Well, I fought the mountain, and the mountain won. I admit it, we got our asses kicked. The holy mountain climbing expedition didn’t go exactly as we had originally planned. In fact, the whole trip was definitely more challenging (both mentally and physically) than we could have possibly anticipated. But I will say this: it seems to be true that the tougher the journey, the more rewarding the destination.
We had three main problems during this trip — one was a lack of time, two was a lack of Mandarin, and three was a lack of muscles. The transportation was a complete and non-stop nightmare, even getting tickets was an awful experience, and on the first day we were so behind schedule!
By the time we arrived at Baoguo, the town at the base of the mountain, it was almost 12.30 and we had to have a very quick lunch before starting our walk. We started off all right and the paths into the mountain certainly are quite scenic. Very lush and green, little rivers and babbling brooks, bamboo sprouting all over the place, pagodas and monasteries and nunneries abound.
About an hour in, we also got a bit lost due to a lack of proper English signage along the trail. Then it started to get steeper and steeper. I’ll admit that even with all the hiking I’ve been doing recently, I was still huffing and puffing my way up the trail. We stopped every now and then to admire the beautiful old wooden mountain temples that have been there long before there were even roads to Baoguo. Lots of people live on the mountain too — whole communities growing their own vegetables, raising chickens, and using donkeys to transport bigger things like bricks or building materials.
Along the way we met a very nice and chatty young Chinese couple who were headed to the same area as us, and said they knew a few places we could stay. By then we had been walking uphill for about five hours and were more than a little exhausted, so we followed them and got a few rooms at a little hotel at Qingyin Ge, a very scenic area nestled in a green valley, surrounded by a lake and some very dramatic rock gorges.
Dinner was fantastic and a good reflection of the legendary spiciness of Sichuan cuisine — fresh bamboo shoots in sesame oil and chili, cucumbers and crushed garlic with chilli, and chicken with chilli – all washed down with some semi-cold Snow beer. We didn’t know the chicken would be the ENTIRE chicken, head and all, but you know how it goes, in China nothing is wasted.
We decided that night that since we hadn’t even made it halfway up the mountain, and only had one more day of hiking left, we’d have to submit to taking the bus for the next leg of our journey. Even though it felt a bit like punking out, we were all secretly a little relieved. That night we all zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags, and hibernated for a good nine hours.
The next morning we were up and ready to go by 7.30, but getting tickets for the bus again proved to be difficult (I tell you, travelling in China can be a logistical hell). But after a calming one-hour ride up the mountain, we arrived at the starting point to walk up to Jieyin Hall and further up onto our final destination — the Golden Summit of Mt. Emei.
There were loads of Chinese tourists on the trail, as well as a number of very handsome red-faced Tibetan macaques. They were sitting close to the route fence, gorging themselves on food that the tourists were throwing to them. They seemed quite accustomed to the crowds and people sticking cameras in their faces.
As we got closer to the top, the view started to reveal itself to us. We were then at about 2,700 metres, and we were far above the clouds below. The sun was also blazing down and giving us a strong dose of UV. So much for all the guide books saying that the temperature can be close to freezing from November to April, because we were sweating our asses off!
The steps continued up and up and up into the mountain, until we arrived at our next mode of transportation — the cable car to the summit. You won’t be surprised to hear that this, again, was a rough ordeal and Iwas always one second away from killing the next person who pushed me. It was more than infuriating. We were all trying to keep our cool, but the pushing and shoving and endless shouting was really quite hard on the nerves. But we were so close to our final destination, we tried our best not to get upset. After all, this was supposed to be a beautiful, holy Buddhist mountain, and we had come so far to enjoy it.
We zipped up the last leg of the mountain, and arrived at the Golden Summit where we were totally blown away by the panoramic view. It was a perfect day — bright sun, blue skies, and fantastic visibility. In the distance we could see white snow capped mountain peaks, and below us the world was blanketed in a sea of clouds. After all the pushing and shoving and bad behaviour, we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, and I finally felt a wave of peacefulness wash over me. We had made it!
At the Golden Summit we took our times to wander around, visit the temples and get many pictures of the famed golden statue of Buddhist deity Bodhisattva Puxian who, legend has it, landed on the Golden Summit riding a 6-tusked elephant.The temples were beautiful, but the real climax of the trip, the most best part, the cherry on top of the big bowl of ice cream, was the view of Wanfoding, a wooden temple built on the next peak, sitting in complete solitude, precariously perched next to a very steep cliff. I’ve never seen anything so dramatic before. And it definitely made the trip worth it.
That afternoon we got back on the bus down the mountain and then took another back to Chengdu where we would stay the night before heading to the airport on Sunday. At a nearby restaurant we samples the famed Sichuan Hot Pot, where you get plates of meat and veggies to cook in this super spicy mixture of chilli oil, red peppers and broth. Our mouths were on fire for hours. Even the lukewarm Snow beers didn’t cool our throats.
We battled a mild hangover the next morning, but managed to drag ourselves out of bed to visit the Wenshu Monastery, a beautiful old wooden temple complex that is the oldest and most well preserved in Chengdu.
A few hours later, we made it to the airport, and before we knew it we were circling over the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Again, it always seems like these trips are over before they even start…
Well, even though it didn’t go quite as planned, it was still a hell of a trip, and I learnt many many things. I learnt that when hiking, you should always give yourself more time than you think you need. Don’t expect things to always go smoothly, because they probably won’t, especially in a new country where you don’t speak the language. Speak to the locals, because even though some of them will try to rip you off, many of them will genuinely try to help you. And last but not least, try not to let rude people get to you or spoil your trip, because it might be the only time in your life you are ever there.