Well, where to start! So much has happened since the day of the landslides! I've walked 30 kms down a mountain, got marooned half way down and had to spend the night in a monastery and been attacked, yes, attacked by maurauding monkeys!! All that later, however. In the interests of continuity I'll go back last Monday.
It was pouring with rain the next morning, so no taxis were to be had so I took a bicycle rickshaw who dropped me off at the wrong place (not on purpose) and it took a kindly off-duty policeman to take me to the right place. There was then a 3 hour wait for the bus, which surprised us all (well, me anyway) by leaving 40 minutes early. Four hours later we arrived in Langzhong - Feng Shui city! It was the most gorgeous place, very old and built on feng shui principles and, somehow, it had survived almost intact and almost off the tourist trail (but not for much longer, I suspect).
The hotel I stayed in was a beautiful old wooden courtyard house which was also part of the Feng Shui Museum. Ancient flag-stone streets lined with tiny, ancient shops, red lanterns hanging outside and still employed, for the most part, with the ancient and traditional businesses of dispensing food, medicine and clothing. There were ancient pagoda-type towers either at crossroads or in the middle of the street with archways for the 'traffic' to pass through. It was a treasure house of wonderful old architecture and traditions. It was also blisteringly hot! I was told that the temp was over 40 - it certainly felt like it! Like so many, it was a riverside town so I went down to the riverside in the evening. The river had burst its banks flooding the lower lying street, where only the tops of the willow trees and the head of the lion statues could be seen. Fortunately the rest of the town was safely out of reach of the water and alongside the river was a long row of wooden restaurants, red lanterns, people eating and wandering about and benches and tables. I got chatting to a young girl (14) and her mother - both keen to practice their English and after attempting, and failing, to consume a particularly firey Sichuan chicken dish, they offered to show me around. They then invited me to have a foot massage, which seemed to be the local speciality. We reclined on sofas while our feet were taken care of, then they walked me back to my hotel. They could not have been nicer and this has been my experience of all the Chinese (except 3) I have met so far. My travels around China have only been possible because of the kindness, helpfulness and the co-operation that I've had from everyone I've met on my way. People have gone out of their way to try to communicate with me and to help.
The next day the river had receded and no wonder, the evaporation was almost visible, leaving a thick, oozing residue of mud which they were trying to clear. I tried to tramp the streets before the sun became too intense but by 11 I'd had enough and got the bus back to Chengdu. The heat was making everyone a bit short tempered and amid much shouting and arguement and for no reason, the bus driver decided to change the designated seats we had all been given, otherwise an uneventful trip back.
Back in Chengdu (at Sim's, of course) I met up again with the French and Dutch couples I had spent time with in the National Park. So it was fun to swop stories and find out what they had been doing.
Thr next day (Wednesday) I was off again, this time to Leshan to see the 71 m. high Giant Buddah. Begun in 713, it took over 100 years to carve him out of the cliff face. So, in the sweltering Sichuan sun we (me and the million or so other Chinese who were there) queued to first walk up the side of the mountain (quite a small one), down the other side, up the second side (the Buddah sits in a sort of huge niche) and then finally down again. The steps going up and down were steep and high and even the Chinese were perspiring gently. I looked as though I'd just emerged from a shower, fully clothed. Wetness not withstanding, however, I suddenly seemed to have become a celebrity and everyone wanted to be photograhed with me. The Buddah was as benign as ever, contemplating, as ever, the river flowing at his feet. I then took another bus to Emai Shan (Mount Emai), about an hour away.
Emai Shan is one of four holy Buddist mountains, so is dotted with temples, pavilions and monasteries hidden amongst the trees. It also has regular shopping and eating opportunities, eating being particularly dear to the Chinese heart, especially, for some reason, Pot Noodles. I can't imagine why, they do not have a single fresh ingredient and taste totally synthetic, but they love them and are rarely seen without at least one in their hands. Back to the mountain... It has extensive paths and steps and is very well wooded so the walks are shady and very pleasant. At first sight, a walk in a very vertical park!! It also has a bus which goes to almost the top and 2 cable cars. I took the bus to the top and then, after quite a steep walk, the cable car to the summit, where there were hotels, as it was my intention to spend the night at the top and then walk down!! This was a bad mistake - the fact that the bus had taken 2 hours to reach the top should have told me something (there was also a road sign indicating that it was 35 kms to the top which I chose not to notice!).
I found a very over-priced hotel and went to bed early so that I could be up in time to see the sun rise - the reason for staying over-night. Well, the sun did not disappoint, it rose beautifully and just before it did, the cable car whirled into action and transported several thousand Chinese to the top to watch the sunrise. At about 9 am I set off on what I imagined would be quite a leisurely stroll down the mountain. I should just mention that the mountain was covered in thick mist immediately after the sunrise, so I had no way of telling, at that time, just how high I was. A stroll it was not. The steps in places were so vertical that one could only see the top one and there were thousands and thousands and thousands of them! They were steep and slippery and after 4 and a half hours I found that I had only covered 6 kms and had no possibility whatsoever of reaching the bottom in one day. I had, by this time, become friendly with a Chinese family also going down and they said that they were staying in a monastery over-night. I decided to do the same but it was another 8 kms to the monastery. I don't quite know how I did the last 8 kms, esp. as the last bit was all uphill. A kindly porter - these are people who carry the less energetic (plus loaded rucksacks and/or children at the same time) in sedan chairs up and down the mountain, how, I just don't know, I could barely drag myself - having failed to persuade me to be carried, offered (I think) to carry me for nothing.
At stratigic spots all along the trail there are the Little Chefs of the mountain - little snack bars where you can get food and drinks and rest - and incredibly welcome they are as well. At each one I would collapse,a sodden wreck and the porter waited for me at each of these stopping points, I think to make sure that I was alright - another example of the kindness of the Chinese. He'd given up offering to carry me and probably wanted to see how far I would get! Well, after 7 hours and 14 kms, I was still only half way down but I got to the monastery and I doubt that I have ever seen such a dirty, run-down place! There was no shortage of people wanting to stay there but it was incredibly grotty. The food was equally ghastly and the bed, of course, was like a rock. My room was a truely horrible box with holes in the wall but, miraculously, no bed bugs. It was damp, it was smelly (the toilets announced themselves from quite a distance!) and it was stuffy but I was in bed by 8 o'clock and slept like a baby.
Up before the crack of dawn the next morning and it was magical. Dawn was breaking, no one was about, everything was quiet and still - I had the mountain to myself. The heavy mist from the previous day had lifted and I could see just how high up I was. As the sky gradually turned pink and the distant mountains became shrouded in pale grey I continued the descent. Walked for a couple of hours and then the family I had become friendly with the day before caught me up. There was always a lot of surprise that I was on my own - that and my age are always the two questions I am asked - perhaps they are the only questions they can manage in English!
After a couple of hours I was warned that there was an aggressive monkey 'toll-gate' ahead - a troupe demanding tribute for a safe passage - and that I should get everything out of sight, which I did. Sure enough, a group were sitting by the side of the path, harassing a some elderly Chinese ladies. One had an open bag and they were after the contents. I sidled past, hoping they wouldn't notice me but a big male started following me. I ignored him, hoping he would go away but then a Chinese guy, coming in the opposite direction, saw him and started yelling and shouting, using my stick to try to hit him and throwing stones at him. He didn't actually hurt the monkey, but he certainly frightened him off. In the interests of safety, I tagged along with a Chinese family who were just ahead of me and we walked in convoy. All was well for the next mile or so then we encountered another group of macaques and this time the big male reared up on his hind legs and grabbed my bag and started trying to open the zip. Standing up. he was the height of my chest and ignoring my pathetic pleas to go away, he seemed to know what he was doing and had a very determined expression on his face. The elderly Chinaman in the group I was walking with saw my predicament and came to my rescue. He shouted at the monkey and banged his stick on the ground. The monkey bared his teeth, but then let go and slunk away - a very, very scary moment! There were no more encounters after that with these far from cute and loveable creatures!
Three things at which I could only gape on the mountain - the men who carry huge baskets containing bottled and canned drinks, melons, rice, etc on bamboo poles on their shoulders, in the heat, up almost vertical flights of stairs - surely the human frame was never built for such punishment. Likewise, the porters, carrying people with loaded rucksacks up those gruelling steps. People who, for some reason, carried their own loaded 80 kilo rucksacks or, even, suitcases. And, lastly, people who actually climbed up the mountain at all! I was so fortunate with the weather, though. It didn't rain - that would have been a disaster - and the sun didn't shine. On both days were cloudy or hazy.
The rest of the journey down the mountain passed quite quickly. The descent was less steep as I got lower down. Just before the bottom I met the nice porter from the day before, still offering me a lift! So, after another 7 hours of walking and approximately another 14 kms, I reached the bottom, leapt onto a bus and returned to the hotel, where I quickly arranged for a taxi to take me the 2 hours to Chengdu Airport. I had a flight at 5 pm. No need for panic, as it turned out. The flight was delayed by nearly 4 hours, due to, guess what - rain.
So, I arrrived in Kunming on Saturday night, none too fragrant, no hotel reservation and at 10 pm. Adieu!