<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. >
The famed Emei Shan beckoned. Early in the morning, as we took our seats the conductor came up to us, looked at my friend Solo and asked her where I was from. Pretty standard, but he they said something in rapid Chinese, while I tried to fish out my passport due to his serious tone. It was however followed by giggles from our co-passengers because when translated to me, he had just said “Do you have a boyfriend? You should find a Chengdu boy, you know? “ Ahh..if wishes were horses.
We got to the bottom of Emei and then had a cab-driver add us to the bunch of people he was taking up to the mountain. The group, though strangers to each other, seemed a chatty bunch. As they rattled off in rapid Chinese, I settled in the back corner of the vehicle and gazed at the window. As distracted as I was, I was probably the last one to realise we had just met our smashing start to the trip. The screech of the brakes, and in that instant, my only thought was that I’d settle for anything other than the people dying, especially the 2 in the front (they had the highest probability of injury). A bus and car stranded on the road. My friend saved from hurt by the bending of her trekking bag’s metal rods that took on the impact. I brushed off my bruised knee and off we went back down, had our lunch only to return. This time pretty popular among the travel guides and the drivers on the mountain, even giving us a half price deal for the hotel stay since they’d heard of the accident!
Reached the hotel, dropped off some of the luggage and went exploring the temples in the lower half of the mountain.
Our very first temple visit at Emei was perfect. We were the only ones there, and it was like our own nook of calm in the wilderness with incense and candles topped with tiny obstinate flames.
Just another temple on our way up
The only thing better than stories themselves are probably stories etched in stone. Several points on the trek had characters and incidents had been carved out of the mountains with moss on them making them seem a natural part of the landscape.
The Tibetan Macaques were a speciality of the region and they simply looked hugely unimpressed with the tourists who seemed to make a fool of themselves when they spotted them.
As a snack, I tried for the first time, juicy yacon and the fan-twan (rice with a little sauce with meat/fish wrapped in delicate seaweed. Actually tastes better than it sounds.). It was also definitely the best 2 RMB I ever spent when I bought a bamboo walking stick for the trek. The trek was long and had mostly views of endless stairs when we looked ahead that merged into the mist, like a hazy portal to a different world.
The next temple we stumbled upon was the one with, what I’d like to call, the locks of love. Couples could place a lock on the railings of the stairs and the balcony of the temple and throw the key away, it apparently locked them in love. Thousands of locks, and just one simple emotion.
The next morning, we were taken to the start of the trek in a car and head off on our walk, the bamboo stick still providing faithful company in the hauntingly beautiful landscape. You couldn’t be quite certain you weren’t walking into the clouds, the occasional burst of azaleas still providing a cheery break in the otherwise black and white scene.
The trek was probably the most enjoyable one I’ve ever had, with us taking frequent breaks as required, to appreciate the ambience, catch our breath, or just experience a cup of tea or some warm corn on the cob.
We reached the golden summit with the steps lined with 6-tusked elephants also in gold. And went up with bated breath, only to see it covered with mist with a dull gold cloud left to my imagination 😐 I wished I had checked the image online before I got there as I’d have then been able to at least know what I was supposed to imagine. (I had decided this would be my no-research trip, though of course, I did check the weather. I’m flexible, but not yet interested in death by freezing/soaking.)
It couldn’t be helped so we instead visited temples on the top even having to imagine their exterior as the mist disallowed sight beyond a few feet. We entered the last temple there, paused before the deity and Solo entered a door at the back that read to a dining room with a board stating ‘For Buddhist prefectures only’. I wasn’t sure what it meant, so tried to drag her out but we happened to find a travel guide there who said we could actually have a meal there if we wished. So we sat on ornate tables for a lovely meal with lotus stem, pumpkin, sweet potato noodles, a couple of types of greens, soup and rice.
We walked out of the dining area and then realised that we were just in time for the mist rising like a curtain to reveal a vision in gold that was breathtaking and majestic, especially since I hadn’t known what to expect. The lowest layer of 100s of lamps, the second of 4 of the 6-tusked elephants, on them a lotus and the last of the Buddha with 10 faces. The temples also were now visible and we had a good 15 minutes to actually view them clearly before the mist came over again. It had been incidental to come across the dining area behind the temple, incidental to find the tourist guide there and if we hadn’t made that resulting stop for lunch we’d have probably just missed the scene and gone back on our way down. Serendipity ?
Every so often Solo was asked by the locals if she was my translator, and where I was from. One such question round, on being told I was from India, the next query by the guy was if I had walked all the way from India 😐 I knew I was gasping for breath for just this trek, but I wondered if I looked so distraught to seem like I’d been through such arduous effort!
On the way back just near the cab-stand, we met this very interesting lady travelling alone and Solo asked her if she knew the way back. She instead replied she didn’t speak Chinese which had us a little confused as she sure looked Mongoloid. Turns out she had Chinese parents, was born and raised in Peru, worked in Barcelona and was on a 3-month break from work to explore her roots as she wanted to know the place her parents came from.After an exchange of stories, including that of Shangri- la (she suggested I skip it as my image of it would probably be crushed 😦 ) she went on her way and we took the cab down. Stories of our little accident the previous day continued to follow us as the travel agents and the cab drivers all gushed about how lucky we were. Not too bad a note to keep in mind even for life itself