Our next 3 nights were spent in monasteries on China's Mt. Emei, one of the four Buddhist sacred mountains of China. I have visited countless temples, but this is the first time Terry or I have ever stayed at a monastery. We arrived at the BaoGuo Monastery and met our local guide Patrick. Patrick is a total spaz/hyperactive, but super nice. He brought a couple bags of jasmine tea from his friends farm and left them for the group to drink. This was a beautiful temple. We walked through 3 temple buildings containing statues of Buddha, praying monks, and worshiping tourists to get to our rooms. We reach the guest rooms and we are standing in front of seven 6-foot sitting statues of Buddha. Their faces are very peaceful. We take this path to the dinning hall and the showers. We had freedom to roam entire monastery grounds. We were surprised to find out we each had a private room since we thought it would be dorm-style. That night we ate vegetarian at the monastery dinning hall. For 5 yuan($0.60) we had about 4 dishes, all-we-could-eat. It was very good. After dinner we watched the movie Babel in our room. Another one of our $1 Vietnam purchases. It crapped out before the last 5 minutes. I guess you really do get what you pay for. In the interest of recycling, we gave our copy of Borat to a fellow traveller.
The next morning I was feeling terrible as usual. I was contemplating passing up the trip to the second monastery and staying put until the group return the following day. Tortured by the possibility of missing out on something, even though my symptoms were at their worse, I decided to suck it up and go. After all, my cold would be gone in a week, but when would I have the chance to visit a remote monastery on Mt. Emei again? We stored our luggage at the monastery and left with a smaller over-night bag. We had coffee and got a couple egg sandwiches each to bring on the bus. We were told we would receive “egg rolls” so we were surprises to receive sandwiches. However, to our guide and the rest of England, and egg roll is exactly that, an egg on a roll. Our misunderstanding in receiving “Chinese” egg rolls was understandable since after all we were in China! Too funny. We bought a cup noodle in the bus station and ate that on the bus as well as the sandwiches which were really good. Before travelling to the monastery, we would take a side trip, a 2-hour bus trip, a 20-minute walk, and a cable car ride, to the summit of Mt. Emei.
The walk took us through monkey territory. Years of feeding the monkeys have made them very used to tourists and we were instructed to keep everything on the inside of our packs and zipped shut. Items in the outer pouches would surely be taken by the monkeys. We were told that if bitten we should inform the leader so that we could promptly receive the an injection. We were given a “monkey stick” (walking cane) but not given much instruction for its use. Should we beat the monkeys? As it turns out slapping the stick to the ground is enough to keep the monkeys at bay. We all arrived at the cable car without incident. We walked to the temple on the summit and we knew the trip was well worth our addition suffering. The temple building were done in silver, gold, and bronze. It sounds tacky but it somehow worked. We returned by cable car and once again walk safely through monkey territory and back to the bus.
The bus took us to the start of our journey to our second monastery, HongChunPing. The only way to access the monastery is by foot, a 2.5-hour, 8km journey ending in a steep staircase to the monastery on the mountain. The pathway was paved with 200-300 lb hand-cut, hand-carried, and hand-laid stones. It followed a crystal-clear mountain stream which we cross back and forth a number of times via rope and stone bridges, and stepping stones. We passed another monkey area which made the first look like practice. In this area live some of the most aggressive monkeys. There are even “monkey police” who stand their post and slap huge monkey sticks on the ground to keep the monkeys back. The outer flanks too were protected by monkey police armed with sling shots! Although, all this show was a bit hypocritical. Between the two sets of monkey police, one at the start and one at the end of the path, were vendors feeding the monkeys and taking photos of tourists with the monkeys. For a charge of course. So we felt the police keep the monkeys in a central location where the vendors could profit on their exploitation.
For fear of catching a chill, Terry and I refused to stop for breaks and keep a steady pace up the mountain. It was a long 2.5 hours up to the 1150 meter elevation where the monastery was, but absolutely beautiful.
We arrived at the monastery and I asked to take a shower so I could get out of my wet clothes. My communications were ineffective and we ended up having to wait another 15 minutes until our local guide arrived. I was something of myself again after my shower. We again had a private room. The grounds were breathtaking and even the toilets were serene (see photos). We ate banquette-style at the “Hard Wok Cafe”. I was not shy about getting my fill and trying to give my body what it needed to recover. Especially after abusing it in the first place. After dinner Terry and I went straight to bed. At 5 am the the sound of a huge bell echoed through the monastery, and the monks gathered in the central chamber to accompany the sounding bell with banging of the drums and chanting. This was the start of their day. I got up to take some photos but it was too dark and I returned to my dreaming until about 8 am. Fortunately, Terry and I are deep sleepers and and chanting just lulled me back to sleep. After breakfast at 9 am, we returned pass the monkeys and back to the bus station. The group split into two groups, one returning immediately, and the other doing a longer hike. We decided to give our bodies a rest and take the shorter route. We stopped at a pharmacy before reaching the monastery. We decided to try some Chinese medicine against our Chinese colds. So we bought a tradition Chinese herbal cough syrup. Just in case that didn’t work, we bought two doses of a Western-style cough syrup with codeine! Cool, you can’t get this stuff in the States without a script.
Back to the BaoGuo monastery and into the shower. We got cleaned up and had some lunch at a local restaurant. Vegetable Soup again. We had the afternoon free and so we relaxed. For dinner we kept it simple and ate at the monastery instead of in town with the group. Then we went to bed early. In the morning we were awoken at 6 am by the sounds of praying monks. We walked 15 minutes through the gardens and into town for breakfast. We ate noodle soup and a rice porridge at a local restaurant. 5 yuan($0.60) total! Food is dirt cheap if you eat local food at local restaurants and street vendors. Terry and I enjoy the local experience more anyway. Western food or even local food served at youth hostels and places geared for Westerners will surely be about 3-4 times as expensive. We passed up on the kung-fu lesson, Kung-fu demonstration, and the hot springs. I settled down in a grove of bamboo and finished my book. “The Teachings of Buddha” that I bought in Japan. Then we ate our third and last meal at the monastery. All the monastery meals were 5 yuan per person for all-you-can eat. All vegetarian but all delicious! We both agree we could eat like this for weeks and not miss meat. We always feel satisfied and never hungry. And we feel healthier eating here. Terry and I drank lots of Jasmine tea during our stay. On our last day Patrick gave us a huge bag of the tea.
[Terry: Mark and I decided the hot springs was too expensive and we had our fill in Japan. The hot spring our group plan to go was at some fancy hotel and people went in with their swimsuits on. We prefer the traditional hot spring where people take a full shower then went in the bath to soak. Kung-fu would have been interesting but the grounds here in the monastery are so beautiful; Mark wanted to finish reading his book among the monks and I wanted to walk the grounds and be able to go back to the room for a short nap. The Jasmine tea is really helping my congestion. Mark took the antibiotic; he said whenever he travels to Asia and gets a cold, he gets a respiratory infection that lasts for weeks. He is getting better.]
- Oh no, it’s over ;(
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- Bad, bad Leroy
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- Handicap Diver Below!