel-shades of blue and green nestled amidst the rocky edge bordered with bright tiny yellow blossoms on one end.

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It is a lot to take in, but in the end, your heart aches at the beauty it has had a chance to witness – the wonderland that the earth is with something unexpectedly moving at every turn.

With aching feet, we headed back to the hotel for dinner after picking up a bag full of juicy loquat fruit. Its trees are seen in many homes on our way to Jiuzhaigou and one could easily eat a huge number of these with their melt in the mouth texture and watery goodness.

After dinner, we decided to stroll around the place and it was quite a charming area on its own too. We spent time learning that dandelion leaves were the greens Anand enjoyed so much in a meal at Huanglong, saw a lady with no inhibitions happily practising her dance steps from a video at her storefront.

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Food at the hotel was definitely the simplest of all our meals in Sichuan and so we decided to head out for some food hunting of our own on this walk. Still somewhat full from dinner we only ordered a few sticks of barbecued vegetables but it was sufficient to satiate our cravings for the time being.

Not just inside the scenic area but even in homes and around hotels, the flowers seemed to bloom with the most vivid colours and in huge sizes. We tried to watch yet another movie that night but the day’s fatigue got the better of us and we floated into blissful sleep.

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Update: In Aug 2017 just a month after our visit, there was a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Jiuzhaigou killing 19 people and injuring about 240 others. Parts of the immensely gorgeous scenic area were destroyed in a way that Summer so aptly described by saying ” The beauty is broken”. Especially since we were so moved by the loveliness we got to witness here, we are saddened by the fact that it will no longer be the same. However, we’re certain nature will soon recover – she always does, but the people who lost their loved ones and those who have to rebuild their lives- now that will take a whole lot longer.

Up next: China: Of silver cures and love corridors

>10 day trip

China : The fairy tale scenes at Huanglong

Continued from here.

A little way further and he stopped for us to have a cultural experience of the local lifestyle. There were tents with various experiences.IMG_0531

As part of it, we got to try out

  • some archery
  • horse riding – for just a couple of minutes 😐IMG_0495
  • the local costumes with oversized sleeves that we managed to have fun with

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    They even had (what I’m assuming) is the Communist uniform for hire to take pictures in!
  • some swings – we realised the Chinese crowd used swings very gently vs us who wanted to go as high as possible!

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    Whee!
  • The local food for dinner- This was a hotpot with meat and vegetables.
    • Meat: Yak meat, Lamb
    • Vegetarian: Pumpkin, Mushrooms, Fungi, several types of Tofu, the local bread
    • They even got a dish for Anand with eggs knowing he could eat them!
    • Drinks: The local tea and wine

The group of girls who travelled with us even got into an impromptu karaoke with beautiful voices that we enjoyed listening to while munching on our food amidst the scenic view.

Day 5:

Early the next morning we had a modest breakfast and were off to Huanglong.My second visit and Anand’s first. The bus driver graciously stopped at a flower covered hillside for us to take pictures in the pretty landscape.

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More yumminess

After lunch and passing by hills covered with conifers and taking winding roads that reminded us of Uttarakhand, we got to Huanglong.

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It is located at the foot of the Yucui peak. Apparently, its name is derived from “yellow dragon” because that’s what it looks like from the air winding through the valleys and hills.

The Huanglong Natural Scenic Reserve is full of ponds and streams flowing over calcareous rock deposited from mineral springs. We took a cable car up and decided to walk back down. The cable car takes us right over a sea of conifers to the other side.IMG_0618.jpg

The first point you’d reach is the Wanglong (Looking dragon) platform. Since it was summer, our view was of the green mountains and verdant forests around the main valley with just the most distant mountain still snow capped.

Wanglong (Looking dragon) platform
Wanglong (Looking dragon) platform

Our walk downhill is dotted with bunches of yellow flowers, the occasional group of huge mushrooms and streams at every turn.

The very first point of wonder you’d reach after a bit of a hike is the 5 colour pond. It is a group of 693 open-air calcified colourful ponds with crystal clear water. It has areas of green, blue, red and even purple. This is arguably the most scenic spot in Huanglong- with a temple in the background providing a fairy-tale like setting to the scene.

5 colour pond
5 colour pond

White azaleas were a common sight on our walk and Huanglong is home to as many as 17 varieties of them. Since they bloom in summer, they are quite poetically referred to as the “snow in June”. The sound of water rushing is something that accompanied us throughout our hike here.

Huanglong Ancient temple
Huanglong Ancient temple

After just a little more walking you’d reach the Huanglong Ancient temple and still further yet another temple.

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Up next would be the Suoluo Yincai (Azalea) pond. We were slightly late for the Azalea cover but nevertheless, it is yet another group of 400 colourful ponds with the blue water in the creamy catchment areas that are so soothing to the eyes making up yet another scene we were hesitant to leave behind.

Suoluo Yincai (Azalea) pond
Suoluo Yincai (Azalea) pond

 

The Penjing or Bonsai pond is another group of ponds with trees that all naturally seem stunted and therefore the name Bonsai pond.

Penjing or Bonsai pond
Penjing or Bonsai pond

Jinsha Pudi (Golden Sand Pavement) is appropriately named too.

Jinsha Pudi (Golden Sand Pavement)
Jinsha Pudi (Golden Sand Pavement)

The creamy underside of the water body has tiny waves rippling over, the stream further rolls over into a small waterfall  called the Lintai Feipu “Flying waterfall on Lotus platform”.

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Lintai Feipu “Flying waterfall on Lotus platform”.

The Liehui Feipu (Marvellous Flying waterfall) is the last and the widest of the waterfalls we saw in Huanglong. It didn’t have it’s full strength since the rains had only begun there but still made a pretty sight.

Liehui Feipu (Marvellous Flying waterfall)
Liehui Feipu (Marvellous Flying waterfall)

Tip : Do not run. Many people have altitude sickness that may lead to nausea, headaches etc. Breathe deeply and walk slowly. While walking down the steps, make sure you walk sideways to avoid strain on your knees. You’ll look funny but your knees will be grateful. Restrooms are available every few minutes – stay well hydrated.

The way to the hotel for the night continued to be picturesque with homes and castle-like structures resolutely perched on hillsides, ponds, horses, beautiful skies.

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Before returning to the hotel we stopped by a Tibetan settlement. These are a standard fixture in group tours to Huanglong- though each can be slightly different. After being welcomed with the customary bright yellow scarf, we entered a hall with seating and a long table with some local food.

Vegetarian : Boiled potato, Local bread, buckwheat

Drinks : Yak milk tea, Local wine

Meat : Yak meat

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A pretty lady amongst the troupe happily flirted with Anand who was the only guy in a room full of women as guests, asking him if he’d make her his second wife in exchange for 300 yaks.After some thought, he refused! Ah well.

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All the pretty ladies and just one gentleman!

Nevertheless, they sang beautifully for us and danced energetically even getting us to dance along with them.

We had a splendid time and walked back to the bus after picking a bag full of luscious cherries to munch on. After dinner, we watched a hilarious Chinese movie back in the hotel room called “Lost in Thailand” and it led us to end the wondrous day as perfectly as one ever can- with a bucket-load of laughter.

Up next : China : Jiuzhaigou : of brilliant blues and walking shoes

>10 day trip

China : Wenshu Monastery and the Flower Lake

Day 3:

After a day of walking at Leshan we decided to take it slow with a monastery. After a breakfast of banana pancakes Summer made for us, we took the community wooden bus that has a story book look to it, and then got to the metro station. And off to Wenshu Monastery, we went. I’ve been there before but it was a first for Anand.

All guide books will recommend this monastery as one of the top places to visit. The board to it in English will simply say “Manjushri Monastery”.IMG_0327It covers over 13 acres apparently so it’s easy to miss some landmark or the other but the grounds themselves are a calm space to wander around aimlessly.IMG_0317

There are several individual shrines in the space, many with the gentle fragrance of incense in the air and ornate gold coloured intricately carved dramatic idols. There are over 300 kinds of idols in bronze, stone, wood and clay.IMG_0332 The surroundings are quite pleasant with greenery and paths winding through the space.IMG_0314

KongLin Lecture hall is the main hall you enter into. In front of the deity are several pillows in rows for one to rest their knees and meditate/pray.

Konglin Buddhism Library is a huge library that you can enter in, but we decided to make do with a peek at its endless shelves of books.

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Wanfo Hall is quite an intriguing place. It’s a large hall with several racks completely filled with umpteen statues of Buddhas. There are beautiful paintings on the ceiling and quite a lovely centrepiece in the centre of the ceiling. I especially loved the wooden windows in the hall.IMG_0300-2

Interestingly a stone carved lotus was used as a feeder for birds and people tended to leave fruits atop the smaller pillars presumably for birds and squirrels to eat.

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Before we left we had simple vegetarian fare at a small restaurant that was packed with people of all ages. IMG_0361.jpg

We met Summer on the way back and knowing we loved dogs, she decided to take us to the pet market. While she had the nicest intentions at letting us see the insanely cute animals, we only left quite sad at the numerous animals in tiny cages. Especially the all-too-young pups and kittens left us quite heart broken. If one is able to go with a seriously touristy angle, it is quite interesting to see the types of animals you are allowed to have as pets. Squirrels, snakes, lizards of all kinds, turtles and even hedgehogs!

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Pet lizards anyone?

A quick stop at a supermarket later, we headed off to the seafood market where Summer picked up enough items and decided to cook us a seafood dinner.

China : Sea food market

She is quite the pro and made absolutely restaurant quality meals with scallops, oysters, crawfish and clams. Anand had steamed edamame and Indian potato and peas cooked by Girish.

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An absolutely stunning meal

Day 4 :

The next day was the first day of our 4-day package tour. We were incredibly fortunate that Summer decided to come along with us since we did not go for an English speaking guide. Early that morning we took a short flight to Jiuzhaigou airport and landed on a beautiful grassland.

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It was definitely the first time for me landing area had a view of a herd of yaks grazing and completely ignoring the aircraft.From the airport, we had to take the bus that would stay with us the rest of our trip.

The view was picturesque throughout our way. Small hillocks covered in grass, beautiful tents of the locals with striking geometric patterns on them, tiny flowers dotting the landscape, small ponds and streams generously sprinkled around, herds of sheep and of course the yaks with their luxuriant fur.

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Pretty scenes at every turn

We stopped at “Ranch Sky Street Scenic spot” which is a cultural town with strong Jiarong and Amdo-Tibetan characteristics.

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This was also our pitstop to use the restroom and since our bus had exactly 2 other guys in addition to the guide, the restroom lines for the ladies were always endless. This time the guide urged us to use the men’s restrooms instead and that’s the story how I entered a men’s restroom for the very first time!

The route continued to be scenic and we were entertained with the girls in the bus singing beautifully popular songs in Chinese. Horses, undulating hillocks with green pastures continued to be the mainstay of the journey.IMG_0599.jpg

We stopped at the Ruoergai Wetland National Nature Reserve that is located in the upstream of the Yellow River in eastern Qinghai-Tibet plateau. We took another bus for a short distance to Huahu Lake– which means the lake of flowers in Chinese. It is at the heart of the Ruoergai wet land and is an alpine lake. Since it was summer space was filled with lush green grass.IMG_0467We were a little early for the whole space to be covered with flowers (best in July), nevertheless, we had whole sections with pretty yellow blossoms. Flocks of birds routinely dunked their heads into the water to pick out their fishy meals. It is home to several rare species of birds and fish. The clouds seem to admire themselves in the placid water that mirrored them perfectly and almost intentionally formed a stunning backdrop for it all.IMG_0451.jpgThe place looks harmless in pictures but since it’s an open space the wind was cold enough to chill your bones. We soaked in the beauty of the scene and went on ahead.

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The security guards getting pictures with perfect poses in a romantic setting

Up next: The fairy tale scenes of Huanglong

>10 day trip

China – The jaw-dropping poetry of LeShan

Continued from here

So while he continued to click I walked behind it to check – and there it was – the most awe-inspiring sight I’ve ever witnessed that simply took my breath away. I gasped and shouted for him to join me. Because behind the statue was, unexpectedly, an endless passage with alluring carvings on either side. It was one of those moments in life that make you wonder how much humans are capable of- what beauty grandeur, skill and scale that moves you with its sheer perfection.

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We walked in silent awe admiring each of the carvings- reading up about the monks from Zen history and different stages of Buddha’s enlightenment process.

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My favourite here was the one right at the start – Sadgatih– the wheel of reincarnation that takes people through life and death.

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And just at the end of the passage we happened on the Sitting Buddha– he had flowing robes and the lights installed created shapely shadows on the wall behind. At this point, we were just entranced by the sights around us and tried to take it all in to savour at a later time.

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Another passage later was the most majestic idol of Bodhisattva Skanda – who is considered the guardian of Buddha’s possessions when he entered Nirvana.

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Further on are the Four Heavenly Kings– the King of Rain, of The Wind, of Buddhist conversion and the ruler of music.

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After this, we happened on more exquisite carvings of heavenly beings and numerous statues of Buddha in varying shapes and sizes.

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When finally out into the light, we saw the Sleeping Buddha, surrounded by people.

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Just as we got exhausted from the walking, we happened on a shrine with seemingly endless steps at a space called the “Big Buddha Bay“. A lotus-shaped centre piece is the first thing that is seen, and if you look up one will notice a painful looking set of stairs reminiscent of the stairs Po had to face (in Kung Fu Panda), that lead up to another statue of a seated Buddha. Considering how much our feet were aching by now, we almost gave it up- but the previous jaw-dropping scenes egged us on to give it a go. On the railings of the stairs were numerous rusted locks worn out in the rains.

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Just as we willed ourselves to reach there- true to our past experience there was actually a passage just to the side of the Buddha.And finally, we got to see the one image that was the only picture other than the Grand Buddha that we had stumbled upon online and that I was determined to see on my visit to Leshan. The Thousand-Hand Kwan-Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, and it was everything I needed it to be. Raw and seemingly made of mud but perfect in its detail- hands in an assortment of postures surrounding a benevolent looking deity. The hands are supposed to represent her many abilities to render assistance.And I was finally satisfied with the trip to Leshan.

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We moved on to the Golden Buddha Hall to a few more soothing sights and finally walked back to the entrance.

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We entered the shrine there and stopped for a bit at the LingBao Pagoda (It was closed, but we’re not sure if it was the timing or if it’s always kept closed). We then headed out to the railway station a bit early for our train.

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Instead of sitting at the station, I suggested we go to the park on the other side of the road to spend the couple of hours we had.  We noticed 5-6 people playing something that looked like badminton but was vaguely dance-like. Intrigued we asked Summer and she translated from them that it was called “Tai-Chi-Bo” (my spelling may be incorrect). It was quite a treat to watch their controlled and fluid movements with the racquet and a special ball. IMG_0269As we watched on intrigued, they were kind enough to offer to let us try too. Needless to say, we did try and had a lot of fun but were hilariously awkward at it in comparison to them. A Swedish family also joined in to watch and our group had some interesting conversation with them wrt tourism in Sichuan and the places we loved. And just like that it was time for our train and getting back home after a magical day of discovery- of the Leshan food, of the spell-binding carvings in underground caves and the elegant Tai-chi bo.

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>10 day trip

China : The second time around with many new firsts

The world is a large space filled with wonder and mystery. There’s so much to explore and a lifetime is just not enough to even get started. However once in a while, we decide to revisit a place. To introduce it to a loved one, to make new memories there, to revel in its familiar nooks and once again relish its decadent food. And so the Sichuan province in China it was.

Day 1 :

With a midnight flight and being groggy the whole layover at Bangkok, the only highlight was the delicious shrimp pad-thai and the omo fried rice that the waiter served with a ketchup smiley.

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Since we only reached ChengDu at 3:30 PM we decided to take the day easy. After meeting Summer’s lovely dog Wunzai we headed off for a walk in the area. The footpaths are just hubs of social life in the early evenings- kids learning games, older people dancing to stay active, folks training their tiny dogs and cheering them on and small carts with produce and snacks providing more colour to the space. The many apps that allow for picking up cycles at will to be used have made cycling a ubiquitous mode of transport there too.

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We picked up a bunch of cycles and then headed right to dive into the food with the Sichuan barbeque – the ultimate winter food – hot, spicy. It works in a simple format- you select the vegetables/meat of your preference and you pay by the stick (more for meat). They barbeque it and get it to your table. It goes marvellously well with the locally available peanut soy milk, the herbal tea served in cans or beer that they prefer.

A hearty meal later, we walked back home followed by yoghurt ice cream and a walk with Wunzai.

Day 2 :

The next morning we took the super fast train from the ChengDu South station and had a packed breakfast of boiled corn and eggs in the train. The route is quite scenic with greenery and mountains. We need to take a bus just after the train station. We stopped in the city for lunch. Just as we got off the bus, we noticed an elderly gentleman and a young boy both playing with a long whip that was used to spin a very heavy metal top. Apparently it’s good exercise and looked like a lot of fun and skill was involved.

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LeShan is also popular for its food and Summer had visited it just for the food previously, so we decided to make the best of our trip and packed a ton of food for our trek and our meal there.

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Almost every search for  LeShan will show up the image of the giant seated Buddha. The statue carved off a cliff faces the point of confluence of 3 rivers, hence it was a place for ships to get sucked into a whirlpool. This statue was carved out by a monk to look over the safety of the passing ships and was the work of 90 years! What also makes it very cool is that inside the statue is a drainage system that has helped drain out rainwater thereby reducing weathering of the statue over the years. It is easy to believe that it is the largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world with perfect fingernails and the sky looming above him.

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It is imposing and is in a beautiful setting facing the rivers and the Emei mountain. Even on the stairway to the bottom of the statue, one would find carvings in the rock of Buddhist monks and shrines.

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Tip: There are 2 ways to see the statue – one on foot while walking down and up the side of the Buddha. The other is to take a boat. The cost is minimally different between the two. We’d recommend taking the boat if you have trouble walking since there is so much more to see on foot even within the area. While there is a long queue to see this, the rest of the area is not crowded since it’s a vast space and most people return after seeing this.

There are numerous caves and shrines even around the statue within a vast green space. There are small ponds with golden-orange koi fish and the ubiquitous turtles too.

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Since we still had time for the return train we decided to wander around a bit. At one point we noticed another entry with some images of carvings. The price was more expensive than our entry to Leshan Grand Buddha but we still decided to give it a go while our companions stayed back. While definitely verdant and scenic, it’s quite a walk to the first statue and we had to ask several staff members with sheer sign language on directions to it.

After a winding path through the hills, we finally landed at the statue that’s called the Pharmacist Buddha. While smaller than the Grand Buddha it is still a calm, striking imposing statue of the Buddha standing. It easily dwarfs the 2 massive statues of protectors(?) beside it. There were no other tourists there.

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Just as Anand was clicking his pictures and I was wandering in front of it, he asked me to check on some voices from behind the statue- there was no direction board or any indication that there was something behind the statue.

Wait for the next post : The Jaw dropping beauty of Leshan

1 day trip

Kerala – Kochi: On the beaten path

When you have all of one day to see a place, and the need for surety on time Vs value for your fellow travellers, you do the popular spots. Though this is not typical of us on this site, that’s what I did when taking my uncle and aunt around Kochi from Trichur. So in the peak of monsoons, off we went. We took it slow and only left Trichur by 8 AM. The rains decided to roar and pour over the entire way up there with all the fury it could muster, almost making us regret the choice of time to make this trip, almost. Since just as got there, it decided to bless us with clear weather all of the day.

We planned the route such that we didn’t have to go back and forth within the area- so first headed to the Ernakulathappan Shiva temple. The diety is considered the guardian of Ernakulam- hence the name.

I’ve to admit I’d been misled by a picture online of a humongous Shiva statue that I figured my co-travelers would enjoy. We got there just a moment after the sanctum santorum closed for the morning. Our view of the outside was that it was a nice but pretty typical temple in Kerala with lamps covering the walls and the gold flag staff in the front of the temple. IMG_3302.JPGIf you haven’t ever seen a temple in Kerala it will be worth dropping in. Since we missed it I’m not sure how the main sanctum sanctorum looks/is designed. Just outside and beside it is a Murugan temple in Tamil style- it too was closing just as we got there.IMG_3301.jpg

Note: Temples in Kerala often close the main areas with the deities twice a day. If you want to visit them for prayers you may want to check before you get there.

Our next stop was the Mathhanchery Palace. The first thing one would see would be the calm pond just outside the palace. IMG_3305.jpgThere are 2 temples just outside of the palace but both were closed- not sure if they are open for the public to visit- the Pazhayannoor Bhagavati temple and the Azhithrikovil Mahavishnu temple.

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The top of the Azhithrikovil MahaVishnu temple

The palace by itself is more the size of a large home than a mammoth structure one would expect a “palace” to be. And it is converted into a heritage museum of sorts. This structure was gifted by the Portuguese to the Kochi King. It was renovated several years later by the Dutch and somehow the name “Dutch Palace” stuck. Photography is not allowed inside so not much could be captured. However, I’d highly recommend it for a peek into the lifestyles of Kerala royalty. Their clothes, ornaments (I didn’t know one of them was called pulinakham or tigers nail for its shape),  and pretty palanquins.

It’s interesting to see how the children in the royal family were dressed in a loin cloth or small pieces of fabric only distinguishable as the royalty due to a single necklace each. It also has images that represent the evolution of women’s clothing in Kerala across the ages till the saris of today.

The room one first enters into has the most lovely designs carved of wood on the ceiling. There are stunning frescoes in intricate details beautifully painted on the walls of the room where the ladies of the house lived, and the area called the “bedchamber”. The murals depict the entire story of Ramayana and several deities – Ganapathi, Vishnu, Durga, Shiva-Parvati et al. They were the most well preserved of the murals I’ve seen till now in India. My favourite little detail in the palace were the seats right by the window where 2 people could sit facing each other gazing at the waters of the pond or just the city going by their day.

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The deceptively plain exterior of the palace

We next headed to the Jewish Synagogue also called the Paradesi(Foreigner) Synagogue. It’s the oldest Synagogue from the then British Commonwealth nations built in 1568. To explain it to Uncle and Aunt I had to look up the word for Jew in Malayalam- it was Yahuda, so that’s that bit of information for you. While I had heard of the Portuguese in Kerala, I’ve to admit I didn’t know of the Jews. The synagogue is at the end of a street in the area simply named Jew town. Apparently, there are only 5 Jews currently living there one of them being our ticket seller, while the rest have returned to Israel. The Synagogue itself shares a wall with the Mattancherry Palace temple and the land for the Synagogue was gifted to the Jews quite literally under the protection of the King since their earlier Synagogue in Cochin was destroyed by the Portuguese because of Jewish persecution.

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Yet again, a very simple exterior for the Synagogue

The clock tower outside the Synagogue has letters imprinted in Hebrew, Malayalam and Roman. As one enters the main area, you’d immediately notice the numerous chandeliers and Belgian lamps in different colours and shapes, hanging low from the ceiling. The Synagogue has hand-painted Chinese tiles each tile with its own unique twist to one of  4 landscapes repeated on all of them. Apparently, the prayers require 10 Jewish men of age greater than 13 and since there aren’t sufficient here the prayers require Jews from elsewhere to come over if prayers are to be held.IMG_3323.jpg

If one can afford it, the Jew town is quite the place for interesting antiques. The homes on the street have small torches attached to the door frames that are touched before entering the homes as per Jewish beliefs.

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The cat seems to approve of the cushion

Note: The Synagogue closes for lunch between 12 pm – 3 pm so plan your day accordingly. Also no pictures were allowed in both the Synagogue and the Palace but both are quite nice inside.

If interested, this is an interesting short documentary on the life and times of the last few Jews in Kochi(It is in Malayalam but has English subtitles).

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a pretty ambience and 2 gorgeous birds sitting casually at the entrance. However, they took 45 mins to get the first item we ordered which was a bit of a letdown.IMG_3329.JPG

After lunch,  we headed to Fort Kochi. I had not looked up too many pictures and I went here expecting an actual Fort. However, it is simply the name of an area with charming homes and pretty structures reminiscent of those in White town of Pondicherry. The beach walkway is the highlight of the place with a huge number of people spending the afternoon there. It’s saddening to see a huge amount of trash washed over from the sea onto every piece of land on the edge of the water.

After passing by the shops selling enticing fresh catch from the sea, we decided to head in the opposite direction of the tourists to the boats. Apparently, the fish come nearer to the beach in the rain and go deeper into the water when it’s too sunny.

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An earnest fisherman trying his luck

Just beside it was the first Chinese fishing net I saw. It’s quite a contraption- seemingly simple and yet elegant.IMG_3345.JPG

We decided to spend some time walking along the path munching on ice creams and random eats from the vendors along the way. Just as we walked to the end and headed back we saw multiple industrial looking ships up close and admired them from afar.IMG_3355.jpg While we considered having some seafood after the lacklustre lunch, Uncle, however, wasn’t convinced at the prices for the seafood we make regularly at home, but it’s something one could try during a visit there.

Note : If you’ve more time we’d recommend strolling along the bylanes of the area with beautiful old houses and quaint remnants from the times gone by.

Our last stop for the day was the Cherai beach where we decided to watch the sunset and end the day. We first stopped for some tea and pazhampori (batter-fried sweet plantain) that I’d highly recommend you try during your time in Kerala and that’s a tea time staple. This beach is a small stretch filled to the brim with people in the water so we decided to instead sit at the edge of the walkway and while the time watching the waves slowly form from afar and roar on to the edge with sheer power and grace. As riveting as the view was, it was 6 pm already and the sun showed no signs of wanting to set. I checked and realised the sunset was at 6:50 PM that day. Since it was a cloudy day with high chances of no clear sunset view + we had a long drive back home we decided to call it a day and head back.IMG_3369

We followed maps and came to a spot with a huge number of bikes, a crowd of people and a queue of cars. Only then did I realise we had to take a ferry on the way back! We enquired and it was the easiest way or we’d have to take a circuitous route by road and spend a long time at it. It was the first time for all of them taking a ferry and the first time for me taking a car into a ferry. The tickets were incredibly inexpensive at just Rs.35 for the car with its passengers!  After a short time in the queue, we drove into the ferry. Our view of the sea was almost completely covered by people on all sides having conversations about their day as they headed home from work while we had a fun time finding magic amidst their ordinary, rocking gently inside the car to the rhythm of the sea.IMG_3358.jpg

 

>10 day trip

China : Chengdu : Yellow dragons and green wonderlands

<Side note: These posts are from a trip I made in 2012 and lived in a gorgeous city named Chengdu for 5 months. Nevertheless, its memories are fresh and warm in my mind and I’d love to share them with you. >

Huanglongxhi :

My colleagues Vivian and Lex were kind enough to offer to take another Indian colleague and me to Huanglongxhi – the yellow dragon spring. We had to take a bus trip for more than an hour to get there. It is an old city on the banks of a brook. Picture perfect bridge :)It had a dragon created in the brook that crossed through city too. It had charming streets, pretty bridges, occasional towers and of course, lovely snacks and trinkets available for sale. It will be, possibly the only place I’d ever walk around all day with a ring of flowers on my head! (My excuse was, while in Rome…)DSC_0130.jpg

On the way back from there a group of kids enter the crowded bus and immediately stand around me in a half circle and decide to stare at me intently wondering what new species I was. A heated discussion ensues in rapid Chinese, while I try not to react to the staring, which as I am seated, is directly at eye level. A full 10 minutes later, there is a moment of silence, and one among them, the little boy poses like a Roman king delivering a speech, stretches his hand ahead with a flourish and speaks the dramatic words… “What…is ..your name!”.

I try hard not to pinch his adorable cheeks at the moment and just smile and give him my name. The group looks utterly confused at the sound of my name. So I spell it, writing each letter on my palm. What I didn’t expect next, was that all of them get it at the same moment and repeat my name a bunch of times making the whole crowded bus look in my direction while I try to disappear. One older girl from a different group even took out her dictionary and read out the word, “Beautiful” while I just nodded my thanks. As awkward as that was, they did make immensely lovely company with translation from Vivian who was seated behind me and my first big, little group of friends in China all bid me farewell when they left, leaving me beaming for the rest of the evening.

Mt Qincheng

It was the first time during my stay that I had actually seen the sun in ChengDu, so spring was officially here. Roads lined with stunning white magnolias and fields of cheery yellow canola blossoms (For some cursed reason despite their beauty, nothing comes to mind other than Shahrukh khan in his trademark pose from DDLJ :/) It took several buses and an assortment of other modes of travel to reach the rear gate of Mt.Qincheng.

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An elderly gentleman in the seat in front of us was reading a booklet with pictures of a tourist place and I couldn’t help noticing it had English captions too. I requested for the book through my friend Erica and when I returned it, he asked where I was from. I always find it interesting to know what the first thing was, that comes to people’s mind when I mention India. He said with a happy smile, ‘That’s were Budhhism came from’ :). It was the warmest reaction I’d gotten till now, even counting the innumerable times I’ve heard that ‘Indian women are so pretty’ .

The trip at Mt.Qincheng started out being deceptively effortless with charming old streets, temples along the way with incense and candles, the hanging bridge and the cable car ride with a lovely view of the brooks and the stately trees in the forest on the verge of springtime.18032012647.jpg

A lot of the path was generously sprinkled with rounded pebbles that I assumed were there to avoid people slipping in the rains, but Erica surprised me by saying that they were there so that your feet get a massage as you walk, as the path of the trek was long!! There were huge boulders all along the way and scrawny twigs that seemed to be trying to hold them up. They were supposedly placed there by people, after making a wish for something they wanted dearly. What was that again about faith moving mountains?

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Picture perfect bridges on our way

Then the actual trek began and boy, do I hate steps or do I hate steps! Even with the frequent pit-stops along the way the trek had begun to take its toll on our unused feet and since we didn’t want to specifically see the temple on the top…we instead walked another route down to pass through a valley with caves and streams and that was definitely the best decision of the day.IMAG0305

The route was spectacular, the water gushing into a fantastic whiteness only to go on to reveal the colored pebbles smoothed to perfection under its unceasing care, enormous boulders that seemed to just gently balance on their sides on a whim, linking pathways made of tree trunks that looked almost roughly put together and yet faultlessly perfect for the ambience, and waterfalls with caves linked to stories involving dragons, fairies and princes.Little surprise then that there were several painters with their material perched on rocks and trying to re-create the splendour on paper.18032012678.jpg

Some moments just make you want to pause time, make you want to savor the experience of just being there and make wish you could return to it at will. The whole effect together was that of an emerald wonderland that takes my breath away at every turn.