We had only been in Chinese mega-cities until now and our next trip was out to a smaller (read 700k) city Leshan and some trekking on a sacred buddhist mountain Emeishan. Sichuan itself is quite mountainous and its western edges border on Tibet. We had thought of going to Tibet but there are various administrative barriers they put up to avoid having tourists wandering around uncontrolled (special permit, required to have a guide, cannot use public transport, etc.)
The city of Leshan is unexceptional enough but at the confluence of two rivers an enormous Buddha has been carved into the side of a mountain overlooking the water. It is a UNESCO world-heritage which appears to be a sure-fire way of doubling ticket prices. By the time we got to the Buddha itself the queues were at least two hours long.
I can imagine that in the old days before cameras tourists would just shuffle by, take in the sight, and move on. But in the era of selfie sticks the whole process slows to a crawl.
We balked at spending that long queuing and instead threw some money at the problem and got a speed boat down the river to get the best view of all!
On the boat with us were several what I took to be Tibetan tourists who for every photo of the Buddha took one of us. Somewhere somebody is showing their friends the time they were on the boat in Leshan with the strange westerners!
We headed then to Emeishan to stay at the Teddy Bear Hostel. It is what it sounds like – decent accommodation but teddy bears everywhere, walls, sheets, etc. which I had to admit was a unique idea if somewhat weird.
Next day we were up early to scale Emeishan which is a mountain sacred to Buddhists. Now it is quite a well visited place so the trails were well paved paths with steps, lots of steps. Along our walk we passed through the ‘joking monkey zone’ where troupes of monkeys assemble to be goaded and have photos taken with the local tourists.
Needless to say they were no joke and liable to jump and grab anything they think they can get. They seemed attracted to Eugene, possibly because he wasn’t wildly waving a bamboo stick at them like I was!
As we headed higher it got increasingly cloudy to the point where we couldn’t see much at all. We walked with a pair of girls from Guangdong, one of which was forging ahead while her trailing friend wasn’t enjoying the endless stairs so much.
They had to press on for another 3 hours in the dark after we stopped mid-mountain at the eerie Yuxian temple accommodation.
The basic digs were compensated by electric blankets and some grain alcohol Eugene wangled from the lady who ran the place. It was vile but mixing with Coke took the edge off it and after a full day going up stairs it didn’t go to waste.
Unfortunately the next day after another 2 hours solid stair climbing the cloud had completely moved in and we couldn’t see anything bar more steps and a few Buddhist monks!