Sunday, December 14, 2008

12.8.08: Le Shan/ Bao Guo

We left Chengdu to escape smoggy, urban China for a few days of exploring Buddhist holy sites in the mountains of Sichuan Province. Our first stop was the appropriately named "Giant Buddha," a 1,200 year-old statue built into the side of a riverside cliff. It's the largest Buddha left in the world after the previous record-holders were destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. To put it in perspective, his big toe is taller than a grown man.

(Okay--side note: I am writing this on an insane bus ride from Emei Shan to Chonqing. The driver is speeding through bumpy rural roads, and every once in a while he will stop short to pick up someone on the side of the road who has flagged him down, while all of the other passengers lurch forward. He frequently drives on the wrong side of the road and lays heavily on his horn every five minutes. At the last "stop" a woman got on the bus carrying a live chicken and duck in the same bag, with their heads sticking out either side. WTF?!)

(Hi, I'm Chucken. Call me Chuck, for short.)
So anyway, the Giant Buddha was pretty awe-inspiring. We climbed the stairs to the top of his head, then to his feet and back up again and finally explored the grounds atop the cliffs. Although we have seen several old holy sites since we've been here, this was the first time that I got that mystical feeling like when I'm in the Old City of Jerusalem...sensing the ghosts of worshippers past.

(The World's Most Giant Buddha)
After our climb down, we got on yet another bus to reach our first over night destination on Emei Shan (Mt. Emei), one of China's four "Buddhist mountains" and a world cultural heritage site. Our accommodation for the evening was the Bao Guo Buddhist monastery, but before I get to that, a word about our dinner at Nathan's Cafe. The highly animated Nathan was the proprietor of this establishment, and also our local guide for the next two days of mountain trekking. At Chinese restaurants in the U.S., Szechuan-style green beans are one of my favorite dishes, and here we were in the Sichuan (Szechuan) Province, so how could I resist? And yum! The salty, spicy, garlicky beans were a treat but some of the other items on the English-translated menu were a litter more questionable. Take, for example, "crisp pignut," "Saute hairy fungus szechuan style," or "hot and cold pig's lung." Mmmm. Dericious.

So, as you can imagine, staying at the monastery wasn't exactly luxury living. The winter weather is literally freezing and our room had no glass in the top windows. Poor Seth slept in his winter coat and hat on the "bed" which is really just a box spring with no mattress. I can see why the Buddhists have no attachment to earthly goods if these are the earthly goods we're talking about. Ha ha. I have to say, though, that passing by the six, illuminated, golden Buddha states on the way to the toilets and waking up to the soothing sounds of drumming and chanting monks almost made it worthwhile.

No comments: