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Round the World Journey

China

CHINA | Wednesday, 1 November 2017 | Views [298]

I was pleased to board the Air China flight to Chengdu which took off in rain and landed in rain and fog. It felt like come home to London with friendly passengers not all of whom could speak English next to me on the plane. Chengdu is a massive airport which looks new - far too large for the relatively small number of flights that appeared to have been scheduled. Border procedures were unexpectedly quick and smooth - through within a minute or two even if the number of security guards and policemen were a bit intimidating.  The metro into town was even more impressive - again with scanners and security guards on the platforms and trains.  It looked brand new and was simple and clear to use.  Getting to the hotel proved more problematic with 2 or 3 people who eventually responded to my chinese print out sending me the wrong way. In the end a kindly elderly couple walked me all the way there which must have been well ouf of thier way. The route to the metro was actually simple but clearly difficult to follow and taxi drivers weren't interested in the short ride.  Chengdu was dark but i could make out the impressively talk tower which i must visit for a beer as well as several other high rise residences.

The hostel was quite noisy and i woke up a few times during the night.  I set off at 7am for the Panda Breeding Centre and got there for feeding time which was a treat. Pandas are fixated on food and make a mess of the bamboo shoots, sitting on a pile of them and grabbing as many as they can get.  Several baby pandas on show as well as the genuinely giant ones, some asleep high up trees, and smaller red pandas.  I managed to get my camera cleaned free of charge once I finally tracked down the newly relocated Canon. Excellent service.  Chengdu is pleasant enough with a river running through and early morning mist alongside temperatures just below 20 degrees so rather Autumnal. Still I enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere and architecture of Wenshu Temple which sits next to a large and very popular tea house next to the lake. It's interesting to see Chinese culture - from old men playing go in the park, to couples dancing in the People's Park which contains communist statues and the evident love of chysanthenums which were on special display in the park. Chairman Mao still overlooks Tianfu Square along with armed soldiers, and I got my bags searched.  

My Chinese class was hard work but Grace the teacher, an artist by trade, did her best to teach me the tones. I fear it will take a lot more effort on my part to master them but I have at least found a couple of good websites that may help.

After a good night's sleep i just about got to my Chinese class for a 9am start having had to wait 3 trains to board the crowded metro. Not that dissimilar to London rush hour although people are less polite and dont wait for people to get off before charging on.  The lesson was better and some of the words started to stick. 

I enjoyed visiting Wuhan Temple although nearly missed it for a more modern but pleasant construct next door which also had a nice cafe where I rested for a while in the Autumn sun. I then discovered the charming side streets packed with cafes and restaurants next to the temple where i lunched just about working out what kind of noodles to order from the bemused Chinese waitress.  I almost missed Wuhan Temple since the sign only pointed to 'historical relics' but I paid my 60 yuan and discovered a large complex dating back to the 3 century and the 3 kingdom period. The temple buildings were large and the gardenrs larger still including paviliions, lakes and bonsai gardens. Delightful!  There were also a range of reliefs and tablets dating back many centuries which surivived the cultural revolution and which are apparently highly prized by the CP. 

A mad rush then entailed sincce my laptop and lifeline decided not to charge and a helpful guy thought he could find me an authentic lead at the rather extortionate cost of 300 yuan tomorrow since it was closing time which surprised me given it wass only 6pm.  My wallet already taking a battering from Chinese classes, entry fees and relief at decent food may have been saved since on returning to my room the pc decided to charge up again! Thank God for that.

My final lesson and i think i can remember about 3 words in addition to numbers 1-10. Slow progress but interesting nevetheless. I wanted to revisit Wenshu Monastery but instead ended up at Wuhan which I had visited yesterday. No damage done and i got to Wengshu later in the evening after sorting out some dry cleaning and doing other chores. I am glad I went back to Wenshu since it transpired that i had missed the best part first time round and enjoyed the old building full of character and colour. I stopped for a cofee in the beautiful traditional attached tea house.  I also visited Green Ram Qingyang Temple with its 8 faced pagoda looking out towards building works on the new metro line.  So many juxtapositions of new and old. The CCP also taking on so many slogans relating to civilisaiton.

Saturday was free of lessons and I booked onto a 270 yuan bus tour of Qincheng Mountain and the Dujiangayn Irrigation site which turned out to have a range of beautiful old temples as well as a lovely old shopping area. Qincheng was the site of the formation of Taoism and fittingly as well as an optiontal short boat ride I bypassed, and a less optional cable car, there were more than 1500 steps to the top pagoda - quite a climb but interespersed with temple buildings and cafes to provide respite. The views had improved from the start of the day when fog threatened to obscure everything. Miraculously as the bus parked up it seemed to lift although strangely it returned around lunchtime providing sumie like views. 

I wasnt anticipating much from Dujiangyan so was pleasntly surprised that there was far more to see than the earliest know irrigation system. 3 huge statues had been pulled out from the river, offerings to the river God, dating back to the 2nd century and the river is still controlled without dam and used for irrigation today. But the real highlights were the moutainside temples, rope bridge crossing (much longer and swaying than Bhutan) and the views. The old town was also delightful and made for a relaxing stroll where i was greeted by chiildren practising their English.  An old man had taken a liking to me on the bus tour - and i surprised him with my few words of Chinese which caused some delight. I have found most Chinese people to be so friendly and welcoming. Perhaps its because I am in the South?

My first train trip was fine although I hadn't realised that these huge concrete stations are more or less often just waiting rooms without cafe and other facilities. Security is tight so once you are inside it's not worth going out again. Entry to the platforms is strictly controlled and occasionally close to departure times. The trains have been smart, modern and fast.

I ignored guide book advice and visited the 1200 year old Giant Buddha at Leshan on a Sunday. Its situated next to a river in a valley with many old Buddhist statues and monuments.After a steep climb up the cliff i had a 1.5 hour wait to climb down for a micro view of the 65 mm Buddha. It was apparently once covered in jade and gold, is weathered but still am impressive sight. I also visited Wuyou Temple which dates back to 7th C Tang times and which was richly decorated withought chrysanthemums. Another train got me to Emeishan.

Emeishan is a large sacred mountain with many temples scattered around. Bus is the only feasible transport so I signed up for the 90 wan tour which dropped me off close to Golden Summit Temple. It irked having to pay 185 wan entry to the park plus another 120 for the cable car up to Golden Summit particularly as I set off up the steps in deep fog. As the cable car climbed we went through the blanket of fog around 300m and much to my surprise arrived in blue skieswhich afforded superb views of snow clad peaks far off over the fog blanket  -stunning. My mood lifted in enjoyed looking at the recently refurbished constructed Golden Temple. So much building of temples with China's new found wealth.

The bus dropped me off 2 km and overlooking 1000 (I counted) steps to Wannian Temple buIlt around 1020 and the oldest on the mountain. The further hike to Quinyin Temple, this time down, was enjoyable and Quinyin was the most beautiful of all, sighted next to 2 rivers which join and are transversed by scenic bridges with pavilions and fine views up to the mountain backdrop. Baguao Temple was celebrating some festival and hopefully the thousands of caged birds were to be released. The final stretch of the hike took me along a long, flatter path along the river Valley with quintessential Chinese views. A good day and worth the 500 wan.

With the train  for Langzhong leaving at a leisurely 1223pm I visited nearby Fuhu  (Crouching Tiger) monastery which barely gets a guide book mention but which was stunning. A large complex with delicately fashioned are architecture and fine views.

 The train journey to Langzhong was unnecessarily fraught since I thought I'd dash from Chengdu with my hour fifteen transfer time back to my hotel to see if I could locate the missing part of my plug adaptor. With tube and taxi I got there within half an hour but failed to find it hopped in a taxi with the clock ticking. It dropped me outside with 20 mins to spare but at the wrong entrance for the metro to retrieve my bags from storage. Minor panic ensued as I ran around the huge complex and eventually found the right place. I just about cleared security and ticket checks buto went to the wrong platform. I just made it.

Langzhong was beautiful in the early sunset as I arrived. The old town, one of 4 fully preserved in China, is huge. Set next to a wide rIver and overlooked by mountains with pagodas. My hotel was OK despite the squat toilet although I was a bit irritated to be disturbed at 10 for my passport.  There was a minor panic since they had to report me as a foreigner to the local police...

I enjoyed most of a day wandering the ancient steets and  alleyways and even managed to be interviewed and filmed by student TV producers. They took me into 120 want Imperial exam Hall which was a bonus since I was preserving funds. 

 After the mobiles and chatting women eventually stopped I got some sleep on the overnight train to Xian. The budget carriages were 3 high and without individual compartmentsbut they were clean. The train arrived on time.

After a taxi ride and faff at the hotel is set of to see the large and impressive Bell and Drum towers. I then set off to see the Emperor 

Jingdi and his wife. I just missed the bus so had to take a taxi which due to traffic jams turned into an expensive 60 wan ride. Irritated I was a bireal disappointed with the pits which were vritually in the dark so hard to see. There were some imprestive sights- the remains of chariots, and countless smaller than I anticipated mannequins and animals. I was particularly surprised by the flocks of pigs and sheep. I enjoyed seeing the mounds and remains of the gate tower but irritatingly I missed the museum with key finds. Signage was poor and English non existent. Communication eg with the hotel has been tricky and it got worse with the bus drivers.

A 2 wan bus missed the metro but got me back to see the little and then large goose pagodas from the 8th C Tang period. The little one was free but I relented and paid 50 want to see the spectacular large pagoda. I think it was right to do but expenses are mounting.

A mad dash got me to the colourful and vibrant Muslim district and I enjoyed the Great Mosque built in Chinese style. Quite a fusion.

I got up at 6 to beat the crowds at the Terracotta Army sight and was glad I did. The bus like do many others was ridiculously good value for a few wan. 3 pits are on show including massive pit 1 which was just as I remembered from TV. But there are apparently 190 other burial sights nearby plus many other impressive tombs. The sight was superb.

I took the afternoon easy but was glad I visited the local town museum which was free. I was most impressed by the quality of 9th c BC bronze work and Tang 9th C pottery. Neither had I realised that even the Mings buried funeral goods although the statues, still beautiful, we're much smaller.  I declined paying more to climb the mighty citype walast since although authentic they look rebuilt and in any case I saw plenty from a pleasntly stroll beside them and along the river bank.

The bullet train got me to Luoyang at almost 200mph. I wisely avoided a taxi where the driver would have me pay 20 wan and the other passenger 10. You do feel foreigners are routinely exploited.Impressive and definitely not need for 1st class. The grottoes were surprisingly beautiful and serene, carved in caves and niches all along the west and to a lesser extent the east side of the powar full Li river.  The sculptures date from the 6th to the 10th century.  Many have been defaced by iconoclasts or stolen but some imprestive carvings remain. Leshan was larger and mighty but the quality of some work done here much better. The town itself shows little sign of its rich history. One lovely but rebuilt gate and a new pagoda but many many high rise blocks and rundown shops. The town has a domewhat depressing feel.hostel was clean and smart buy the room lacked the TV I had booked so I negotiated a modest discount. Unfortunately however I failed to spot the construction of a metro right outside which apparently goes on until 10 PM and then again from 6 am.  So much building work going on in China...

Two trains got me from Lyoyang to Pingyao as the sun was setting. I ignored the usual gaunlett from taxi drivers who seem not to feel obliged to tell the truth. I am frequently told, for example, that there are no buses. Brazen lies.  Pingyao is a charming walled town full of traditional wood and slate roofed building with colourful red lanterns lit at night. It has a pleathora of cafes - as ever over pricing coffee for £4 or £5 - up to 40 wan. I tend to stick to tea which is about 10 wan or £1. My accomodation is charming - in one of the old houses and soldily built and warm. Just as well since today was the first cold day i have had and i even made use of the jacket i have been lugging around for 2 months. The owners are the friendliest and most lovely couple I have met. They don't speak English so we communicate with a translaiton app. 

Day 2 in Pingyao, I started early to explore the steets of this town before the tour hoards arrived. Just in time since by 10 the numbers were increasing. So I took a bus to see the Zhenguo Temple which dates back to the 10th century and has collurful and well preserved statues. I got another bus to the Wang Household which was further away - 45 kms for just 17 wan on the bus. The household is a curious place more of a castle with many, many courtyards. It looks as it has been heavily re-knewed but still showed something of antiquity and well worth the visit.

I got up early again and cycle the 4 miles on a bike which was far too small, lent by the lovely hotel owners, to Shangulin Temple which had an array of statues dating back to the 1oth century. There were also some impressively, coloured sculptures from the Ming era.  I was the first to arrive - clearly all the mountain and step climbing in China has been doing my fitness some good, so had to wait to get in at 830 but it was worth the visit. I made my way back and pottered around drinking coffee and purchasing 4 old looking but possibly fake wall hangings. The old owner wanted 500 wan to begin with and i was tempted but worried about the practicality of the purchase, walked out for him to unilaterally bring down the price in states to 100 wan. Quite a bargain even if fake.  I wonder if he was desperate or thinking of closing down, or perhaps being kind. I had trouble getting the post office to send them home. First, it was closed at lunch until 2 so i had to wait for an hour, and then after 30 mins faffing around I was told they could only send international parcels in small size, which changed to they didnt have a box, too the supervisor will sort it out. They then said that only air shipments were possible but changed that after I lost my temper. I eventually got out after 45 mins and just about made the train to Datong. This was an older style train and second class was not that comfortable or pleasant an experience. Smoking in the corridors, spitting into paper tissues, phone noise and rubbish strewn everywhere. 6 hours worth. I took temporary refuge in the catering car but was bullied out by the chef or steward who i think was making the point that it was for first class passengers. I took exception to his body language and gestures so told him in no uncertain terms to get lost. Fortunatley, the conductors took my side, perhaps fearing a contretemp with a foreigner and I in any case reverted after a few minutes to my cramped seat. 

 An early start after the rare occurence in China of a hotel breakfast. If you like Chinese food it was actually a feast but Western comforts were limited to bread and fruit. Unfortunately, the toaster only worked on one side so I burnt hte toast...A taxi and bus got me to the Hanging Monastery an hour or so out of town. It was however nothing like as high as Crouching Tiger one in Bhutan so despite the stilts and cliff backdrop was a bit of a disappointment by comparison. It was interesating though - steep steps and very narrow passages, overlooking a lake which had frozen in the chill. No wonder rumours are it will be closed to tourists. I couldnt see how more than a few thousand could cram in each day. Today, there seemed to be a group of policemne on an outing, complete with red flagged guide. 

Datong has apparently spent over £5bn to rebuild its ancient walls and temples. The building is still going on, and is might impressive. The finishing touches seem to be being put on a palace to supplement the stunning Ming Dynasty 9 dragon wall that apparently wards off even spirits. There were a couple of reputedly old monasteries but as pleasant as they looked from the outside, i couldn't help think that they too had been rebuilt. The Boxer rebellion had done for the Catholic church so it was rebuilt in 1900 - and looks remarkably like a Victorian church bar the odd kanji sign.  Incongruous really. 

 My lasty day in Datong took me to the famous grottoes. Again there has been, and is,still on going construction of temples, walkways and other facilities but the statues, some exqusitely coloured, stood in their own right.  The site dates back to the 5th century with silk road influences but the Ming era had also seen some re working. Sadly, you  could not take photos in the most intricate and coloured caves- fair enough though to protect the statues.

The train to Beijing was slow, packed and uncomfortable. It was also, unusually, almost an hour late but the locals were friendly enough even if a few of the manners were a bit lacking as usual.

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