We got a flight to Chengdu which all went well although it was quite turbulent at times. We took a taxi to the airport which seemed to go the long way around, avoiding all the toll roads going down dirt tracks in some cases. No issue and the price was quoted and expected….we were just busting fit the loo! We arrived quite late to Chengdu and got the bus to where were told to get a taxi. Fortunately we were told how much it should cost as a guy tried to charge us 5x the price. We just refused and got into a metered taxi to the hostel. We arrived around 1am and checked in and went to bed. The following morning we got a taxi to the panda breeding research base. It is great having two people as it makes taxi cheaper and well worth the lack of hassle of buses, especially when you have to change and wait for a connection. We headed to the panda base quite early 9.30am and had the place pretty much to ourselves for the most part of the early morning giving us great views of the pandas. We saw adults, juvenile and babies. It was incredible to see them eating, sleeping and playing and learning about panda in China and the research base. I had always thought that panda were a bit rediculous what with eating only bamboo ( and selected species at that) and mating once a year whilst living solitary lives. It had never occurred to me that whilst other species were made extinct during the ice age the panda survived making it a living fossil. The base was huge and made for a nice walk around in the bit of sun we had in Chengdu, although it was still cold and called for gloves end a scarf. The centre started off with 6 panda and now have over 150 and have had great success in reintroducing panda to the wild and rescuing injured panda. We actually saw the WWF panda which is still used on the logo today.
The Chinese tourists arrived later with their rediculously loud voices and selfie sticks. We made an exit and got a taxi back to a local temple. Wuhou temple (rebuilt in 1672) honours several figures from the Three Kingdoms period, namely legendary military strategist Zhuge Liang and Emperor Liu Bei (his tomb is here). Both were immortalised in the Chinese literature classic, Romance of the Three King- doms. In the evening we booked to see the famous Shǔfēng Yǎyùn Teahouse oPera. This famous century-old theatre and teahouse put on music, puppetry and Sìchuān opera’s famed fire breathing and face changing. We managed to get cheaper tickets from a guest house where we also ate more spicy fish, famous Mapo tofu ( I pick out the minced beef), pumpkin salad which was actually sweet battered pumpkin), nuts, rice etc. We didn’t manage it all but enjoyed it greatly. We arrived at the opera at around 7.30pm and were showed to our seats where we were invited to have a massage or ear cleaning. We hadn’t gone VIP as ear cleaning is included and I didn’t like the sound of it but proved incredibly popular. We did however have complementary tea and snacks and got to see the performers get ready.
It was fascinating and a fantastic evening of entertainment. The hand puppetry was particularly spectacular as was the fast made changing. After a bit of travel admin we had booked to go to Leshan via train and then onto Emei Shan, one of China’s 4 sacred mountains. We headed out in the morning and tackled the metro to the east train station to pick up the tickets I’d booked through Ctrip(a must if you go to China). All went well and we passed through subway security and train security ready to board. The train was confirm able and fast arriving to leshan on time. We jumped on our 10p bus to the large Buddha stop. We paid and set off on our search for the giant Buddha. We climbed up steps and pushed past your guides etc and followed the signs. Eventually we saw its head. My goodness it is huge.
The ears are 7 m long alone with a shoulder width of 28m. Built over 1200 years ago it was pretty impressive. We had some spicy noodles with a young Tibetan lady and her mum and shared in some snacks before heading back to the bus station for our 45 min journey to Emei Shan where we were to meet Patrick at Baoguo temple, our bed for the night. Constructed in the 16th century, this temple (550m) features beautiful gardens of rare plants, as well as a 3.5m-high porcelain Buddha dating back to 1415. We met Patrick who showed us our basic room in the monastery and recommended some walks for the afternoon and following day. We took his advise and saw Fuhu monastery which was set in an idillic forest and was a female only. We got back for 5.30 pm after a cup of bamboo shoot and chrysanthemum tea so that we could eat with the monks after closing hours. I just followed what they did. I filled my bowl with various sauces and oils and powders and lined up for my vegetables, noodles and egg with tomato. I mixed it all together and sat down to eat. It was spicy to say the least and the pepper made my lips quiver and go numb. We sat with a lovely Tibetan couple who offered to get me some more egg which soaked up some of the sauce and reduced the heat a bit. We ate much slower than the monks, possibly due to chop stick technique but also intolerance to spice at that level. The Tibetan lady kindly cleared the dishes and had actually washed them up. We headed to a hostel after much searching for a beer and warmth. The rooms in the monastery had no curtains, no glass in the windows and no heating so we delayed going to bed for as long as possible. The blankets were actually quite warm but I was glad for taking extra layers. I watched the end of a horror movie, not a clever thing to do in a dark creaky monastery, but managed to get to sleep thinking of baby pandas. We woke up early (6am) to the chanting of the monks and beating if the drums. We got up and listened to them until 7am when we took our bags and headed to the bus to get to the middle section of the mountain to start our 2 hour climb to the golden summit, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrimage to a 48 m tall statue where Buddhism in China is meant to have began. It was a challenging walk through ice, snow, Chinese tourists and monkeys. We met several people on the way up wanting our picture and again on the way down where we were bought lunch in token of their appreciation. It was a tea egg which was pretty horrible but it’s the thought that counts right and was an addition to our steamed corn and bread. Reaching the summit was tough due to the steepness and altitude (3077m) but worth it to say we had been to the pilgrimage site on one of the 4 sacred mountains. We got the cable car some of the way back down and jumped on a bus back to Chengdu. A few hours later we arrived and we’re glad to get a shower as the monks only shower around 5.30 and 9.30pm with no shower fasciitis in the morning. We freshened up and headed out for food. We just wanted something nearby but trying to find somewhere that spoke English or understood proved difficult. We actually left one restaurant but headed back with my iPad menu translator in hand. They were pleasantly surprised we returned and amazed by the translator which gathered a bit of a crowd. We had braised cauliflower dry green beans, mixed vegetables and cumin potatoes. Spicy is not the word! It blew our head off but it was tasty so we ate most of it but definitely felt the consequences of it in the morning! It’s departure day as Daniel leaves for Shanghai and I head to Xian. I’d booked the only train available ( 10 hrs 44 min) but hadn’t realised the station it goes into is 30 miles from my hostel. Unable to rebook the ticket or find a hostel closer I had to bite the bullet in the knowledge I’m going to have a hefty taxi fare at 1am in the morning. I have the address written down and an idea of cost do I hope it’s ok. The hostel are also aware that I’m arriving late so fingers crossed It works out. I’d already collected my ticket when going to Leshan so Daniel and I had breakfast and parted company to go our merry way. I booked a hard sleeper on the train which proved an interesting experience with 3 tier bunk beds with families huddled in with their luggage, kids, food etc. It’s actually quite comfortable and is certainly better than standing. 11 hrs is a long time though on a train and it takes it out of you even though you aren’t doing anything. Scared to fall asleep and missing the stop but also one eye open to potential theft and trying to block out kids playing video games, video on loud speaker, nibbling of chickens feet and slurping at instant noodle pots. Will I make it? Lets hope so!