written mostly on the bus ride home, October 3, Mid-Autumn Day
Woke up at 6 to the chants of monks, resonance of prayer gongs and pungence of ceremonial, sweet, smoky-sick incense below us. Walked the grounds with my camera after a while of laying in bed awake. This mountain is most beautiful to me when misted at daybreak. I came back and, within the temple, in the prayer hall under where I had slept, I knelt before the Buddha effigy's serene golden-plaque face and offered prayer. Not out of new religious conviction, but from renewed devotion to and recognition of natural, intuitive, semi-destined experiences, those like I'd felt continuously all trip. The ceremony was an excuse, a chance for supplication to all the things that I make happen or that happen to me, because I'll never know exactly how. Ceremonially kneeling to That and just letting them happen for once.
We had breakfast in the monastery, and once again the monks didn't disappoint. We've decided that because monks have all day (all life) to cultivate their mind and think about what they'll make themselves for dinner, they are all, collectively, without exception, superb cooks as a result.
Then we were off, having only 17.5 km to go, and almost all downhill, according to a guesstimate drawn from the disproportionate tourist map and occasionally flawed distances quoted in Lonely Planet. We were almost there, but still wanted a relatively early start and decent pace.
Although not as fast of a pace as before, because it had rained heavily that night and continued to drizzle all day, causing the stairs to become increasingly wet. It was an odd juxtaposition, the cold rain and the hot sweat from hiking, and I took off and put on my sweatshirt compulsively all day. Either way, I was wet, either from sweat or rain, and the sweatshirt just got browbeaten by saturation on both ends. I eventually just kept it off, despite the rain, because it was like wearing a 15-pound, smelly sponge.
We had our only navigational slip-up of the trip when we missed the split off to take the other main trail down the mountain. Along it are temples we had not seen yet, and the distance was at least 5 km shorter. The downside would be more tourists, but we were willing to tolerate this for new sights. However, the turn off was somewhat concealed by an obnoxious concession stand, so while we were too busy turning down bottles of over-priced water and, oddly enough, Dove chocolate bars, we missed our turn. At the next snack stand, the very friendly woman who ran it (whom we bought Oranges from the day before) told us that we'd passed our destination by about 15 minutes. So that was 15 min of difficult uphill hiking we weren't expecting.
But anyway, we found our new trail, and began hiking uphill once more, an unpleasant surprise, but necessary due to topography. This trail first surmounts Monkey Mountain, a smaller one adjacent to EMei, before descending 100-200m and joining with the other trail. This saves distances compared to the rather narrow, windy, steep ascension along EMei Mountain's base that we took.
After a quick rest at the temple on Monkey Mountain's peak, it was a rapid rapid descent for 8-10 km, during which we dropped about 1000m of altitude. It's easier descending than ascending, but still, the conscious balance-keeping and repetitive motion of climbing down small stairs were not greeted joyously by already-sore legs. We passed the time by shooting the breeze about our lives back home and commenting on the Chinese citizens' seemingly complete lack of care for 环保(environmental protection), just throwing trash on the ground carelessly, recklessly, just trashing this prev. holy mountain. Of all the countries who should be concerned with environmental protection right now (or at least, throwing things in trash cans and recycling--y'know, the basics), it should be the citizens of the most-populated country in the world.
A similar sentiment felt at 万年侍(Longevity Temple), the landmark at which the mountain begins to bottom out. The top of the base, if you will. It is EMei Shan's largest (probably most impressive) temple, but it was hellishly packed with touriss who would either just go see the monkeys and go home after, or take the cable cars and buses ACAP (As Conveniently As Possible) to the mountain's peak. Disheartening, disappointing and expected.
Of course people will want to enjoy something the easiest way, even (especially?) if they have to pay for it. WanNian Shi was 10RMB to enter, and we said Forget it. All those serene, geographically-buried monasteries within the mountain's mid-wilderness that 85%!((MISSING)Nick's est.) of visitors will never even try to reach, they were better for us than this temple anyway. They were what we wanted to experience. So people want to go to EMei Shan and places like it to spend much money to see the most (well-known) beautiful scenic spots, and do it leisurely. We wanted to hike it, to e a part of it, and ascend to the summit ourselves, of our own strength, sleeping on thin monastery beds about monks' prayer halls along the way. We want to appreciate not only that a site is beautiful, but also how, where, and why its beauty should be impressive. That's what we came for, to work harder and enjoy//appreciate the experience more deeply, feel it aching in our sore calves.
Sorry for this long, pseudo-philosophical tangent, but I feel this is a major distinction between two types of people, and if I'm one of the 15%!o(MISSING)f the human population that'll work harder to appreciate more deeply, than I am satisfied and grateful. Even if the other 85%!i(MISSING)nherently cannot appreciate such a decision. This all amde much more sense while I was staring into the stream that runs under a bridge next to 清声(ClearSound) Pavilion, watching section sof the water churn rapid and frothy over rocks so that the stream could level out after in large gentle pools of tranquil, effortless, easy-flowing stretches. But it is difficult//impossible to express now.
We were tired of walking politely behind scores of tourists with not inkling of the depth of our soreness, so the four of us began blowing past them again in a final push through the flat stretch of walkway to the exit. We exited the mountain from the place where we entered it at about 1 p.m., or 46 hours after beginning our excursion. 46 hours to the summit and back, when all quoted times by locals were 2-4 days just for the climb up. Welcome to America, China.
We bought a 20RMB bus ticket to EMei City, waited too long for it to come before getting on and observing with helpless wonder as the bus driver snaked and threaded the bulky thing through standstill traffic. That's just how bus and taxi drivers get it done here (although we saw another public bus crunch the front bumper of a tour van right in front of us. Rookie.)
Then, at the bus station where we were dropped off, not knowing exactly where the train station was and not really caring, we ponied up 48RMB for a direct bus straight to Chengdu. Which is where I am right now--in the back seat of a bus to the city, a Chinese woman already fast asleep in the seat next to me, her head unknowingly resting on my (writing) shoulder. Vince is asleep against the window on my right, his head banging against it at every bump in the road. The Nicks are starting to doze while watching the on-bus movie on my (and this sleepy woman's) left. I'm so happy we made this venture happen (although my legs are not). It happened completely, persistently, successfully and at times, serendipitously. It was hard to do, and that made it better. I appreciate the mountain, the monasteries, my friends and the experiences shared.