>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 : 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.

 

>10 day trip

China : Chengdu : of poets, parks and paintings

<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. >

Wuhou Memorial temple is a temple dedicated to a renowned minister and military strategist for Emperor Liu Bei. It spans a huge area of 37000 square meters, so there’s enough to wander around and explore. There are figures of royalty sprinkled around the place and old trees lining the lovely pathways around the place. There are many tablets with inscriptions in lovely calligraphy too.wouhou.jpg

 

When a fellow tourist says “please, excuse me” and gestures to a camera on the phone, do not assume they want you to take a picture of theirs and smile, nod and say a happy “Sure, ok!”. Sometimes they will just place themselves beside you and ask their friend to take a picture of the 2 of you together and leave you utterly bemused!209
An old Chinese guy with a walking cane was looking at the bonsai flowering plants that I was passing by too. He smelled the flowers, smiled and gestured to me to try them myself. I agreed, and they had a lovely mild fragrance, almost bringing back a pleasant memory. I looked back at him, nodded and smiled to indicate I liked it. He grinned like a child and continued spending time at each type of flower, giving it the attention it deserved. I wonder if time slows down as one gets older, and brings with it a true appreciation of what we missed noticing in the rush to stay ahead.227.jpg

I tried to do the right thing and take pictures in the Chinese traditional clothes. I’d never felt more like a queen while looking like a grinning fool. While my friends tried to click pictures of me I took off my glasses for it and realised my mistake only when I didn’t know which way to look! Every Chinese person around was clicking pictures of the weird Indian lady in their traditional clothes.

We next went to the Thatched Cottage of Du Fu. The parks we visited here seemed to compete with each other just in terms of area. This one was 90,000 sq meters vast. This one was made in honour of the poet Du Fu. He lived in a thatched hut in the area in 729 AD and wrote his most famous works. The hut itself has been re-created and its starkness amidst the deliciously green surroundings was quite an oasis of calm.129.JPG

I also loved the museum with paintings of scenes from Du Fu’s poetry. It’s quite humbling to realise how less we know and how limited our learning is to be able to appreciate and enjoy the magic in every language in the world poets are able to capture.

Destination : Kuanghaixiang Alley

I had the best guides ever. A police-officer who was a very enthusiastic budding photographer, a beautiful student of Chinese literature and my gracious colleague, Michelle who agreed to show me around the place.

I was introduced by Michelle to her cousin Rene and the 3 of us walked to the car where her boyfriend was waiting for us. As we got started on our way I asked Michelle for his name. As most Chinese people do not have an English name, she paused for a moment, turned to me and said. “You can call him Brave” 😀

While walking along the ancient alleys with beautiful homes made during the Qing dynasty we made splendid conversation. We spoke of war, of food, of language, of poetry, of music, of cinema, of art, of society and tradition, of faith and culture, of love and family, of how they all bind us together and how they tear us apart.26022012583.jpg

We walked along and I got to watch a food item made of rice dough that was partly rolled and thrown on a drum with a bang to bounce onto a sheet for an outer dusting which then bounced back on to a plate.The sound produced by its preparation itself was supposed to motivate the soldiers during a war! [That far away from home, I was reminded of the songs sung during the boat race in Kerala.]

Lacquer, porcelain, ebony and silver (Sigh!) seem to be the main raw materials of most of the artwork I saw in China. I kept seeing sceptres in museums I had visited finally asked them what they were for. Rene said they were supposed to make your wishes come true. The wistful smirk made me quickly make a hasty wish just in case 😉
There were quite a few performances in the alley

  • An old couple playing instruments while a guy with a strong voice sung a song with a Russian influence.
  • An old lady embroidering a cloth slipper.
  • The sugar painting
  • Intricate carving and painting on egg shells!
  • Lightly blowing into a sugar pipe to produce animals and birds of all shapes.26022012585.jpg

After an idyllic evening there, my only complaint was that my hosts didn’t even let me pay for the lovely seafood based dinner we had at the greek-themed restaurant that gave us a day that couldn’t have been more lovely with easy conversation, music, art and new friends in ancient towns.

>10 day trip · Uncategorized

China : EmeiShan and miracles

<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.

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The very first temple
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Steps… the endless despair of steps!

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.

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Stunning carvings on the mountain

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.

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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.

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Intrigue and mystery

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.

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Locks of love

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.

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The misty wonderland

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.

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Perfection

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.)

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The disappointment…

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.

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Simple and satiating

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 ?😉

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…and the clarity
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The temples at the top

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!

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Prettiness at every turn

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🙂

 

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Will be tough to top this ..
>10 day trip

China : Chengdu – of Pandas and face-magic

<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 sprinkled amidst our other travel stories. >

The Panda sanctuary was one of the only tourist spots I visited all by myself in China. But well, I just had to. So off I went early one morning, having the subway station and the name of the place written down in Chinese (and several instructions from my friend and guardian in the place, Summer

  • to carry water and food and
  • make sure my phone is fully charged and
  • the approx. taxi fare to the place and
  • to not trust even the tour guide 😀

 

I got off at the subway and with some initial help from her on the phone to find the taxi stand, I was happily at the Panda Sanctuary at 9:30 AM. I found the English tour guide, a pleasant young man who, while of course, aware of the pandas and the sanctuary and able to answer my never-ending stream of questions about them, also made sparkling conversation about India and China, and panda jokes.

[“what is the one dream of the panda related to the camera that can never come true?”

“It can’t have its picture taken in colour” :|]

The first thing that took me by surprise was, in fact, the sight of several peahens and peacocks calmly strutting around the place completely ignoring the human crowd! I don’t know if anyone else realised the unlikely co-existence of the national animal of China with the national bird of India. 🙂

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The silhouette of our national bird

 

The pandas of course, as expected, were little balls of furry cuddliness. The most delightful sight for me was that of the baby pandas climbing the tree, occasionally slipping but then checking for an alternate branch and going on.

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If you go after 10 AM all you’ll see is them plonked on various surfaces immobile during their day long siesta

Watching them eat was also quite interesting to see them actually peel the bamboo before they eat it.05022012382 After the Kung-fu panda movie, however, watching the red pandas repeatedly brought about the image of Master Shifu and almost undeservedly lent them a wise air though admittedly, they do have a ridiculously cute face.

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Shifu?

 

 

After a walk around the Museum, the guide bid me farewell and I decided I’d wander around a little more by myself. I revisited the places we had already covered, went in and watch the short movie they had made on Pandas and then strolled by the swan lake. Somehow black swans seem to be determined to be the mainstay of my trip to China. Here too there was a whole bunch of them that I found gorgeous. 05022012434While munching on the cake I had brought along, I decided to take the walk around the lake. Sometimes a solitary walk with the view of a vista of swaying grass, bamboos lining the path, peacocks strutting around, tulips blooming cautiously like they are ready to catch in some of the sunlight …the whole package is what one finds so peaceful. As often as we cancel plans because we have no one to accompany us, once in a while, a walk like this reminds you that you make pretty good company too.05022012421

Destination Jinli street:

Jinli is perhaps the most touristy tourist place in Chengdu. It’s a street lit it up beautifully with lanterns and all sorts of shows and stalls that together make up a lovely evening. I first watched candy making with liquid caramelised sugar syrup. It is really a gorgeous work of art and the gentleman even had a wheel of fortune which one could spin to choose the animal/bird he’d create.12022012492

To my utter glee, a tea house at Jinli Street was having a face-changing performance. That was something I’ve wanted to experience at ChengDu since I had arrived here. So we took a ticket and plunked ourselves in the first row. The 3-part performance started with a long spout teapot kung-fu performance. There were some acrobatics and all kinds of quirky movements to pour tea with a spout about 3 feet long.12022012500

It was followed by the traditional tea ceremony. 2 minutes into the ceremony, I was wondering how it was ok for the lady to spill so much water while making tea ( though even the spilling water was done with dance-like hand movements). Only then did I realise she had spent the first 2 minutes just showing the customary movements to wash the tea cups! It was, of course, full of graceful hand movements and a tradition that seemed to embody cherishing one’s leisure.

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The last bit of the show was the most awaited, face-changing show, and boy was I impressed! It had been a long time since something managed to get me wonderstruck! I expected sleight of hand; I expected mock gestures to change the mask. But this was absolutely incomprehensible. Without even touching his face, having his hands in clear view, his face masks changed in less than a second leaving us rubbing our eyes in disbelief while making us more determined to notice how he does it the next time. 12022012523In vain, though. There wasn’t a single time I could even see the mask in the act of shifting to the next one, leave alone figuring out how he does it. I sure was glad we managed the first row seats and it was definitely a memorable performance 🙂12022012517

Thoroughly satiated that I had finally seen the performance, we went on to enjoy the walk through the street trying some food of which I liked the pineapple rice the most. I even got myself a pretty souvenir with made of a painting inside bead with cherry blossoms on one side and my Chinese (named by my Chinese friends) and English name on the other.12022012539

Old style ear cleaning with tools was one more thing that this place was popular for. The ‘tools’ however looked very reminiscent of dentist’s implements and I decided I could live without trying this one.

That aside it’s a very pleasant place to wander around bright red lanterns, small streams, delicious food and a relaxed vibe in the place that together make up a lovely evening.

Up next: Mysore- the one not on your package tour!