Sunday, February 25, 2007


Clare and I were both excited when we got to Chengdu. We knew that at least one day would be spent at the Panda sanctuary but apart from that we had little else planned- although we knew that there were plenty of options; Horse Trekking and Boat Trips up the Yangtze being 2 of the main examples.

We were a little dissapointed when we got to the hostel then and found out that the shortest trip up the Yangtze was 4 days, which we could still do but because you were "going up the Yangtze" you ended up nowhere near Chengdu. Not ideal when your flying out of there on your 4th morning at 7.45am. The horse trekking was also a no-go the shortest trek was 2 days long but once again it took one day to get there and one day to get back.So we were left with a few other options and we ended up doing things that I think we both enjoyed equally as much as we would have done had we had gone on the other excursions.

On the first morning we went to the Panda Breeding sanctuary. Panda's get up early and are only really active in the morning before they have digested half their body weight in Bamboo. So this required us to get up early in order to get to the sanctuary as it opened. I think we go their spot on 8 "o" clock and we walked in as the gates swung open. I had previously seen some pandas at Beijing Zoo but they were enclosed in small concrete rooms with not much to do and did not appear to be very friendly at all- I had been hugely disappointed. Here however the pandas had huge enclosures to roam in and had trees to climb on and swings to play on and of course loads upon loads of bamboo to eat. The centre has about 60 pandas (there are only something like 1200 in the world) a mix between the smaller red pandas-which more resemble raccoons-and the huge black and white bears that have become the icon for the World Wildlife Fund.

We had a great time at the sanctuary and saw loads of pandas-and took far to many photos. We saw one panda approach and start fighting with another which was actualyl quite funny, and we also some less than 100 day old pandas that looked like tiny fluff balls and were terribly cute as they flung themselves around the trees and the bushes. We were able to have our photos taken with both the Red Pandas and the Older Black and White Pandas. The Red Pandas were very sweet and happy sat in our hands as we fed them. Clare said that she preferred them to the more usual pandas. The Other panda was sat on a Chair in front of us eating as we stroked them whilst the enclosure keeper took our photo- we had to be careful not to alarm the bear and at one point I was told off for getting a little over enthusistic! By this time the park was getting really busy so we were very glad to have gone there in the morning when it was quiet-else we might not have had these opportunities.

We decided that with our spare days we would climb a moutain. Mount Emei is 3,099 km above ground level (some 10,000 feet) and is one of the 4 sacred Buddhist mountains in China. We were told that it would take us around two days to complete the climb to the top. We got to Emei at around 12 and eventually made our way to the entrance of the mountain after an hour- even that took quite some walking and I was wondering whether we would be cut out for the whole journey! We were following our map quite carefully and making good progress when after about 3 hours we were tempted by the offer of a lift to the next way point.We accepted. But instead of taking us to where we were meant to be going we were punished for our attempting to cheat and taken to a different way point which was actually half way back down the hill. This coupled with us getting lost and confused on a few seperate occaisions lead to us making less progress on the first day than planned.

After 5 hours of trekking we reach Wannilan Monastary and this is where we stayed the night.It very cheap to stay there and they also prepared cheap and delicious food. It was cool to be staying there overnight and when the monastry was dark and empty it was a far different feeling from how it was during the day with the crowds. We were woken at about 8am by the chanting monks and started walking again at about 9am. On the second day we walked for 9 hours in total through sun, cloud, mist and snow which was all just about incident free- apart from the monkeys!

We had been warned about the monkeys at various points along the way.On the map there were 4 locations where Monkeys were marked by a happy smiling little monkey face but we hadn't seen any up to about 4pm on the second day. Chinese people constantly warned us about the monkeys and tried selling us sticks with reach to beat them off with but I didn't think it was necessary seeing as we hadn't seen any yet. We bumped into a chinese tourist however who informed us that at one particular point the monkeys did get rather vicious and would try jumping at you and try to scratch your face. At this point I decided it would be wise to buy a walking stick-just in case I needed to beat a live monkey off Clare. As we approached the monkey area we met another chinese couple and asked them about the monkeys. They said that there were hundreds in the next section. At this point Clare looked rather unhappy and probably would have asked to go home if it were not for the fact that we were 2000km up a mountain. But they insisted that the monkeys were happy and friendly and went on to show us some pictures of them posing with their simian friends.

We left them and walked around the corner. We were feeling a little happier when out of the mist came a huge monkey just sat in the middle of the path staring at us. Clare immediately yelled out and grabbed my arm shaking and screamed "hit it, hit it". I hit the walking stick on the ground in front of the monkey which made him leer at us a little. I admit at this point I was thinking that I may need a change of pants. But we gradually managed to walk our way around the monkey and up the path. At this point we realised that they were everywhere. Above us, below us, to the side and that there really was no escaping them so we decided to walk as possible to the next check point to get away from them.

After the monkeys we cheated for the second time and caught the short cable car to the top of the mountain. The weather at the top was superb. Bright warm sunshine and quite amazing when you considered the snow and cold wind we encountered below. As the cable car emereged from the cloud into the sunshine the Chinese tourists gave an excited squeel! Lonely Planet and the map said there was cheap accomodation on the summit and we had planned to stay there and watch the sun rise in the morning. However the cheap accomodation was not to be found and instead we ended up staying in a scabby chinese hotel room which stank and had no windows and paid 400 Yuan for the privelledge! We woke up in the morning to see the sun rise but instead were greeted by a snow storm so packed up our belongings and made our way back down the mountain to the nearest coach park to catch a bus to ground level. The trip down was incident free apart from one fairly spectacular slip from me which easily would have earnt me £250 on "you've been framed"-where's the camcorder when you need it!

On the way back from Mount Emei we called into nearby Le Shan to see the World's Biggest Buddha statue. As it was a sunday by now and also a public holiday the national park around the statue was heaving so we had to queue up to see the staute. This took about an hour and didn't really leave much time to see much of the rest of the park which was a shame. The statue was cool. Just a massive buddha really- pretty does what is says on the tin. Can't say that I was that amazed or overawed by it but I am glad to be able to say that I've seen it.

After that we caught our bus back to Chengdu and tomorrow we go to Shijiazhuang where Clare will see how I have been living for the last 6 months!

No comments: