Emei Shan

May 29 – June 1, 2009

After seeing the big Buddha in Leshan, we continued south to go hiking in the sacred mountain, Emei Shan.

Emei Shan has endless flights of stone steps leading from the base (at Baoguo) to the summit.  Along the way you see beautiful forests and a chain of temples and monasteries.  Originally, these were Taoist temples, but during the Ming dynasty (368 to 1644) most were converted to Buddhism.  Today these monasteries act basically as hotels for people on their way up or down the mountain – it’s a very strange experience to “check into” a monastery.

Emei Shan still attracts some pilgrims, though mostly you see hordes of Chinese tourists and a fair number of foreign tourists in between.  Those who have little time (or want the easy way) take a bus all the way up to a station near the summit.  From there it’s a further 1-2 hour trek up to the golden summit, or else an easy cable car ride up.  Those who have more time (and an inclination for a Stairmaster-like workout) go base-to-summit by foot.  It generally takes two days to climb up and one day to climb down, and most climbers attempt to reach the summit in time to see the sunrise the morning of the 3rd day.  But there are other ways to go.  Pnina and I took our time – we spent 2.5 days climbing up, then took the bus to the bottom.  It worked out pretty well for us.

All in all, Emei Shan was one of the better sites on our trip in China.  We’d definitely recommend it.

OK, on with the pictures…

An illustrated map of the mountain (not at all drawn to scale) showing the various paths and monasteries along the way:

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Before setting off from Baoguo I treated myself to hot chocolate (or the closest approximation I could find in China).  Up on the mountain the food was generally boring and expensive:

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Pnina in front of some shrine at the base of the mountain.  There were a bunch of picturesque sites like this – shrines, waterfalls, wall-carvings – before the actual trail started:

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A museum at the base had life-size dioramas showing different aspects of monk life on the mountain in the past, including martial arts:

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And the trail begins!  So far we have easy stairs – the hard ones come later.  Somewhere around here we paid the 150 yuan entry fee, which was good for 3 days:

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The first monastery we visited:

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These girls were so cute.  They came up to Pnina and I and gave us some Chinese candies, gelatin in little heart-shaped cups.  We thanked them and gave them some snacks from our backpacks.  Then one of the girls took off a bracelet and gave it to Pnina.  The gift-giving went on like that for a little while 🙂

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Even the snails have to deal with stairs on Emei Shan:

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Local women taking a break to play cards.  We saw lots of people playing this game with the elongated cards, but we never figured out exactly what it’s called or how you play it:

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OK, now we have some real stairs:

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Another monastery along the way.  Most of these monasteries had small kitchens/restaurants where you can get food.  Surprisingly, the food is free!  The monks see it as charity for pilgrims.  Of course, we left money in the donation box.

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This is Niuxin Pavilion, the monastery where Pnina and I stayed the first night.  Our room (60 yuan) was the corner room on the first balcony of the building on the left.  It felt a lot like a Chinese hotel (a bed, a TV, a thermos with hot water) except that the building obviously had a lot more character:

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The tradition at this temple is that couples have their names engraved on locks, and then the locks are placed on chain railings around the temple.  There were hundreds of locks everywhere:

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More amazing wall carvings:

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A natural-looking dam not far from the monastery (it’s actually man-made).  It may be synthetic, but damn it looks good.  The lake to the left really had this crazy aqua color:

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Getting some corn-on-the-cob to go as we start hiking on the second day.  After all the crappy break-your-teeth corn we had in Africa, it was really nice to have decent corn here:

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Monkeys are a big thing at Emei Shan.  They are simultaneously a big  attraction and a big nuisance.  Our guidebook warned us to carry a bamboo cane and keep some rocks in our pockets, you know, just in case.  And it was good advice.  The monkeys at Emei Shan are really aggressive – they’ll jump on your back, tear at your pockets, etc.  We managed to go up and down the mountain with no injuries and no lost food, but we had some close calls, and we ran into other people who weren’t so lucky:

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Notice the monkey jumping from one rail to the next, going alongside the tourists.  This part of the trail was watched by a small battalion of rangers who escorted the tourists and made sure the monkeys didn’t get out of hand.  One monkey jumped on my backpack, but was chased away.  Another monkey pulled a Nalgene bottle out of Pnina’s backpack, but immediately dropped it (he didn’t expect it to be so heavy, I guess), so we managed to get it back.  I have to say – I’m not a fan.

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But the Chinese visitors are big fans, and they buy up these silly stuffed monkey dolls like they’re going out of fashion:

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OK, back to the hike:

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And here we are at the last big temple before the summit.  This is the end of the road for people who take the bus all the way up.  Behind the temple you can see the cable car.  On the day we visited the weather was kind of foggy/rainy, and it appeared that the cable car was not operating.  People had no choice but to huff and puff their way up the hill:

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Actually, that’s not true, there was one other choice.  For a fee, a couple of these porters will haul you all the way up to the top.

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Finally made it to the golden summit!  This is one of many statues of a six-tusked elephant that, story goes, carried Bodhisattva Puxian to Emei Shan when he visited in the sixth century:

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Up above – the golden elephants statue at the summit:

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A local pilgrim being photographed:

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There are three summits in Emei Shan.  The one with all the temples is actually not the highest point.  That distinction goes to Wanfoding, the peak you see here.  But it’s only about 20 meters higher, and as you can see when we were at the top the visibility was less than perfect, so we didn’t bother going there:

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Bonus Pictures

When we slept at the first monastery we had a TV in our room.  There were no English channels, but we found a show that was really interesting to watch even without understanding the commentary.  It was some kind of school-kid competition, similar to a 3-legged race but on steroids.  I didn’t count but it must have been more like a 41-legged race.  Each race lasted less than a minute, but it was preceded by dramatic documentary footage of all the kids training, and followed by footage of the winning team celebrating while the losing team literally broke down and cried in the stadium, every last one of them.  These kids should lighten up!  We’re not sure but we think this was a Japanese competition (it seems like a pretty Japanese’ish thing to do).

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