October 11, 2006 - Wutai Shan, China
Mountains, Monks & Monasteries
October 04, 2006
After an evening of Chinese iniquity we were all - at least I was - in the mood to do some cleansing.
And what better way than to leave the China we have been so accustomed to - traffic, crowds, pollution, noise, affectionate men - then to hit the monasteries and climb a holy mountain.
The first monastery? So much for leaving that China behind. There were crowds. And plenty of cars. I guess incense doesn’t count as pollution, but there were billows of smoke wafting through the air.
Time to try another tact. Breaking out the map we picked a direction - there was a large temple 7 or 8 kilometers from town.
500 meters from the temple we were in the clear. The sun shone down on us on a beautiful, crisp Fall day and a small road stretched up and out of view into the mountains.
In the next 3-hours saw five tourists.
All of them Chinese. All of them dressed head-to-toe in full climbing gear. They carried walking sticks and water bottles and wore fleece. You could hear the Gortex swish swish swhishing as they walked by. I had no idea a walk up a small country road required such gear. I wonder how long they acclimated at base-camp… maybe their oxygen ran out.
We stopped at two smaller schtuppa compounds on the walk and played a bit of hide-and-go-seek in one of them. Again, probably not so reverent, but the monks that tended the small temple seemed happy enough to have us in for tea and watch a spot of TV. No surprise there, thats just China. Satellite TV and no running water.
After finishing the walk to the temple Scott, Adam & I caught a bit of the climbing bug. We pointed at a peak above us and went for it.
That turned out to be one of the better decisions of the trip.
Walking up through the ravine above the temple, the ground was thickly covered with larch needles - in some places so thick the ground was a soft, yellow color. Skipping from goat trail to goat trail we wound up the mountain.
Standing on a rock outcropping we noticed a small rusted metal door set into the mountainside one ravine over. The door was not carved into the earth - but solidly hewn into a sheer rock face. Letting curiosity get the best of us we took a detour and found a small cave - two rooms, a cot and a handful of large cisterns. We can only guess, but assume it was/is a retreat for monks from below.
As dusk was soon approaching, we set off towards another valley - hoping it would lead into town. On the way we passed another small monastery and were pointed in the direction of town by a monk grinning ear-to-ear.
Just a couple of steps in that direction we were taken by surprise. A monk came running up the mountain - orange robes flying.
Not only was the monk running - in yellow monk slippers - but he was carrying a box on his back.
Bounding past us on the narrow, rocky path he stopped a few feet above us. Dropped the box with a resounding thud. Turned. Settled into a crouch and yelled,
Without another glance he leapt past us down the steep path to help another monk up the path.
Foreign interlopers, tired from slowly climbing down a mountain: 0.
What a way to see the sun setting over the mountains in China.
Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?