>10 day trip

Travel tips : For the first time China traveler

Continued from here

General tips

  • We decided to take a Chinese-speaking group tour to save money- the one we found online with an English guide would have cost us 4 times as much. There may be other options but we found none easily online. The downside was that we didn’t understand a word of what the very enthusiastic and seemingly funny guide was saying. We were extremely fortunate that my friend decided to accompany us so the essentials were translated thanks to her. The group itself was very friendly and kind but our lack of Chinese language skills was a downer to more conversation.
  • Carry a toilet paper roll everywhere – while the restroom stops are much more frequent than on Indian package tours, the restrooms often did not have toilet paper. Locals know it and carry tissues and so should you. Some restrooms are quite dodgy but honestly, we were grateful to be able to be well hydrated knowing there were sufficient restroom breaks.
  • More often than not, you have hot water available to drink/take with you at restaurants and not room temperature water unless you purchase bottled water. Since we had a wish to purchase less bottled water it meant that we had to borrow a flask so we could fill it up with the hot water vs the water bag that we usually carry on trips that’s not meant for boiling water.
  • Learn to eat with chopsticks or alternately carry preferred cutlery wherever you go. It will save you the hassle of asking for spoons at every single eatery – spoons are not served by default.
  • If you’re vegetarian, you may have limited options but there will most likely be at least 1 option for you 🙂 See our food post for details. However, if you don’t eat mushrooms- you may need to explicitly mention it in addition to the other things you choose not to eat since mushrooms are very often on the menu. Take a print out of this on paper since it will be something you often translate. If you eat eggs, the most common dish is eggs with tomatoes (not my favourite) but if you can learn the words for that you will be well fed.
  • ATMs are not very commonly found in the rural areas just like in many countries. Take cash along with you stored in each of your luggage items.
  • The visa process to China is a little confusing. As of today, you can only apply for it from Mumbai and Kolkata so if you, like us, don’t live in these locations you will have to go via a travel agent. An online search yielded exactly one result and we went with that since there were no recommended agents on the visa site. It cost us Rs.7500 per person. The government site asks for a lot of documents (account statements, hotel bookings, ID proofs etc) but the visa agent required just our passports. So not sure how that works.
  • Carry good walking shoes you can rely on- there is a lot of walking – even if you choose to not go on a “trek”. We walked an average of 15 km per day. Also, a jacket that is both sufficiently warm and is good for light rains will help rather than multiple ones. We purchased one in Huanglong since we didn’t want to carry 2 separate ones during the trek.
  • Like all international trips carry copies of your passport, hotel address, local contacts (if any) and tickets in all your luggage items. You will have to keep your original passport close at hand since its required for getting entry tickets at many places.
  • In some areas during your travel, people may ask to take pictures with you, it’s easy to mistake it for them wanting you to take their picture. If you don’t mind getting your picture taken with them, give it your best smile 🙂

 

App Review: 

We were lucky enough to have my friend Summer along for most of our trip in China, but it’s good to be prepared.

  • Hexatech: Many apps – Google, Instagram, Gmail, Facebook- do not work in China. The only way to get them to work is via VPN. We used Hexatech and it worked seamlessly.
  • Google translate – Download the offline translation for Chinese so that it’s available to you. Install a Chinese keypad to allow for Chinese people to type back responses to you. It also allows you to focus on some text and translates it. It is hugely helpful with food menus (despite funny literal translations occasionally) and signboards towards the exit/restrooms. However do not expect people in rural areas/older people to be comfortable with typing on your phone that they may not be familiar with.
  • Bing search: Google search does not work in China. But Bing does. It is a good option when you can search for images and point at them to people instead of word translation.
  • Didi: This app company has bought over the Uber business in China, so other than the green taxis that you can hail on the street, this is the primary option for taxis. While the app is available in English, the problem still holds that the driver will call to confirm your exact location – and then your inability to speak Chinese will impede further communication. So we didn’t end up using this app.
  • ChengDu Metro map: We did plan to take the metro as often as we could and it was very convenient since you have an English option to purchase your ticket. Do note that liquids will have to be given to the security personnel to scan separately in addition to scanning your baggage. Also, you cannot take knives and sprays in the metro. (We purchased kitchen knives and on a previous trip I’ve lost a bottle of perfume to the metro :()
  • iPhone maps : While the all-too-familiar Google maps doesn’t work, the iPhone maps did. Incidentally, both of us currently own iPhones so we didn’t try other options. Bing Maps just may work. Other map applications locals use are only in Chinese.
  • Wechat : This app is the most commonly used one that doubles up as both a social network, payment gateway and a text message alternative – This would be the useful to communicate with local friends and contacts.

What to buy on your trip to take back home (personal pick)

  • Tea: Not the green tea (which is also great) but the flower teas. They look stunning and taste fantastic. Which tea? I’d say a little bit of everything. Anand liked the barley tea too.IMG_1003
  • Sunflower seeds: Yes, sunflower seeds are available in India too- however, there are a lot of flavours to choose from- both sweet and savoury. We recommend going to the local vegetable market to purchase them so you can try one of each before deciding on which one to buy.

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    Sunflower seeds still on the flower-we bought the toasted ones
  • Clothes: Clothes while fantastic are not inexpensive. The lower end shops cost as much as many branded clothes in India. Do purchase a style you may not get in India but the cost may not be too low.
  • Snacks: They have a glorious amount of vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks that we almost always loved. From wasabi flavoured peanuts to rice crispies with the lightest hint of salt, to ready to eat seafood. For this, you’d have to purchase small amounts during your trip and decide which ones you like to take back home.
  • Anything cute: The products there are unapologetically cute- for kids and adults, stationery, clothing, accessories – if cute is your style you’ll be in shopping heaven.

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    Yes, a panda shaped rice cake
  • Umbrellas: We did not purchase this ourselves, but if you’re in the market for beautiful sun umbrellas in everything from lace to bursting flower patterns – you’d be in the right place there.
  • Chopsticks: Needless to say it should be your go-to place for chopsticks. You have less expensive ones in all kinds of pretty prints, child sized ones with handles, elegant ones in gold, ones in steel and silver, wooden ones with carved designs- you name it and you’ll probably find some here. They make great souvenirs to take back to friends too.

 

Up next : A fort tale: Penukonda and Gudibande

 

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>10 day trip

China- Sichuan province : What to eat (Even if you’re vegetarian!)

On of the common concerns, we heard from friends when we went on a trip to China was about food. China is a multicultural country with varied cuisines and here I can speak for the province of Sichuan as a tourist. It’s truly blessed and we had opportunities to sample a wonderful variety of delicious food here- that’s spicy and flavorful- just as we’d like to describe some of Indian food too.

The food is delicious and we’d highly recommend you embrace it’s flavours and tastes without comparing it with familiar food. Visiting Sichuan and eating at fast food places seems criminal considering what the local food has to offer. However we do admit, having a Chinese friend along greatly helps in trying out the food. Here’s a list of what we ate on our trip- it’s not the complete list of recommended items- just what we chose to eat.

Day 1 : 

The first thing that’s a favourite of mine is 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.

Food ordered by our group of 4:

Vegetarian : 3 types of tofu, 3 types of mushrooms, potato, lotus stem, 3 types of greens, a long chilly,

Meat : snails, fish, chicken, pork, beef

Eggs : Quail eggs

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Day 2 : Leshan

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 there.

Veg/Egg: Tomato and egg noodles, Egg chow mien, Greens and Noodles

Meat: Sweet skinned duck (which is a speciality of Leshan), Beef and noodles

LeShan food
Our lunch at LeShan

After lunch, we dropped into a few more eateries and decided to pack snacks for the trek. It was quite a challenge to pick a few of the options but we did manage to finally pick – buns with a sweet brown sugar filling, rice with sesame wrapped with corn husk, brown and white coloured rice cakes, and steamed pork dumplings. Some packed watermelon and green and red cherries later, we were all set to take the bus to see the famed Leshan Grand Buddha. (slideshow below)

 

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Day 3:

At the Wenshu Monastery, we were hungry for a snack and headed to the place most crowded (always the safer bet in an unknown place). People just had paper containers of soft noodles that we ordered too. Was quite a delicate process to handle those noodles with chopsticks since they cut through so easily and it is simple fare. But Anand loved it so it’s a thumbs up from the Indian vegetarian. Vegetarian restaurants are quite the speciality in the area- you could try some more when there.

Food at Wenshu Monastery

Day 4:

Huahu:  Lunch  here was one of the very best we both enjoyed

Vegetarian: Dandelion leaves (bitter for me, Anand utterly loved it), mushrooms, eggs with tomatoes, mushroom soup, rice

Non-vegetarian: Kung-pao chicken, whole fish cooked Sichuan style, beef with peppers, and fried beef.

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Our favorite meal on this trip!

We had dinner at the hotel we stayed for the night in Huanglong. A meal of

Vegetarian/Eggs : julienned potatoes (my favourite), tofu, eggs with bitter gourd

Non-vegetarian : Beef, and another meat dish with the ubiquitous soup.

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Day 5 :

In hotels, breakfasts seem to have lots of items but not much spice other than pickles. We had a modest breakfast of some porridge, the local bread with a few types of pickles before heading off to Huanglong.

 

Lunch though did not disappoint. We stopped for lunch at a large rich looking place and had a sumptuous meal of

Vegetarian: Eggplant, Pumpkin, ear mushroom( Anand liked this one a lot), local bread, eggs and tomato, pickles, rice

Non-Vegetarian: Fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes.

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Day 6 : Jiuzhaigou

Food here was very bland for Indian and Chengdu tastes.For dinner we had

Vegetarian/Eggs: Pumpkin, Bean Sprouts, Tofu, Soup, rice, eggs cooked in water.

Non-Vegetarian: Ash gourd with Pork, Pork with Potatoes, Beef with Peas, Buckwheat noodles with some meat (I don’t recall)

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Day 7 :

Breakfast and dinner were on similar lines as the day before, So after dinner at the hotel where we stayed we set out to find what our heart desired – a spicy barbecue.

We ordered a few sticks of greens and several types of mushrooms with lots of spice to crave our chilly withdrawal symptoms of the past few days.

 

Day 8 :

On the way back from Jiuzhaigou we stopped for lunch where we had an endless buffet with numerous options for lunch and then headed back to the bus.It’s hard to even list the entire set of items , some I can remember are

Vegetarian : Corn, cakes, soups, eggplant dishes, noodles, greens , potatoes, mushrooms, several salads

Non-vegetarian : Dried fish, beef, pork dishes (too many to remember)

 

Day 9 :

We were lucky to be hosted by my friend Michelle and our family and in Jinli enjoyed this brilliant looking and tasting meal.

Vegetarian: a sweet jelly dish, several types of sweet baked items, eggplant,  the most coral like mushrooms cooked with eggs. a sweet dish with noodles

Non-vegetarian: Duck cooked with tea, kung-pao chicken, a cold but delicious chicken dish, a huge serving bowl of fish cooked in chili oil.

(slideshow below)

 

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And they added icecreams to the mix  – one shaped prettily like a plant with cocoa powder imitating the soil in the cup.

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Day 10 :

The next day we revisited Jinli not in the least for its food. We picked a dinner of pineapple rice, fried potatoes and fish cooked on a stick and walked around enjoying its sights once more. However the food available was incredibly varied and beautiful looking.(slideshow below)

 

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Day 11:
Mostly spent eating and all the lovely food is right here in the post.

We did not specifically go searching for food items, but easily found things we enjoyed and can’t wait to have again sometime- and we hope you do too. Happy eating!

 

Up next: Travel tips : For the first time China traveler

>10 day trip

China: Chengdu : Of flavourful food and foot massages

Despite staying a few minutes away from the museum we never got to it for lack of time amidst our other visit choices. The next day we checked out and leaving our luggage at the hotel met Summer for a day of shopping.

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We met at the point that was literally the centre of the city called Tianfu Square which is the most common image one would find on looking for Chengdu city.It has the Science and Technology Museum and a statue of Mao.  IMG_0705But before shopping, we’d more important things first and we stopped for food. We all had piping hot bowls of delicious noodles all 3 vegetarian. My favourite type of noodles – made with sweet potato- stays hotter even after a long time and so was quite a struggle to eat quickly. It, being so tasty made it a challenge I was willing to take on.

 

We mostly went shopping for clothes and souvenirs- mind you neither are less expensive than India. We were lucky that we were also close to Chunxhi road which is the main shopping area in Chengdu. We picked up a snack midway of chicken wings filled with rice (sounds intriguing but really bad at all!) and some Oolong tea for Anand.IMG_1100

 

Shopping was as always was exhausting and we were soon hungry again- this time we headed to the food court at the Tianfu Square Station. While Summer and I shared a dish of noodles with clams, Anand had an assortment of wraps with delicious fillings.

 

We then headed back to her home to meet Wunscai again whom we had sorely missed.Summer also treated us to something that was so typically Chinese- the century egg- it’s an egg coated with clay, ash, salt and quick lime, and rice hulls for several weeks. It gets cooked when the pH is gradually raised thereby curing the egg. It does look intimidating in a deep green colour that one doesn’t normally associate with eggs. The outer portion is a little jelly like but otherwise, it tasted very much like a usual boiled egg to us.

 

 

That evening we headed off to yet another typical Chengdu experience- the foot massage. The masseuses use their knowledge of acupressure to give you a pleasant calming experience that however starts by, quite literally putting you in hot water, albeit only your feet. The customers there who were there before us- an older couple and a gentleman, were incredibly gracious to let us go ahead of them since they had reached there after their supper and didn’t mind the wait. My masseuse easily rattled off my list of ailments from just massaging my feet much to my embarrassment. That being said, I’d definitely love to do it again- it’s a perfect mix of therapy and a pedicure and was a complete treat to us especially after several days of enjoyable but long distance walking.IMG_1128.jpg

 

It was a day of Chengdu experiences after all, so there was no better way to end it other than with a Sichuan hotpot supper. It’s something one cannot miss on a trip to Chengdu especially if you love spicy food. You’re provided with add-ons of garlic, spring onions, chilli, and sesame oil to put into your bowl. You pick each piece of food and let it cook in the boiling pot of spicy sauce and then pick it up, let it cool down in your bowl and then bite into the delightful morsel.

 

Vegetarian, egg: Quail eggs, stringy mushrooms, lettuce, a sweet pancake that we purchased in addition to the rest of the food.

Non-vegetarian: Fish, Duck intestines, chicken, beef

 

Last day:

And just like that, we had come to our very last day.  It also happened to be the day we tried the Durian fruit for the very first time. Being familiar with jackfruit which is one of my favourite fruits, the appearance doesn’t put me off.  However, it’s notorious for being stinky and for good reason. We tentatively bit into it and sensed the consistency of soft custard. Unfortunately, I didn’t warm up to it but well it’s worth a try if you get a chance.

 

Our trip has an apt ending with a final touch of hospitality from a city that had been so generous to us, a delicious lunch made by Summer’s mother- eggplant, greens with mushrooms, and my favourite- julienned potatoes.  We gorged on it gratefully and bid a warm farewell to our hosts.IMG_1149.jpg

 

We’d have a lot to look back on when we reminisce about this trip together- the wonder in our eyes at the stunning caves at LeShan, the unspoilt beauty of Huahu,  the decadent food we’d had the chance to try every day, the unbelievably perfect hues of Jiuzhaigou and the most magical of all and the memory that’d stay with us the longest – the sheer kindness of dear friends and perfect strangers at every step of the way.

Up next : China- Sichuan province : What to eat (Even if you’re vegetarian!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

>10 day trip

China – Chengdu : Of bustling markets and tranquil spaces

Continued from here

The next morning we decided to head off to the area which is the heart of social life in any town – a vegetable market. We were greeted with shiny raspberries, century eggs, teas, paper thin mushrooms, sunflower seeds still in the flowers, all kinds of chilly pastes, sea-weeds and noodles, freshest produce in bright colours and the most delightful smells.

We picked up a delicious snack that tasted like a spicy kothhu parota to sustain us through the shopping. On the other side of the market were numerous cuts of meat and fresh sea food still swimming in their containers.

 

After seeing all the beautiful food, we reached back to her house starving. And Summer treated us to a lovely home cooked lunch of -eggs with bitter gourd, julienned potatoes, Chinese Yam, and lotus root cooked with other vegetables. Completely full we then headed to check-in to the hotel to be real tourists for the next couple of days. After a short nap, it was time to meet Michelle at Jinli.

Jinli street is the most touristy spot in Chengdu and while being crowded on the weekends, it’s also a lot of fun and worth the visit.IMG_0419 It is the most colourful space – the Chinese lamps everywhere in bright red with golden light shining off of them, the food in delectable aromas and colours, the art you could buy in a variety of shapes and sizes, delicate paintings on everything from lanterns to inside tiny beads of glass.IMG_0441.jpg

 

We were very lucky to have my friend Michelle host us at a restaurant in Jinli with her family – her gracious husband and her son with the sweetest smile. In came the stunning food. It was all incredibly delicious and our only complaint was that we wished we had bigger stomachs to accommodate all the food!

We had a delightful surprise when we realised there were going to be performances at the restaurant. We sat completely entranced at the dance performances – one with the long sleeve, one with a group of 3, one with a lady moving ribbons with utter grace, one with a lady in a shimmery dress.

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I was thrilled that there was also my favourite part of Jinli- a face-changing performance that Anand could also watch for the first time – It’s essentially a performer changing the masks on his face without even touching it – inexplicably without even touching his face.

 

Like all that hospitality was not enough, they further treated us to icecreams. We walked around the space with them catching up on our lives and stories in the past 5 years since I’d been there. In the area, we especially enjoyed the store with the calligraphy instruments where you could try a brush with water that disappears in a few moments and the store with gorgeous silver jewellery. Her son enjoyed the open area where he ran all around on his little scooter. After a while, with our completely grateful hearts and tummies, we bid them a warm goodbye at the end of a perfect evening.

 

Day 10:

 

The next morning we decided to head to the ChengDu Zoo, we picked up some snacks from a local supermarket to make up our meals. IMG_0492To its credit, the zoo does have a large number of beautiful birds including flamingoes in flaming orange, it has penguins and seals, energetic simians, noisy meerkats with stunning tails and is definitely a green space in the city. IMG_0483We also had a nice time locating birds in the aviary while we walked along its paths.

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We met this plump fellow in the aviary
The zoo does have a good variety of animals, but we should have learnt our lesson by now that caged animals are saddening no matter what. Also, it didn’t help that it was the season for many of them to shed their fur that made them look sickly. We’d give this a miss if we knew how we’d feel after.IMG_0519

 

Just as we got out of the zoo, the way out was via a temple complex and we decided to explore it. We had unexpectedly stumbled into the Zhaojue temple and were soon completely lost within it! It was a beautiful place to be lost in, though. It is considered to be the first Buddhist monastery in the west of Sichuan.IMG_0660 In addition to the curved roofs and the fragrance of incense that we’d come to expect of Chinese temples, there were also lush green large trees and multiple ponds with turtles spilling out of them amidst sneaky glimpses of the lives of the monks who live there with the chillies kept out to dry. The areas are dramatically named as we’ve frequently observed here too. A couple were called of them are- The Hall of Heavenly Kings, the Tower of Zen Master Yuanwu. The former has 3 white marble statues of Buddha representing truth, wisdom and benevolence.IMG_0658

 

There are many shrines inside the space each with its own set of deities and saints that are quite a treat to the eyes in rich gold. Photography is not permitted so we’d have to leave that to your imagination. My favourite was the Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in the “Hall of Perfect Enlightenment” with 4 faces and 1008 hands.IMG_0668

 

After some rest at the hotel, we headed back out on foot to the People’s Park nearby. It has a little bit of everything – a koi pond, a tea-house with people sipping on fragrant tea, multiple flower gardens, boat rides and a memorial of the Railway Protection Movement from the past.IMG_0731-2.jpg It is the first public park in the Chengdu city. It’s a space one could walk around and relax amidst greenery.IMG_0740.jpg

 

We then decided to take advantage of the fact that we were near Jinli and decided to re-visit it, this time exploring it ourselves. We picked a dinner and walked around enjoying its sights once more.

 

There was a lady performing ear-cleaning the traditional way but Anand was too chicken to try it! We also were lucky enough to listen to musicians playing live in the open area that day. IMG_0768.jpgWe strolled around absorbing the sights and sounds and enjoyed the evening trying to take back some of it- even if it was only by picking souvenirs for family and friends back home.IMG_0425

 

Up next : China: Chengdu : Of flavourful food and foot massages

>10 day trip

China : Of silver cures and love corridors

Continued from here

The package tour meant that we’d be driving back to Chengdu (takes a day) on the bus. However, there were numerous pit stops to make it interesting. The very first one was a Tibetan village. Passing by pretty yellow blossoms and structures made of mud, we were taken in by the guide into a house that had a brightly coloured elaborate door and the shaggiest mountain dog we’ve ever laid eyes on – who also happened to be called Wunscai.IMG_0164.jpg

 

A local guide gave us an overview of the lifestyle and living conditions of the people there. The average lifespan of the people there is 92 despite living on the harsh mountain side. They consider Lhasa, Tibet their most important pilgrimage centre. People from here go on foot while bowing every few steps- it takes most people all of 5 years to make the trip and get back home.IMG_0159.jpg

 

We were seated in the kitchen with the stoves and utensils at a very low level that allowed for cooking while being seated on low stools. The stove itself was made of iron and brass. Silver played a crucial role in their life whether it was for eating meals, the ornate waist band for women that was supposed to cure all bodily ills after childbirth, the water held in silver bowls used for massages, or silver, garlic, ginger, boiled egg white used inside a cloth for knee pains. (Details may be lost in translation. Please do not consider this medical advice.)IMG_0170.jpg

 

Their funeral ceremonies were interesting – the very healthy (those who have not had any medication all their lives) or the very respected (those who have completed the pilgrimage to Lhasa) are the only ones allowed to be left on the mountains for birds of prey to consume. This reminded me of the similar Parsi custom. It was touching that they took care of the medication bit so as to not make the birds ill. The temple was a very large part of their everyday life- where a majority of their income went to the temple.  The remains of the temple priests were left atop Buddhist Pagodas after their passing. If children happened to die they were tied on trees as part of the funeral rituals. All other people were left adrift in the river.

 

Post this we were taken to an area to optionally purchase silver goods and other food. We did indulge and picked up some yak-milk sweets (taste like condensed milk-powder) while Summer also tried some barbequed yak meat. We also could watch the locals dancing away for a while and then headed back to the bus.

 

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Yak meat skewers

 

More of the bus ride and we reached our next pit stop, Chuanzhusi town– just beside a gushing river-  for lunch, shopping and fun in a reconstructed Tibetan village.IMG_0216-2We enjoyed our silliness with the numerous options there- whether it was 3d paintings, a slanted house, funny mirrors that stretched and compressed us, pandas playing mahjong, or even the cheesiest photo-op in history- a gigantic lock in the shape of a heart. IMG_0225It also had interesting boards designating areas as the “Love Corridor”-where lovers would meet and profess their love for each other. The Minjianguan stone here is placed at the point of the source of the Minjiang river and the Yangtze river.IMG_0234.jpg It was an area filled with interesting things at every turn- whether it be Tibetan prayer wheels, stalls selling trinkets and food, prayer flags, or a wall of yak skulls (yes, that did escalate quickly). After lunch, we headed back to the bus.

 

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We stopped on the way at a factory of sorts that made artefacts with yak horns- mostly combs and decorative pieces. We were taken through the processing chain and then into the store where we could purchase them as souvenirs if we wished to.

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The route back didn’t disappoint either – numerous long tunnels, yaks grazing nonchalantly, and occasionally a yak-calf burst into a gleeful jump.

Up next: China – Chengdu: Of bustling markets and tranquil spaces

>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