Up Emei Shan
Trip Start May 16, 2006
31Trip End Aug 17, 2006
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Annie and I arrived in Baogua Village two days ago. It's the entry point to climb up Emei Shan (Mount Emei), a 3099 meter peak in southern Sichuan. The mountain is one of Buddhism's four holy mountains, and there are around 20 temples and monasteries strewn along the several trails going up the mountain. The buildings were decimated by the Cultural Revolution, but they've been largely rebuilt since then. The mountain is a bit of a tourist trap now, but fortunately it's so big that the crowds don't overwhelm the peace and serenity of the thick, green, forested slopes. The highest pinnacle of the mountain, named The Ten Thousand Buddha Summit, rises high above the persistent cloud coverage. There are small shops (with kindly shopkeepers) and small restaurants (with kindly restaurateurs) every half kilometer or so, which keep the hike interesting. Also keeping the mountain interesting are the monkeys. There are several high-monkey concentration areas on the mountain. The monkeys are notorious for pestering tourists for food. The monkeys know tourists keep food in bags so they try and snag the bags away from the rightful owner. They may resort to scratching and hollering and baring teeth in order to get what they want.
We arrived Sunday afternoon with a nice Australian girl we had befriended in Chengdu named Anne. Anne has been working throughout southeast Asia for the last year and a half as a tour leader. Vietnam is her specialty and base of operations. She was very knowledgeable about things having to do with southeast Asia. I've never said that about anyone before, so you can be sure I mean it. Anne was a great travelling companion and Annie and I count her as a good friend now.
After arriving to town, we hopped on a bus and took it about a third of the way up the mountain to the Long-Life Monastery, where we spent the night. The basic facilities and rooms were more than offset by the magical nature of the monastery. Sure there were monks, but monks were yesterday's newspaper to us at that point. The crazy thing at this monastery were the roaming groups of little old Chinese ladies (chineseladius crazius). Traveling around the grounds of the monastery in groups of 7-10, they would see us three Westerners and come up to us and talk to us in Chinese and laugh and point. We took to laughing and pointing back, figuring this was just their way of being nice.
The next day we woke up early, left our big bags at the monastery, and hiked up the mountain. It was a misty day with frequent rainstorms, but absolutely no views at all. The lack of views was slightly disappointing. Another anticipated aspect of the mountain conspicuously absent because of the rain were the monkeys. Apparently they don't like to go out in bad weather. Who does, really?
The mist and rain had the three of us feeling pretty miserable by 1pm. We decided to rest a bit at a small monastery/teahouse we reached. The lady there was very nice and accommodating. We had ourselves some tea and crackers. We sat around for about an hour trying to warm up. Efforts to get warm weren't going so hot, when the nice lady did us a good turn. She showed us to a back building where there was a coal-burning heater-type-thing used to boil water. It was warm, warm, warm. We all huddled around it like it was a campfire.
As we got ready to leave a young Israeli couple came up to the teahouse. They asked to join us for the rest of the hike and we were delighted to have them along. Our simple journey started to feel like an epic saga, with characters joining up for the trek. I'm thinking like Watership Down or The Goonies. The five of us trudged up the mountain for another couple of hours until we arrived at the Xixiang Monastery, where we stayed the night. After an odd prix-fixe dinner costing 1USD (you can imagine the quality of the food) and a bucket shower, it was early to bed for the tired travelers.
Morning found us back on the mountain climbing for another two hours to the first of three summits. A road along the back ridge of the mountain met the trail at this point, and Annie and I said goodbye to our friends and, cold, wet, and exhausted, headed back down the mountain on a bus. The hike was over and we were quite pleased with the adventure we'd had. Little did I know what awaited me back at the Long Life Monastery....
Annie took the bus all the way back into town, but I went to grab our bags which we'd left at the monastery the previous morning. The bus dropped me off mid-way down the mountain, and I began the quick 40 minute hike up to the monastery. By now, the rainclouds had dispersed and the weather was looking much better. There was even some sun. As I drew closer to the monastery, I started seeing monkeys. True, we had seen a small handful at the summit going through trash cans and generally minding their own business. But these new monkeys were interested in making people their business.
A couple of days of hiding from the rain in their monkey lairs must have turned their hearts wicked. I saw a group of French tourists accosted by a monkey patrol in search of food. Finding no game, the monkeys moved on, and I continued up the stairs to retrieve the luggage. Not 50 feet up the stairs and I became aware of monkey eyes bearing down on me from all sides. Fortunately for me, I carried no bags and could not have possibly been carrying any food. The monkeys must have known this, for I was allowed to pass. "Sure, I have no bags now," I thought "but soon I'll be carrying two huge bags." I was going to be a walking target, a marked man. Gulping, I pressed on.
Up ahead in the distance I could see the last stretch of stairs leading to the monastery's front gate. Monkeys were everywhere. Groups of Chinese and Israeli tourists were being escorted from the monastery by locals with 10 foot long poles. Fear mingled with curiosity and humor on their faces. The locals would pound the ground ahead of the group to clear a path for the tourists. Any daring monkeys would surely have regretted getting too close.
By the time I'd grabbed the bags and made it back to the stairs, the tourists and monkeys were all gone. I started down the steps to the cablecar not 200 feet away. But that was just when a fair-sized monkey sauntered onto the staircase some 60 feet in front of me. He sat and stared. I stopped and stared back. The grand confrontations of earlier had boiled down to this single meeting. It was just me and this monkey - no one else was around. "Where are those locals with the sticks?" thought I.
"I wonder if he's got some food in those big bags," thought the monkey.
There was nothing to be done. I had to continue, past the seated monkey. I summoned courage to my heart and proceeded. Eight feet away and the monkey stirs. He gets up and moves a little closer. I freeze. He stops and sits again. The lock of our eyes never breaks. Again summoning courage, I adjust my course further away from the monkey and keep on. As I pass, I turn my head and make sure that monkey knows there will be no behind-the-back sneak attacks today. As the distance between us grows, the monkey still sits. Apparently he has decided that I'm not worth it. Relieved to have made it through my own personal monkey gauntlet, I enter the cablecar and peacefully sail over the green treetops back down the mountain.