Approaching Emei City
By leaving Xian for Chengdu, I decided to give-up on the Silk Road and go for some mountain trekking instead. Chengdu used to be the major entrance point for backpackers who wanted to go to Tibet, because it is near the foothills that lead west up to the high mountains around Everest. Now that there is a train (with pressurized sleeping compartments for the 15,000ft+ pass that it crosses!) leading into Tibet from the north, I suspect fewer people will pass through Chengdu on their way to the big mountains, but there are some smaller ones around here that are worth climbing. About two hours away (3USD) by bus is the city of Emei, the gateway to one of the four great Buddhist pilgramage mountains of China. I set off in the afternoon and had the luck of sitting next to a girl who spoke a bit of English. By writing some Japanese and speaking some English we had a short conversation as the bus sped along the expressway.

Entrance to Emei-shan
I arrived around 5pm, thinking that I could climb 10-12hours and arrive at the top of the 3077m (10,000ft?) peak in-time for the sunrise. However, it turns-out that due to the fog and the steep stairs in many places, nobody wants to climb this mountain at night. From the bus station, I could not get a mini-bus up to the trailhead until the next morning. Since taxis aren't allowed in the park, my choices were to walk it from there or to stay in a hotel and wait for a minibus in the morning. I decided to walk. After about an hour, I passed through the official gate to enter the park. On the other side, there was a guy on a motorcycle trying to offer me a ride the rest of the way. He wanted almost 3USD for the ride, so I just laughed and kept on walking. After his persistent advances, I managed to get a ride for about 60cents! I am glad I did, because I still had about 5km to the trailhead...

Trail Full of Monkeys
Once on the trail, I could see that I was definitely the only one setting-out at this hour. There were a lot of day-trippers who had just taken their family out for a walk and were making their way back off the mountain. Many of the women were wearing high-heals and and men were often in sandals. The beginning of the trail was also lined with plenty of trinket shops selling every souvenir you could imagine. I opted for an ice cream cone, because I wasn't sure if I was carrying enough food to make it through the hike (it turns out that food and water were available all the way up the trail). Around 7pm I realized I pretty much had the trail to myself about the time I was approaching the wild monkey area (you thought I was calling the Chinese people monkeys...?). I have seen enough "wild" monkeys (and other animals) before to know that they are trouble. There were also plenty of signs in Chinese/English/Japanese warning about the bad manners of the monkeys. Luckily, just as I got to the main area where the monkeys were cleaning-out the garbage cans and causing general carnage, a man showed-up with a sling-shot to push the monkeys back across the river.

Temples and Monasteries
The trail was pretty quiet for the awhile after that. This whole mountainside is covered with temples and monasteries that have been inhabited for hundreds of years. Most of the tourists just take a bus and a cable car straight to the top of the mountain, but there are some (the young, the poor, and the religious) who choose to walk up. These people are rewarded with some beautiful scenery. You know all those Chinese painted scrolls that you see where there is a foggy, green hillside with a little temple on the cliff? That is what this walk is like. Around 8pm, I decided that it wouldn't be smart to be the only guy walking out here at night, so I checked into a monastery. For abouta 6USD, I got a single room with a pot of hot water and access to the showers and toilets.

Toilets have been a favorite topic of mine ever since my first encounter with some strange models in Japan in 1993. Since then, I have experienced squatter toilets from Turkey to Indonesia, and been confused by bidets from Spain to Japan. Chinese toilets are infamous for being pretty dirty and scary, but as long as you just squat over it, cleanliness is not a big problem! Anyway, this monastery had a cool set of squatter toilets where more than ten people can squat in a circle facing out. If you are on the right side, you get a really nice view of the hillside around. If you are on the wrong side, you get a view of the guy squatting across the way in another row of toilets. It is quite common for toilets to not have doors, and almost none of them have toilet paper, so you have to make arrangements yourself if you want a comfortable western experience. Anyway, I got a couple good photos of bathrooms the last couple days, including the one that I dropped my map in!

Wong Jin
After a good night sleep under my mosquito net, I set-off at 7am the next morning. Since it had rained most of the night (finally rain!), it was quite cool out, so one of my goals was already accomplished. I was happy to be out of the city and getting some exercise again. After a couple hours, I meet a guy named Jin who was on summer vacation from high school. We had a nice vegetarian lunch at a temple and continued to the top. We arrived just before 4pm and found that from 3077m we could see... nothing. Yes, as always, the peak was covered in fog or clouds or both. Jin decided to wait for morning to have a shot at seeing the sunrise. I was happy with a few pictures of the peak and a refreshing Coke. I headed back down around 4pm.

The Descent
About 100m into the walk, I met a group of three more high school students who spoke even better English. Then, we were joined by another group of three people who had joined-up earlier. We had seven people from five different groups (ok, 3 one-person "groups") and at least four spoke pretty good English. A few of the people had the insane goal of walking almost all the way back down before nightfall, but we agreed on a more realistic target: XinXian Monastery. We even had time to stop off for dinner and sing some songs along the way. When we arrived we played cards (2 is higher than Ace in China???) and talked until about 11pm. The next day we continued the walk down. In the morning I was attacked by monkeys who stole the only food I had left. Luckily, most of my dried figs were gone by this time. When we got back to the trailhead, this group of penny-pinching students not only ignored the minibuses, but also the motorcycles. We walked an extra 1.5 hours before we could get a city bus for 30cents!

Leshan Grand Buddha
In the next town over, there is yet another World Heritage Site which I just could not miss. There is a huge buddha statue carved into a stone cliff above the river here. This is supposed to be the tallest buddha statue in the world since the ones in Afghanistan were blown-up by the Taliban a few years back. It was a cool site to see and the view from the boat was the way to go.

--By the Way--
I am late for boarding a boat that will take me down the Yangtzi River, so I don't have much time for the extra story today. Ponder this though, the famous three-gorges damn that China is building 500km down the river from here will be completed in about 2009. When full, the lake will back-up almost the full 500km back to this city, Chongquin. More than a million people have to move in the next couple years because their homes will be subsmerged by the new lake!

Aaron Bishop
23 August 2006

-- China 2006 : Arrival | Chengdu | Emei-shan | Yangtze | Beijing | Photos--
S. China 2000 | Shanghai & Nanking 2003 | Weekend in Taipei
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