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Published: April 20th 2013
Early morning call - 6.20am
View from our boat on the Yangtze River.
At 6.20am we are rudely awoken by an intercom announcement first in Chinese repeated three times and then in English also repeated three times! It's telling us we have to be at breakfast by half six, so bleary eyed we stumble about in our cabin getting dressed and zombie-like make our way up to the restaurant to sit with our fellow travellers on another Geckos tour. They are also a group of 5 - two older couples from Australia and a young girl from the UK who doesn't like Chinese food so won't be joining us for meals. I think she has just been eating crisps and biscuits the whole time!
After stuffing our faces we get ready to go off on our shore excursion to the Ghost City starting at 7.30am! I'm really not used to such early starts but it turns out to be a good move as there are very few other people at the site leaving us lots of space to enjoy ourselves without the crowds. We arrive at the site on our little milk float style transfer vehicles and make our way through the opening market stalls trying to tempt us with their roasted pigs
Sherrie, our guide for the Ghost City tour
Complete with flag and headset microphone.
heads and trotters - boo yah sheer sheer!
We have a lovely tour guide, Sherrie, for our visit, complete with flag and microphone head-set. She has a very charming and humourous style which makes for an enjoyable tour. We are also accompanied by the cruise boat's resident photographer, who will no doubt be trying so sell us his photos on our return to the boat. So the Ghost City, what's it all about?
Situated on the Ming Mountain on the northern bank of the Yangze River in Fengdu County is the Ghost City. It has nearly 2000 years history combining the three cultures of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism with the added mystique of - whoooooo - ghosts! It got it's name of Ghost City in the East Han Dynasty when two officials Yin Changshen and Wang Fangping (what a brilliant name!) came to Ming Mountain to practice Toaist teachings and promptly became immortals! Combining their two names Yinwang produces the King of Hell (or the underworld). Over time the site had buildings, temples, bridges and statues added with tests associated with the dead reaching the afterlife included for any visitors who dared enter the site.
a climb up the hill we reached the first building and were met by two generals with magical powers - Hum with his mouth closed and Hah with his mouth open. We all shout 'Hum Hah!' to scare away any ghosts 😊 We see there are bats decorating the doors, which isn't meant to be creepy as bats are seen as lucky in China, representing good fortune and different types of happiness.
Our guide explained there would be two tests we'd have to complete to prove we are good rather than evil and worthy of entering the underworld and we would come to these later. The first was to be a bridge crossing and the second a balancing stone! It sounded very intriguing.
The first building we reached was a Buddhist temple - you can tell from the entrance doors apparently. Buddhist temples have a large entrance in the middle and two smaller ones to each side, whereas Toaist temples have entrances the same size. Here we saw incense sticks being burnt three at a time and also money being burnt. Its just pretend money though as it's illegal to burn the real thing! We were shown a
wealth blessings side temple and I go over to get some poker luck 😉
And so to the first test at the Nothing to be Done bridges built in the Ming Dynasty 600 years ago. There were three bridges side by side and we had to successfully cross the middle one to pass the test. There were various rules to follow depending on whether you were male, female or a couple. As a female single I had to step onto the tiled section of the bridge with my right foot (our guide pointing out it was easy to remember which foot as women are always right!) and take either 5, 7 or 9 steps to cross the tiled section without slipping. I made it over without mishap and had my photo taken with the fan dude dressed up in colourful costume to welcome us across the bridge.
There was then an additional bridge crossing to make. We had to go back the other way over one of the side bridges but this time we could choose - the one on the left was to bring wealth and the one on the right health and the more steps you
took the more wealth or health would come your way. EVERYONE chose the health side apart from Aaron which made for a funny photo.
We then came to a set of stairs to climb up to the next temple. Our guide had added in an additional test of her own here. Anyone younger than 33 had to run up the steps in one breath. Those over 33 were allowed to walk! From our group there were Renee and Aaron who made it up easily. I took advantage of my age and sauntered slowly up the stairs 😉
We saw a lovely piece of Chinese script carved on a stone at the top with the meaning 'Only kindness brings peace' which I thought was rather beautiful and something I wished more of our world leaders would practice once in a while instead of their patriotic and selfish fervor for control and power.
Inside the temple we met the King of Heaven with his adviser and guardian on either side. Over one door on the Baizi temple were the words 'One hundred children' and a carved stone relief depicting not 100 but 99 children. The hundredth child could be
prayed for to the Goddess of Fertility as you entered through the door. Needless to say I prayed for the opposite. I've had enough kids thank you very much. She was making a hand symbol with the middle finger touching the thumb which means 'Be safe'.
As we came out of the temple we saw some metal bowls laid out on red cloth draped tables and a guy demonstrating how to make the water ping up in kind of columns around the edge by rubbing the handles on the bowls with his hands. The higher you could make the water columns rise the more wealth would come your way. We could pay 10 yuan to have a go, so I stepped up to try my luck. Immediately I started rubbing the handles of my bowl the water shot high up - weeee poker monies on PKR when I get home then! Another girl from our boat, Jude, had a go and just couldn't get it to work at all. It was really odd. Eventually after much trying she got the water to ping up a little bit, but it looked like she was going to be poor for the
rest of her trip.
We look out across the river from a balcony area towards Fung Du. This is one of the places used to resettle some of the millions of people who had to be rehoused because of the dam project destroying their villages and homes. Work started in 1992 and it's been such an upheaval for people involving massive amounts of construction work. The changes have had different reactions. Most of the older generation hate it and are so sad about losing their homes and communities and having to start all over again, whereas many of the younger people welcome the city living and modern facilities the new construction has brought them. Personally I'm with the older people on this one. Whenever I've seen a really old person in one of the big cities we pass through, shuffling along surrounded by high rise buildings, I wonder how many changes they must have seen and whether they once lived in the countryside but have seen their home swamped by the concrete jungle rising up around them as they grow old.
We continue with our tour, heading off up some steps along the Huanguan Road - the road
to the underworld - with ghostly statues on either side. One was of a beautiful woman who supposedly lures men by her beauty and then kills them. Aaron enjoyed this lady's attributes and managed to avoid slaughter somehow 😉 There was also a drinking statue - not sure what the ghostly theme was here but I enjoyed a drink from his big urn he was pouring alcohol from.
After negotiating our way past the statues we find ourselves at the Palace of the Netherly Emperor and find this is where our next test is. There is a square with a brass ball set inside it. We have to stand on the ball on one leg and look up at the Palace balancing steadily for at least three seconds. Everyone has a go with varying results! Those of us who pass the test are allowed to continue on our journey to the underworld (well actually everyone was allowed to continue but hey it's the taking part that counts right?). The Palace was a combination of Buddhism and Taoism and as we walked over the threshold we had to take care not to step ON but OVER the bottom of the
entrance, women leading with their right foot and men with their left (remember, women are always right!). Inside we get to see what happens to those who have led a bad life when they enter the underworld. They have to endure silly animal faces forever! Actually I thought they were quite fun and quite fancied the idea of spending the rest of eternity as a freaky donkey/cow with a ball on a stick!
We get to see the 18 levels of hell inside where there's a gruesome torture chamber with torturous things carried out in the underworld to those who have been naughty in the real world. Men who have had affairs seem to get the worst treatment being sawn in half, upside down, starting between their legs!! The women who have been similarly adulterous get their heads dipped in hot oil while the worst sin of all, gossiping (!) receives the punishment of eyes and tongues being ripped out!
We exit to a much nicer scene near a beautiful pagoda built in the Tung Dynasty. Unfortunately it isn't safe to go up and so cannot pass to the next life just yet. We are able to look
out over the valley from here where we see some tombs lined up and as it is tomb sweeping festival time there are little puffs of smoke all around too from people burning their paper offerings.
We also see some more construction work going on in the distance, a concrete jungle going up to house the people that were forcibly resettled due to the three gorges dam project. Here Sherrie tells us that the new national bird of China is - the construction crane and the new national gemstone of China is - concrete (wah wah wahhhh).
This is the end of our fab tour around the Ghost City so we wind our way back down the hill to pick up our 'milk float' back to the boat. Renee gets nabbed for a 'photo with a foreigner' session on the way. She seems to be the second favourite from our group after Aaron. She thought I would be more interesting cos of being so tall and having blonde hair, but I point out that young lads are more likely to go for the pretty petite young girl not the wrinkly minger loool
And so back to the
boat for a relaxing day enjoying the scenery and soaking up the sun that has kindly decided to join us for the cruise.
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