Sunday, April 8, 2012

Emei Shan

We took he bus after school to Chengdu and stayed in the handily located (near the bus station and Subway sandwiches) Traffic Hostel. The hostel has had a few renovations since we stayed a few months ago and really looks like a trendy hostel anywhere in the world. Sometimes you can forget you're in China even when you're still there. Early the next morning we walked over to the bus station to see if there were tickets for the for us on the first bus to Emei. Suddenly we were very much back in China eating spicy noodles for breakfast. After two and a half hours on the bus from Chengdu we arrived in Emei and luckily tagged onto a group of (non foreigner) tourists headed for the mountain in the bus. We had the usual out-of-Yongchuan novelty of seeing a few other foreigners among the throngs of Chinese tourists admiring the fake concrete historical relics at the start of the trail.

The trail to Emei Shan's Golden Summit boasts 3200m of climbing over only 25km of distance. The entire route was on stone or concrete steps... definitely the longest staircase I've ever set our to climb and enough to put the Grouse Grind to shame. Out plan was to get as far as we could in he day and stay in a monastery within reach of the summit for the next morning.

The route started winding up through the bamboo forest with the peace punctuated wherever there was easy road access to the trail. As we've come to expect, there was no shortage of opportunities to buy drinks, noodles, cigarettes, beer, and stuffed monkey souvenirs wherever there were people to buy them. Soon enough we came to the "Monkey Fun Zone" where cheerful wild macaques will steal your camera and water bottle. Luckily we had been warned about this feature of the mountain and the cool spring weather and early-season lack of junk food to steal left the monkeys fairly relaxed. One of them was having a pretty good go at tearing down a "restricted access" sign from a tree though.

Leaving the anarchist monkey behind we headed up through the changing forest into cooler temperatures and some dramatic views. The sections of trail away from he road were peaceful and we came across snack stands every kilometer or so that were either abandoned or has their proprietor engrossed in a TV soap opera or playing cards. My favorite was the Hard Wok Cafe which boasted commanding views of the valley below. We made do with peanut butter and apple sandwiches from our stash. Cheapskates.

By around five in the afternoon it has started to drizzle and the temperature was dropping fast. My legs had climbed quite enough steps for the day so we stopped at the Elephant Washing Pool temple for he night. The night in the temple was the highlight of the weekend for me as we ate some veggie monk-food and then escaped the cold under the thick blankets in our ancient dorm. We were both asleep by seven. We woke up early to the sound of the gong, and then the chanting of the monks. Wanting to get out early we skipped monk-breakfast and ate the rest of our supplies. It was just getting light outside as we climbed away from our home for the night and eerie clouds swirled around the surrounding peaks.

Our early start got us onto the final slog up to the summit before the full horror of the tourist machine had time to swing into action. I can imagine this last 500m climb is a complete zoo in the summer as it's accessible. A road and cable car and has wall-to-wall souvenir shops and snack stands almost the whole way. Luckily most of them were closed. The summit rewarded us with a selection of concrete elephants and a lot of gold and white paint. There is of course a selection of hotels and restaurants up there too to separate the public from their cash. We took our summit photos and headed down through the throng of fresh tourists climbing up.

Some complex bus-bus-taxi-bus travel arrangements had us back on route for Yongchuan.  Luckily we still had time to enjoy those not-available at home delicacies of a Subway sandwich and McDonalds coffee. A perfect weekend in China...