It was straight from one Buddha to another as we were to be staying with Monks for the next three nights or that's what we thought. We had managed to arrive in Emei Shan right at the same time as some sort of Buddhist convention and our accommodation at the Baoguo Monastery had been given to all the visiting followers and Monks that had come from all over China for this conference. But we need not fear as our local guide (crazy Patrick) had sort us our some accommodation in the nunnery round the corner from the monastery.
Once we had settled in and got our bearings we met up with Patrick who took us to a local restaurant for dinner. We were all tucking in to a hearty feast when Patrick decides to tell us (bearing in mind we had only known him for about 5 minutes) that his wife filed for a divorce today and that she was useless and spent all her time playing Mahjong and gambling! We sat there a bit stunned and once the meal had finished I think that Lillian might have pointed out that this was not what to do when meeting a new group of people.
Our night in the nunnery was comfortable if somewhat noisy but we woke early to start our trek up Mt Emei as we were moving to another monastery for a real getaway experience that evening. We started with the masses on a bus taking us up the mountain to around 2400m above sea level where we took a short trek up the mountain to take the cable car to the top. Waiting for the cable car we battled with the pushy crowds which didn't help Katie who was feeling a little breathless. Katie pushed on however which turned out to be less than a good idea as when we got to the top of the cable car at over 3000 meters Katie was feeling dizzy and short of breath. A bought canister of oxygen and a trip straight back down the cable car and she was feeling much better. Apparently Frank is pretty greedy and selfish when it comes to getting enough oxygen!
Once the rest of the group had joined us back at the bottom of the cable car it was back on a bus to head back down the mountain for some lunch followed by a walk halfway back up it to our evenings accommodation at our secluded monastery. As we started the walk all eyes were on Katie but as she kept pointing out, she was fine! So with a spring in our step we continued up the mountain. At the beginning of the walk we had been given some sticks. These were not to help us with the walking part but more of a protective device. You see this area has many wild troops of Macaque monkeys. The hoards of tourists that we were having to battle our way past, all come to this mountain to have their photos taken with the wild monkeys by feeding them. Therefore these monkeys hang around at the edge of the paths and every human they see equates to the bringer of their next meal. If you reach into your pocket for anything the monkeys are on you like a shot. They've even been known to hone in or their favourite bottles of Coke and Sprite! Its at this point that you then thrash at them with your stick (or in the case of our guide George try to thrash the monkeys!).
When we arrived at the monkey zone we noticed that all the Chinese visitors were rushing off to get as close to the monkeys as possible while "monkey police" wardens stood screeching at the top of their lungs in a noisy but seemingly ineffectual manner. We kept a reasonable distance, snapped a couple of photos then moved on away from the chaos having thankfully not needed to use our monkey sticks. Further on the crowds petered out and we were soon enjoying our own company as we climbed higher into the mountain. The final assent to the monastery involved a climb of 1193 steps which was certainly tiring but worth it when we arrived and had our first taste of real peace and seclusion since arriving in China! We were told to expect basic accommodation but the rooms we found ourselves in were just lovely, with old wooden furniture and real character. The bathroom facilities were however our most basic to date, with open air stalled squat toilets, but the accompanying views over the surrounding forest covered mountain provided ample distraction!
After an early night due to exhaustion we were awoken at 4:30am by the beating of the temple bell and the sound of a lone monk chanting and calling the rest of the monastery to prayer. I was determined to get up and have a listen after finding the chanting in Leshan so relaxing the other day. I asked Katie if she was joining me and the reply of "might do" came from somewhere deep under her covers. I figured that I would be experiencing this alone! The lone monk continued his solo chant for another good 15 minutes before anyone else decided to put in an appearance. Once he had finished the second monk spent the next 10 minutes beating the huge temple drum whilst standing with his nose nearly touching it. At this point a few more of the devoted visitors who had come on the pilgrimage turned up to sit and start their prayers. After the arrival of the other monks the chanting was to begin. The wooded temple bell and small hand bells were used as accompaniment and I enjoyed a half hour of very repetitive and trance like chanting until it suddenly ended and everyone filed out of the hall in silence. I then hit the sack for to catch up on my missed sleep before heading off on our trek back down the mountain.
It was at the bottom of the steps that we had a close encounter with a troop of monkeys that seemed to be on their way down to their daily tourist feeding station. A female with a tiny infant clutched to her breast was sitting in the middle of the path, completely unperturbed, just looking at us. We took advantage of the photo opportunity then carefully walked past her and the rest of the troop milling around the path. A couple of times one of the younger monkeys looked like they were sizing us up for a backpack raid but George our guide made it clear he wasn't afraid to used his stick and they got the message, walking ahead of us to meet up with more generous tourists to come.
Further down back amongst the crowds we reached another monastery where we had a little rest and a look around. At this point we had to decide to either take the same walk we had done the previous day to get a bus back to the nunnery or walk the three hours across the mountain back there on rarely used paths. Katie figured she'd take it easy for once and chose the bus (much to Lilians relief). Sjofn, Dan and I decided on the scenic route and we headed off with George to lead us and we would meet the others at the nunnery in the afternoon.
The route to start with was busier than the last section we had walked and it wasn't long before we were stuck behind a group of 80 year ole pilgrims heading uphill. Progress was slow and passing them on the narrow steps was a no go but as soon as they saw the rest stop about 200m from the start of the climb they all wheezed into it for their lunch and suddenly it was peaceful again. The further we got from the tourist trail to the monkeys the more serene the scene became until we were walking along a narrow muddy track past mountain farmers houses and past their tea bushes with their dogs barking an their chickens clucking at us as we passed. The route continued up and up passing some more remote monasteries on the way but all the way our progress was on steps. Up and up we went and after a good hour and a half we reached the top of our climb. With our thighs aching and the temperature rising slowly it was time to embark on the never ending hour and a half of down steps. These wouldn't be so bad if they were built for a large western foot like mine but these seem to have been designed for 5ft Chinese people who had had their feet bound from an early age so they were only about as wide as half of my foot!
We finally got back to the nunnery and met up with Katie who was having a great time with a private foot massage in our room by some visiting massage therapists that Patrick had laid on. I decided that I couldn't miss out on this and soon (after I had showered my carcass) I had an all over massage (including stomach strangely) in the comfort of my own room for the grand price of about five pounds… You've got to love China for that!