Our poor night's sleep at the monastery was especially unfortunate since the following day would be our longest and most physically challenging of the trip. The payoff, however, is that it was also the most breathtakingly beautiful and magical, taking us through landscapes that looked like living versions of ancient Chinese paintings. I honestly don't think I can do justice with the written word to the beauty that surrounded us during our mountain trek, but I will try.
We began at the crack of dawn on a bus, which took us through thick fog to a cable car, which carried us to an even higher destination where we began hiking and then suddenly, lo and behold, we were literally above the clouds. All around us was a carpet of white, from which mountain peaks rose. Up ahead was a palatial stone staircase lined with porcelain elephant statues, leading to a large golden statue of a multi-headed Buddha riding atop four elephants, shining brilliantly against a cloudless, cerulean sky. It was so otherworldly, I really wasn't sure whether we were in heaven or on earth.
We took the cable car and bus down again, and then had a bit of lunch and took another short bus ride. That's when the real adventure began! In the lower part of Mt. Emei, we embarked on a hike into the most beautiful forest I have ever seen. It was so green and lush and damp, it felt more like a rainforest or jungle. Every so often, out of the mist would rise an arched stone bridge or pagoda. It was hard to believe that we were not walking through a movie set, and that at any moment a kung fu master wasn't going to fly down from some treetop and drop and ancient pearl of wisdom on us to help us save the princess.
We trod for an hour or so on flat ground alongside a river, and then we began going up, up, upward sloping paths and stairs. We had borrowed walking sticks from the monastery and they ended up coming in very handy, both for the inclines and to scare off...wait for it...MONKEYS! Yup, I said monkeys. One one part of the climb in particular there were monkeys everywhere, on the path next to us, in the trees below us, and on the rocks above us, ready to pounce. I'm not talking cute, little Curious George guys; more like big, ugly, babboon-ish things with sharp teeth! And dudes were hungry! We saw one grab a woman's Gatorade out of her bag, tear open the bottle, and lap up the drink. Seriously! It was exhilarating and the baby monkeys were pretty darned cute, but we definitely weren't in Kansas anymore.
At last, after a few hours, we reached the last leg of our journey. In this case, it was quite literal, as our final descent up to the monastery where we would be staying consisted of 1,200 stone steps. I honestly don't know how I made it. Ammy estimated that from the beginning of the day we probably climbed about 5,000 steps, and getting to the top of that last impossible set felt like a real accomplishment, which I was sure to appreciate after I fell down dead.