EMEI SHAN : THE ASCENTAfter spending a night at the Hongzhushan, we drove up the mountains to a carpark near Jieyin Dian. At 2640m, this is where the clouds are, and hence it is extremely cold. Peasants surrounded us the moment we left the car, urging us to rent their thick, bulky military coats lest we freeze to death at higher levels. Nevertheless, we fought our way through the army of peasant-touts without buying anything and took a short but strenuous walk up to the cable car station. Here, the sight was beholding - orange autumn foliage and maple trees - no wonder they say the gods live here. Along the path, one finds many hawker stalls, selling snacks, religious object d'art and traditional Chinese medicinal drugs (including stuff like dear antlers, various roots and bark, etc). The last appeared attractive but my hosts reminded me of the deluge of counterfeit products and conmen in China today, and it would be better for me to obtain such items at better organised state-run department stores. And here, one not only encounter Chinese company-organised tour groups, devoted elderly pilgrims, peasants on the way to their remote villages, porters carrying loads of bricks, an occasional Western or Hong Kong backpacker, but also huagan porters. A huagan is a simple bamboo sedan chair carried by peasant-porters to bring tired or weak pilgrims up the mountain. It’s amazing seeing how such feudal occupations managed to survive in socialist China, and it is clear to see that many of those being carried are anything but weak or old. But again, as our hosts commented, it was not entirely safe to be carried by these huagan porters. A young son of one of the company’s officials nearly fell off a cliff last year when the porter who carried him slipped and fell down.
Soon we joined the hordes of other tourists (mostly Chinese from all over China - there are few foreigners in Sichuan) in queuing for the cable car to the Jinding, or Golden Summit. Like many tourist attractions in new pseudo-capitalistic China, there is a princely entrance fee to the foothills of the mountain (RMB 30 - a huge sum for any Chinese citizen), and individual charges for different points of interest, including temples. No wonder a graffiti at the cable car station says : “The mountain robbers are many ; doors open when money is showered ; one should not come again.”
JindingNow we have reached the Jinding - as far as one can go at Emei Shan. Here, at 3055m, the sky’s glaring and due to the altitude, it was no longer cold. (In fact, I had to take out my own sweater or I would start perspiring.) Well, before us was the beautiful temple of Jinding perched on a perpendicular clifftop, and whose golden roofs reflected light in the sun, as though it was a star on top of the mountain. Below us is the famous Sea of Clouds, which blocked the view of everything below, except for an occasional foliage-covered peak that protruded it. And in the horizon, were the snow-capped mountains of the Tibetan Plateau and Gongga Shan (the peak of the Great Snow Mountains). Mountains everywhere...no wonder why this land was so isolated and sheltered from invasions over the centuries. And indeed the great Chinese poet Li Bo (A.D. 701 - 762) said in a famous poem :
“On how dangerous, how high ! How hard is the road to Shu ! It is as hard as the road to Heaven...”
The Temple of Jinding is perched on that famous perpendicular cliff known as Sheshen Yan (Self-Sacrifice Crag), well above the clouds and all that below. It is said that the sight here is so beautiful and hypnotising that many jumped down from here, thinking that nirvana and heaven is before them. Railings had to be put up lest more lives are lost. But frankly, the railings are low enough, and the devoted and those who are emotionally-stirred may still leap forward into the space beyond. And the authorities should be particularly fearful when a natural phenomenon, the Buddha’s Aureole, is observable. On sunny and clear afternoons, a bright halo of rainbow colours is sometimes seen. According to guidebooks, this is caused by rays being reflected by water-laden air, and the devoted may mistook these as manifestation of the Buddha welcoming the visitor to nirvana. It is therefore not surprising that mishaps most often occur when the Buddha’s Aureole, is observable. Perhaps, even then, railings are certainly useless.
The temple itself is ordinary inside. One may donate a small sum in exchange for a blessed handkerchief and a blessing from the monk inside. And here, we met a group of Yi ethnic minority tribeswomen on pilgrimage. Wearing their colourful traditional costume and headdress, my host took a few close-shots of them as he knew I love such pictures - despite their protests and my embarrassment. I hope we haven’t spoiled the sanctity of the place through this...
After this, we returned to our car and drove downhill, past a midhill restaurant where we had a fantastic meal. And our hosts were introduced to a dish unlisted in the menu - fried “weizhi” with onions. Apparently, the weizhi is a protected animal and the amazing thing was that we told about it by a group of policemen eating there, saying “Ask for weizhi, it’s good !” I wonder what exactly it is and went to the kitchen to have a look. There it is, a dead creature with a fox-like body and a cat-like head, maybe a variety of civet cat. Though I sometimes claimed to be a conservationist, curiosity overtook me and I ate what was cooked (in any case, I was too polite to turn my host down). It tasted like a cross between chicken and beef. And I left the place feeling satisfied with the meal but nevertheless guilty like a bourgeois urbanite who had committed minor crimes he condemned in other circumstances.
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