Since it seems like we will be stuck in Beijing for a few weeks and can’t travel outside the city without high risk of being quarantined, I went through pictures of previous trips and enjoyed some good old wanderlust. Here are some impressions from Guizhou, a province in southwest China which is not yet on many travelers bucket list, which we visited in May 2021.
梵净山 || The sacred Fanjing mountain
During our road trip though the small Guizhou province, I have been monitoring the weather constantly, since visiting mount Fanjing make sense only on a clear day. It is the highest peak of the Wuling mountain, which has special significance in Buddhism and has been considered scared for centuries. Since 2018 its a UNESCO world heritage site, protecting the unique biosphere, with its primitive vegetation and several endangered species.
There are two rock pinnacles at the top of Mount Fanjing. On top of the New Golden Peak there are two Buddhist temples connected by a narrow bridge spanning the fissure between two parts of rock.
While Fanjing mountain is not incredibly difficult to ascent, it’s also not a walk in the park. After the ticket check you get shuttled by air-conditioned mini van to the cable car station. This takes around 15 minutes. Another 15 minutes are spent in the gondola with spectacular views. Then the tough part begins. You could hire two guys to carry you up on a sedan chair if you can accept the steep price based on your weight. This will only bring you to the plateau on top of Fanjing mountain though. You still have to climb the two peaks by yourself if you want to get the full panorama from the top and the ascent it quite steep. In some places you need to pull yourself up using iron chains, explaining the vendors selling gloves at the entrance. We also had a guy with acrophobia in our cable car and I’d say this is no location for people with fear of heights. I’d also recommend a basic fitness level as there are 30 minutes worth of stairs that you have to climb even before getting to the “extreme” section. All absolutely worth it if the weather plays along.
Beijing’s Haidian district is home to the Zhenjue temple, which is a people magnet in late autumn due to its golden ginkgo trees. The main sight is the diamond throne in the center of the temple complex looking strangely like the pagodas in Cambodia or India. Built from bricks and white marble, the buildings have developed an orange tint over the years due to the oxidation of iron traces in the stones. Magnificent ginkgo trees can be found within the inner courtyards, and two ancient trees line the entrance to the main pagoda.
It’s a very interesting experience to drive from Chengdu halfway across the province to reach Sichuan’s Tibetan roots in the west. Starting in an urban metropolis most of the route goes merely along highways and speedways. If you pay attention, you may notice the ever so slight climb in altitude, but truth be told the first few hours simply fly by without much to see. It is in fact the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in an audio book during the steady drive higher up the Tibetan plateau. While we listened to Bob’s adventures in the multiverse, the air got thinner and thinner, the sky appeared to be increasingly farther away, as if going up that mountain somehow magically pushed the skies farther back into the universe.
There are only a few roads that cars can take into this direction with the main national road forming a loop north and south from Chengdu to Kangding. We took the southern line into the backcountry both on the way to and from the Tagong grasslands and never got to see the northern route. Yet even taking the same road both times it didn’t feel like seeing the same landscape again. It’s like walking somewhere you have never been before and turning around every once in a while – it never looks the same as in the direction you are going.
At the intersection where national road G318 splits and shares a few kilometers of road with highway G248 going west we checked into the Tanggute hotel and set up camp for the night. Since we were leaving for our three day hike across the Tagong grasslands the next day, we repacked our backpacks and suitcases to prepare for the upcoming horseback ride, tent stay and day-long hikes. Most of our luggage would be stored in our car trunk while the outdoor essentials and warm hiking gear would come with us. Satisfied that we were good to go the next day we went across the street to have a hotpot dinner.
These towns are really not much to look at and most of the people apparat to either be passing through or working in the hotel/restaurant business or building new houses. Driving into the small town there were also locals waiting by the side of the street offering rooms in their homes for the night which I would have preferred. But since I wanted to make sure that we actually had a place to stay that night and not have to sleep in the car I didn’t want to take the chance and be stranded in the middle of nowhere. We apparently had booked a room in one of the larger establishments sitting right at the corner of the intersection. They had loud music blasting from tall speakers near a small stage on their parking lot, an attempt to attract visitors keen to sing karaoke before going to bed. We only had food and maybe a glass of cold beer on our mind so the checked Dianping and found a restaurant with good recommendations right across the street from our hotel.
For a really long time I wasn’t a big fan of hotpot and found the broth either completely bleak or way too spicy. That night it was a quite pleasant version of the dish, with dried mushrooms, dates and goji berries stewing in the soup. I was still recovering from a bad cold I had caught only days before departing to Sichuan, and eating the soup and veggies felt very soothing to my throat. They also sold home made fruit liquor by the glass and while we definitely didn’t plan on getting drunk, the hot soup in combination with the drink and the thunderstorm that was raging outside did wonders to make us relaxed before heading home and hitting the sack early. The next day we would be leaving for the Tagong grasslands and start our three day hike across the plains.
On our road trip from Sichuan’s capital Chengdu to the autonomous Tibetan region farther west we made a stop at the ancient town of Liujiang where we spend a night at a beautiful traditional courtyard hotel. At night we sat on the veranda on the second floor outside overlooking the main street and drank a local beer.
Built over 800 year ago the town is hiding under an almost constant cover of clouds and mist. This humidity contributes significantly to the lush green bamboo forests we drove through to get into town. It’s towering poles grew across and above the street and built a roof over the cars passing below. On the side of the road elderly women sold pickled bamboo shoots and other vegetables homegrown in their own yards. The Yangcun river runs all the way through the small town and when the tide is lower there are walking stones on which people can cross it to get to the other side.
This courtyard was built by Zeng Yicheng who studied architecture in France and combined both Chinese and Western elements into the construction. The overall layout resembles the Chinese character “Shou”, implying longevity, and includes three drama stage inside the courtyards, which is quite unusual in residential courtyards.
Liujiang turned out to be a great place to try the local cuisine and we snacked our way along the main food street to try most of the delicacies on offer.
The rain followed us all the way from Leshan to Mount Emei and we arrived in the small town at the foot of this important Buddhist mountain somewhat soaked. We planned to drive up to the temples of Emeishan very early the next morning so we took the restaurant recommendation of our hostess, had a nice dinner there and went to bed early. At 5am the next morning we awoke refreshed and well rested and took the car to the park entrance. We were told that there are only a limited amount of cars allowed to enter the road up Mount Emei every day, and I didn’t want to take any chances and be too late. I admit I might have calculated the amount of time we needed to reach the Wannian temple a little too generously, and we drove onto the parking lot under the cover of darkness and more than an hour before it opened. We ate a snack of eggs and Baozi in the car and settled back for another cat nap until the doors opened at dawn.
The rain of the night before left glittering drops of dew all over the trees and conifers along the path and we found ourselves in a quiet and serene forest while taking the climb up the steps to Wannian temple. Under a blanket of mist we walked past closed shops and restaurants until we finally ascended to one of the most important Buddhist temples on Mount Emei.
With the fog clouding the view all around us visiting the temple almost felt like exploring another world. There was a pond on one of the squares that was rumored to have singing frogs in it and I was glad for the excuse to take a quick rest there to see if we might find one of them. Much harder to miss was the massive bronze and marble statue of an elephant with six tusks in the main hall of the temple.
Before the arrival of the local tourists we headed back down and ate a more comprehensive breakfast in one of the now open restaurants. They offered a delicious version of pickled cabbage and radishes with fresh mantou and a bowl of rice soup and were kind enough to refill our thermos with hot water as is customary all over China.
Returning to the parking lot we took our car and drove further up the mountain and changed into an official tourist bus that brought us the remaining kilometers up to Mount Emei. Since it was still early just after noon we settled into our spartan hotel room and caught up on the sleep the sacrificed in the morning. We woke just in time to still make the trip up to the cable car station to check the options for ascending all the way up to the main viewing platform on the Golden Summit. Satisfied that we could make it up there before sunrise the next morning we climbed back down, rain-proofed Jeltes shoes, had dinner and then settled in for the night.
Like the days before we woke up in a big cloud of mist and rain on the day of our ascent to the Golden Summit. Although we were still in pitch blackness during our cable car ride up it slowly became clear to us that it was highly unlikely that we would see the infamous sea of clouds from the top of Mount Emei. It was still a very unique experience to await the highly anticipated sunrise.
During the 2020 national holidays we decided to go see the Sichuan province and discover China’s Buddhist and Tibetan roots. With the pandemic still in full swing all over the world international travel was not an option anyways and instead of mourning all the places we could have gone we made the best of it and got to know the country we now call home for more than five year a little better.
As with a couple of trips before we flew to the capital of the province and rented a car for a road trip. In Chengdu we therefore went straight to the CAR rental and drove 130km south to Leshan, where we went to see the world’s biggest Buddha statue made from stone. This 1300 year old 70m high deity was carved into the Lingyun mountain during the Tang dynasty with the purpose to calm the turbulent river flowing before it.
The main entrance leads visitors to a viewing platform on shoulder height of the Buddha, which at its end leads to a passage all the way down to the the Buddhas enormous feet. Usually the queue to get down closer to the water to look up at the statue is hours long, but in pandemic times it only took us some 30 minutes. It rained a little while we were at Leshan but that didn’t spoil our mood, on the contrary, it made the whole experience even more fun.
It’s been already a few month since we traveled to Taiwan but I still think back on this trip often. There were so many moments where we simply got lucky – like with this photo of the popular Ximen rainbow crosswalk which usually attracts way too many other tourists to get a good picture of. We accidentally walked past it on our way to another sight and found it almost deserted. The taxi that is turning right in the background parked on the crosswalk only moments before and drove off as we wanted to take a photo.
Taiwan, 30.09.2019 – 07.10.2019 It’s Chinese Golden Week again and this year we spend the seven holidays in Taiwan. On our first day we landed in Taipei and were surprised by a taifun – most of the shops were closed, rain came at us from…