Vampire monkeys and the Scooby Doo monastery

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
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Trip End Apr 13, 2011


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Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The creepiest place I have stayed in my travels so far this year (actually, make that my entire life) is undoubtedly Honchungping monastary. The monastary is near the top of Emei Shan mountian, one of Buddhism's holiest places. We hiked for a few hours through sweltering cloud forest, and then climbed 1000 steps in order to reach it. The hike itself was enjoyable as we walked through steep green gorges, and past picturesque bridges and pagodas, and past a troop of manacing Tibetan macaque monkeys, of which more later.

At the end of the hike, we were greeted by the sight of said monastary looming above us, like something from a Scooby-Doo episode. A deserted and decrepit three storey building, made of damp wood held together by moss and mould. In the failing light, giant bats swooped about, and there was barely a square foot of wall without a large spider on it. Every footstep creaked and groaned, and despite being a monastery, there wasnt a monk in sight. Just when I thought it couldnt get and creepier, the thunder and lightning started.

We climbed a creaky staircase to get to our rooms, and were led through a spider infested alley to view the bathroom 'facilities'. The showers were communal showers with no door or privacy whatsoever, like the ones we used after PE at school. The toilets! Dear God, the toilets! If the words 'open plan squat toilets' dont send a shiver down your spine then you must be dead. A series of holes in the ground, arranged in a circle, no door or walls, and open to he elements, which at least allieviated some of the stench.

There wasnt much to do here surprisngly, so the evening was spent at the adjacent restaurant 'Hard Wok Cafe' where I had a few well deserve beers

I was awoken early by the sound of monks chanting (where had they come from?) and was rather relieved to find that I hadnt been hacked to pieces during the night. Some of our group were awoken earlier by the sound of rats scampering across their floor.

The hike back down to he bottom in the rain was not without incident. The mountain is home to Tibetan Macaque monkeys, large, fat and incredibly furry primates with bright red faces. The authorities take a very conflicted view of these creatures. On one hand, there are places where you can buy food for them and have your photo taken with them, on the other, there are so-called 'monkey police' who fire catapults at them and hit them with sticks if they get too close. This ludicrous situation has resulted in the monkeys being usd to humans and associating them with food, but also being afraid of them and willing to attack.

As we descended, we came across a group of about 30 of these monkeys barring our path. We walked slowly through them, armed with large sticks in case they got too close, and tried to ignore them as they ate nuts from the ground that people had fed them. One big monkey then ran after our local guide and bit into his leg, the monkey's fangs leaving a big bloody hole. He had to get immediate medical help and now requires a course of 6 rabies injections.

On our other two nights at Emei Shan, either side of Hongchungping, we stayed at another much nicer monstary. It was full of monks, burning incense, lots of golden buddha statues and gardens with huge butterlies flying around. The Buddha statues had oferings of fruit and piled up coke cans in front of them.

Emei Shan mountain is dotted with monasteries. There is a small town at the bottom, and at the very top, accessible by cable car, is an immense golden statue of a 16 faced Budha sitting stop two elephants. We had an hour at this freakish structure, walking past more monkeys to get there. The smell of burning incense and some Chinese doing Tai Chi at the bottom of the statue added to the mystical atmosphere of the place. The views from the top are meant to be breathtaking, but we saw only clouds and white haze.

The town is very tacky and touristy. there are fibreglass 'rocks' over which a fake waterfall flows, a huge decorative pagoda and lots of Christmas fairy lights everywhere.

The resturants we have eaten at on this section of the trip have been disgusting. Flies, dirty floors and tables, mouldy walls, and sweaty greasy chefs. Occasionally, a mangy cat will saunter out of the kitchen as our food is being prepared. The food itself has been ok though, although it is hard to divorce the food from the surroundings. I am rather surprised I havent had any 'issues' so far. 

We had one more day at Chengdu (and a much needed visit to McDonalds) before flying to Lhasa and two weeks in Tibet.            
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