Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z: Leshan, China

Leshan, China is one of the more impressive places I have been in the world.
I love to travel, something I've mentioned here before, and will touch on further before this A-Z challenge is complete.  I've been to China twice.  The second time I went I spent the summer there and got to explroe farther than Beijing, which is worth a long trip in it's own right.

Leshan is most famous for the Grand Buddha statue, the tallest of any pre-modern statue at 233 feet tall.
Granted, it is carved from the cliff face, so it isn't free standing, but it's still impressive.
I wish I could show you the pictures I took.  My trip was before I had a digital camera, and while I found most of the photos I took in China, I didn't find the ones from this trip. So I'll have to rely on the internet.

To get to Leshan, I took an overnight train from Beijing to Chengdu.
I recommend taking the train once. Don't get the round trip ticket, you won't want to experience it a second time. You'll only be throwing those return tickets away and paying for a plane.  I know I did.  But it is something you should experience.  It's one of those "character building" experiences your grandfather told you about.  The one who's missing his lower left arm: chewed off by hyenas during the battle of the bulge.  I've taken the cheap-seat train from Minsk to Simferopol in high summer heat, the train car packed with shirtless overweight sweaty drunk Russian and Ukrainian men sporadically belligerent and singing, next to the door of the car that only shuts by being slammed... all night.  The China train was worse.  The berth had about 3" between you and the ceiling. The train's speakers played some truly horrible music, over and over, very loudly. Far and away favorites were the horrendous Celine Dion song from Titanic and the dogs barking Jingle Bells.  I would not have guessed these as popular songs in China.
But you'll regret it if you don't take it (one way).

Once in Chengdu you find yourself in a large and clean metropolis.  I got the feeling that you'd be wise to keep it that way.  Everywhere where banners right out of Orwell, things like 'A clean city is a reflection of a clean mind." and other sayings with a very dark overtone.

Moving on from Chengdu, you get to Leshan, where the very big Buddha is.  Be ready for a lot of steps!
This thing is big.  Walk up the steps, walk down the steps to his feet.  So very cool.
File:The Grand One - a. holdrinet.jpg
The place is swarming with tourists, but it's not too bad.  However, I was very interested then in continuing deeper into China, seeing more of the rural mountain areas, less of the cities. on to Mnt. Emei.

You can take a sky-tram across the valley, and then hike the mountain.
Up the mountain about a day apart are a string of Buddhist monasteries that are quite old.  They welcome travelers and costs very little to stay the night.  How could I resist? Besides... the mountain has monkeys! Yep, wild monkeys.  I'm a big fan of non-human primates, as well as a select few human primates, and I really wanted to see the monkeys!

So, set off up the mountain.  I'm ready for a hike.  But what I didn't expect was the 800,000 steps of purgatory.  This isn't a hike up a mountain. No no, that'd have been too easy.  Clearly over a century or two ago, someone thought it'd be a nice gesture to pilgrims to build stone steps up the mountain.
That person was wrong.
This is the nice part, it gets more eroded the further up you go.
Fast forward through time, trampling and erosion and you now have uneven, crumbling steps that are far harder to navigate than any mountain path would be.  And after the first half mile or so, when you're wondering if it is possible to will yourself to death, the first of the suicidal goat men run by.  For a fee you can pay to have two guys carry you in a shoulder mounted stretcher device as they *run* up and down the mountain.  One of the scariest things I've ever seen. Thanks just the same, I'll walk.

On the way up I saw no monkeys. I got there as it was getting dark, and some of the people who worked at the monastery were kind enough to make some food.  It was good.  Which I was very grateful for, for you see, I don't really like Chinese food.  This can be a problem when in China.  Most of what they have does tend to be Chinese Food. But this was good so I was very happy.

I asked about monkeys.  Which sounds a bit like 'Ho-tsu' to my ears.  They clearly thought I was crazy.
Yes, there are monkeys. No, I shouldn't go looking for them.
But seeing my resolve they let me borrow a walking stick- evidently he thought I'd need it to defend myself from being taken by a monkey troop and adopted into their tribe.  Or maybe just murdered. Hard to say.
Off I went, staff in hand.  After over an hour, no monkeys and no more light, I head back.
I got to hang out with the monks after watching them do the evening prayers. In the night air, bells ringing in the old monastery, muscles aching, life was good. Except for no monkeys.

After a night of sleeping on a bed made from knotted and cracked pieces of discarded wood, I woke to a few remaining muscles that were not triple knotted. I decided I'd head back down: no way to get up to another monastery and all the way back down in a day.

Loading up on water, I bought some nuts and looked at the slim pickings of portable food for sale.
Not much I would touch.
I am incredibly picky when it comes to food. I love to travel, but it does make it difficult.
Ah! They have Oreos!  That'll work. Oh, but not at that price... but hey, what's this- a generic version of Oreos? On reading the package I see that they're from Australia. OK, that's Western Civilization, should meet my food limitations, and at 1/3 the price we call that sold. Down the Mountain we go.

I started to get hungry after some time, so broke out the Aussie Oreos.  Took a bite, half a cookie in my mouth and a shiver ran through my spine to curdle my stomach.  "Whad de Ell es Dis?" I said with a mouth full of cookie my tongue was trying to avoid.  I spat it out.  It was revolting. What the hell do Australians put in their Oreos? Sewer scrapings? My god, maybe it's Vegemite. Sorry Men At Work, great song, but this stuff tastes like a dead man's armpit. OK, it's going to be a lean trip.

I keep a keen eye out for Hotsus: I want to see some Monkeys!
About halfway down I hear something off to the left, in the bushes!  The ground slopes down and the foliage is thick and green.  Yes, definitely a rustling sound! I stop.  I listen. I peer, but see nothing.  The sound had stopped.  I call out "Ho-tsu! Ho-tsu!" Nothing.
Oh! I think.  I can give them those nasty Australian Oreos!  I get the cookies, and throw one into the bushes where I heard the sound- not far.  And again say "Ho-tsu!" I've heard they are insistant with travelers, demanding food, even stealing backpacks, what do I have to do to get some monkey attention anyway?

Although I did have an image in my head of a monkey eating that not-oreo and coming after me in fury!
But nothing. I threw a few more cookies and called 'Hot-su' but clearly the monkey had gone, so I continued down, I looked back briefly, and from this new angle could now see a mortified man squatting in the bushes, going about his constitutional!  Oops! I went on fast.
And then laughed and laughed.  He must have thought I was crazy! "what the hell is this American doing, calling me a monkey and throwing cookies at me while I'm trying to take a crap?"
I always wonder if he tells the story too and gets a good laugh out of it now.

I just hope he didn't eat the cookies.

Not my movie, but looks to have some good shots of Leshan.
If you ever get the chance, go!

This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 
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Michael Awdry said...

Wow! A 'hugely' impressive sight. What an achievement.

The Angry Lurker said...

What a great description, made me laugh especially one way!

Anne said...

I'd love to see China and Singapore before I die (or get my arm chewed off by a hyena). Nice photography here and the vid really made the post. You know how to live well. (A couple of L words in there for you today). Keep on keepin' on Laughing Ferret!

Paul of the Man Cave said...

Very impressive! I've been to many parts of the world too, but being a sailor I probably have tended to focus on way too many sleezy waterside bars!

S. L. Hennessy said...

The sky tram looks a little...terrifying. I think I'll take the stairs.

skywatcher said...

Great story. I got a great laugh from your 'monkey' encounter.

Laughing Ferret said...

Michael, pictures don't do it justice- amazing when you're there.

Angry & Skywatcher: Thanks! I still laugh about so many things from that trip.

Anne: I haven't been to Singapore yet. So many places still to go to. China is very worth seeing.

Paul: i'm sure that kind of travel generates its stories as well ;)

SL: I'm afraid the sky tram is pretty much a must. That's the first leg of the trip, the stairs come after. I'm sure you could find a way on foot, but it may take an extra week and you might be eaten by giant pandas ;)

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