Friday, November 30, 2007

China - Chengdu and Emei Shan


After a 20h train ride we arrive in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, another sprawling Chinese metropolis. The midday heat is intense as we leave the train station and wait for a taxi. Our first attempt to find accommodation is not successful as the hostel is full. We take another taxi to Sam’s Guesthouse, a tour operator that also has accommodation available in apartment style rooms. The staff are very friendly and helpful and they understand a high level of English, which comes as a great relief.

Outside our accommodation there is a market selling all sorts of animal parts for consumption, but also a great little street vendor selling the most mouth watering dumplings. We eat several portions for breakfast each morning. Sichuan is famous for spicy food and everything is hot and spicy, really spicy. I enjoy that from time to time, but after a few days it becomes “sore”. We have to attempt to tell them that we do not want it that hot, which kind of works sometimes.

We take nice strolls around the city and the people’s park. Every evening Nuria goes for the obligatory massage and even tries “cupping”, which looked too painful for me…We hire some dodgy bikes from the guesthouse and explore slightly farther flung areas of the city. This included the Tibetan quarter, which was more run down than the rest of the city. On the Saturday evening we need a bit of a party, and in typical tourist fashion we go to the Irish pub and then another venue. Despite the surprising amount of westerners around we don’t really converse with anyone.

We organise a couple of tours out of Sam’s, which takes a while in the queue, as it is always full of tourists trying to get permits into Tibet. The first trip we go on is to the Giant Panda research centre to see these endangered animals. The reserve is more like a zoo just for pandas but very interesting nevertheless. There were even baby Pandas in incubators on display. When we finish the tour the rain starts, in fact it was a torrential downpour.


The next morning is an early start to get a bus the 150km from Chengdu to Emei Shan, where we are picked up at the side of the road by a local female tour guide. She helps us and shows us a couple of places and we end up with very reasonable accommodation in a nice budget hotel. It is a small village and we check out the shops and take a look around. We get up early again to take a walk around the sacred Buddhist mountain - Mount Emei, which is also a world heritage site. We take a bus up towards the summit to about 2500m, with the intention of climbing the last part and walking down, stopping at some of the 30 monasteries and Pagodas on the way. However, after a short hike up we realise the summit is covered in mist and the visibility is zero…so we didn’t quite make it to the top, but were at around 2900m of the 3099m. Fairly cold and damp in the clouds and the air is noticeably thinner at that altitude. We start the trek down and it is a mass of winding steps and small paths. It is also a Chinese holiday weekend and the

place is totally packed with Chinese tourists making the holy hike. We stop at various interesting temples and places along the way. About half way down we take a short Swiss style cable car ride above the pine forest. After more trekking we along the paths and over bridges and walkways we get to the bus station where we can get a lift back into the village. Pretty spectacular place, but way to busy for my liking.

We stay a second night in Emei Shan and try to recover after the day on the mountain. The next day we stroll around and then get a bus back to Chengdu. Somehow I have damaged my right knee walking down all the steps and am in a lot of pain the whole day. When we make it back to Chengdu I am having severe difficulties walking….Nuria opts to go for the daily massage and persuades me to try acupuncture on my knee. I am so scared of needles and have almost passed out on many occasions at the doctors, so was dreading it. We went to the usual massage parlour…well I hobbled there in great pain. With a manner of hand and feet signals, we managed to explain to them that firstly we wanted a pedicure and that then I required acupuncture for a wrecked knee and Nuria needed another massage. They came at me with the needles and I was shaking, gasping down deep breaths of air to try to calm down….they were laughing and smoking. Anyway, they stuck the needles into various pressure points around the knee and worked at it for more than an hour, burning incense to heat the needles. Afterwards I stood up, put the weight on the knee and walked out of there completely normal. No pain, no limping – I was completely healed. It was nothing short of a miracle and the best €2 I have ever spent.

The following day is our last in Chengdu, a town we have come to really adore for all the positive experiences here. We head for the large statue of Chairman Mao and the Science and technology museum which is situated behind him. We spend the rest of the day in there like 2 kids in a technology playground. It was such good fun to see the exhibitions and participate in all the rides and shows.

Late that night we stock up on noodles and head for the train station to catch the train to Xi’an. Another epic 18 hour train journey across China.