Monkeys, Mountains, & Giant Buddhas (November 6th – 12th)

Christian (a German) and Gautier (a Frenchman) had met both left their respective countries earlier on the year and had met each other in Kashgar. From there they had been travelling together. I had only been in Chengdu one night and was keen to check out a few of the attractions, but the prospect of cycling with others sounded more appealing so I packed my bags and readied myself for life back on the bike.

It was raining as we left Chengdu and took a good two hours to find our way out of the city. It was surprising to see just how far away from the city centre we were and still there were skyscrapers (I heard from a Canadian who went to Shanghai that he was sat on the highspeed train and could see skyscrapers either side of him for 45minutes as the train left the city!). It felt all a bit like we were cycling on the streets of Sim City. At least the skyscrapers had a bit of character – there were some impressive architectural feats to be seen. [photo] The traffic eased the further from the city we got but it was still a busy road so it wasn’t particularly fun. If the Turkish loved their horns then I don’t know what relationship the Chinese have with theirs. Whatever the relationship is, it’s an abusive one. It felt strange to all of a sudden be in green semi tropical scenery when the last few months were all spent in super dry desert and bare rock mountain conditions. In fact I felt a bit gutted that I hadn’t properly witnessed the transition. Christian said that after one particular pass he could instantly feel that he had moved into a different climate zone.

At lunch we were brought out some chicken feet (which many people can’t get enough of here), and other sumptuous miscellaneous bits of intestine. MMMMmmm Delicious. That first night we ended up camping in a field a couple of kilometres from the main road. It was difficult to find a spot because people were growing so much veg everywhere. A drunk shouting and throwing a giant piece of bamboo and swinging it through the bushes had us worried that our location had been compromised. Bamboo Man returned for a second round of fun later that evening, but thankfully we didn’t get rumbled by this lunatic.

Leshan the next city was just two days cycling from Chengdu so it was a short few days cycling. I extended my visa another 30 days (£16) and, more excitingly, went to check out the Leshan Giant Buddha – the largest carved stone Buddha in the world. And he was a real BigBoy – 71 metres tall with 7 metre long ears. He was hiding in a really beautiful setting and I had lot of fun exploring all the different pagodas and temples. I would really love to share some photos here but if you want to know what he looks like then you’ll have to Google it.

I convinced Gautier and Christian that the trip to the nearby mountain Emei was well worth the detour from our journey South. And it really was. The journey there was an easy peasy flat 40k in the afternoon sunshine. We could see the mountain in the distance as we approached. We checked into Teddy Bear Hotel after a scooter escort from Andi the owner. Here we poured over maps of the mountain and picked people’s brains of where best to go and how long to spend up there.

The hotel sits right at the foot of the mountain at an altitude of 1450m. I was up early and made plans to meet the other two (who were still dozing) at a monastery half way up the mountain. I started the climb with an American I had met back in Xian a week or so back. The mountain is paved all the way so it isn’t proper trekking but it was still fun. There were certain stretches which were crammed full of tourists such as the ‘joking monkey zone’, but otherwise there were very few people. The bottom of the mountain felt really tropical but the vegetation seemed to get more European the higher you got. Some photos here would save a lot of description, but this place was special. Better than the Iron Gates Gorge, more stimulation than what the Pamirs had to offer, I rate this place particularly highly.

We had heard stories about monkeys causing mayhem, and signs gave you the appropriate warnings but I wasn’t ready for just how mental these monkeys would be. As I entered the monkey zone and was just about to walk around the corner, one alphachimp came storming around the corner and made a beeline for my plastic bag of food. He got a finger to it and ripped a hole in it before I had the chance to lift it up and hide it behind my back. I then moved cautiously around the corner, fearful his brothers had already masterminded an ambush. One smaller monkey made his way up the bank and looked like he too would have a stab at the food bag. A female warden armed with a stick then smacked the rail to scare the monkey off and gave me a bollocking for having my food out. I duly stuffed it in my rucksack, and carried on up. On the other side of a bridge were a couple dozen monkeys of various sizes and couple dozen Homo sapiens, each species as stupid as the other. I went over to join in the fun. Just five seconds after this photo was taken [photo], this monkey put his hand on my knee and then jumped up and stuck his hand in my pocket the little big cheeker! Thankfully it was void of iPod, and peanuts. I took a step back and then he went all 28 Days Later on me, screaming and showing his gnashers as if he was about to attack me. Suddenly a female warden whacked her bamboo stick in between us and screamed something at him, and something at me! I’m still not sure which was the most scary… Slightly further up I had to battle my way past another Bolshie tag team. I tested various different noises to scare them off including wild pig, gorilla, and general mentalist. In the end it was chocolate cream Oreos thrown at them which got rid of them (concurrently making life more difficult for future tourists to come). After these incidents I heard about many more vicious attacks including the American girl who had one of these two jump on her rucksack and then give chase screaming at her as she ran away. Another Swiss couple we heard about actually got bitten by these malicious little monsters. It probably serves humans right for building a tourist path straight through their home territory.

Further still, I saw some super impressive views of the lush green mountains. Then at 1750metres (there had been lots of down as well as up), we slept in a monastery. I convinced the American to come check out a cave just 1km away. We took our headtorches but it was in fact light enough from the full moon to see where we were going. One viewpoint afforded an unforgettable view out over the misty moonlit mountains. Back at the monastery Gautier and Christian had arrived having walked the last part of their ascent in the dark.

The next morning we woke up and it was drizzling. Visibility reduced significantly. So much so in fact that it was no longer that fun, because all you could see was 15metres of steps in front of you. The higher up the mountain, the colder it got too. We were considering just getting the bus back down once we arrived at the cable car bus stop but we learned that it was supposedly sunny at the summit. And so we committed to climbing the 700+more metres to the 3000+metre summit. We didn’t quite make it above the clouds to witness the much touted ‘sea of clouds’, nor, alas, did we witness the “Buddhist Halo” which apparently you can witness at the summit (at which point monks threw themselves off in ecstasy), but the sun was at times visible at the clouds/mist provided an eerie backdrop to the Golden Summit Buddhist statue which stood majestically at the top [photo].

A 2 hour sketchy as hell minibus ride all the way back down brought as back home to the Teddy Bear Hotel, and here we relaxed today before we take back to the bikes tomorrow.

I’ve been burning through the bucks much quicker than expected. It cost me the best part of £100 to travel from Kashgar to Chengdu by train and bus. I think my budget was much more geared up for Pakistan/India than 21st century China. I did want to visit a really big city like Shanghai or Hong Kong but that is probably now off the cards. The whole Kung Fu thing can probably remain a dream unrealised although I have met many people who are out here doing just that. Tiger Leaping meanwhile is right out the way so that might be off too. Im gonna head south to Kunming to sort out more visa stuff for S.E. Asia (snore), and then possibly head east to some more interesting places.

So tomorrow it’s bye bye Teddy Bear, and hello rain for the next few days, until (maybe in about a week) we reach Kunming where the temperature is up

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