Story and Photo by Sondre Ulvund Solstad
After a few days in the old town Dali in the very south of China, I decided to head onwards to Mount Emei. My first train brought me to the tired village of Guangtong, where I waited for the next train at a small Internet café. From there I took an overnight train out of Yunnan and into Sichuan, a province famous for its food, beauty, and mountains.
I arrived at Mount Emei early Friday morning, heading straight for the mountain after dropping off most of my stuff at a hostel. Rather than taking a bus like everyone else, I walked. Walking mostly alone up the tallest of the three holy mountains in Chinese Buddhism was tiring but also magical. In the lush and misty rainforest, my bamboo staff came to good use fending off aggressive monkeys, yet most of them were passive, preferring to observe me like I observed them.
I spent the first night at the Xianfeng temple, a remote monastery with simple lodging and food. Midway on a 24 kilometer path of steep steps, the monastery did not appear to get many visitors (especially at this time of year), and I am pretty sure I was the only staying there. Exhausted both from walking and lack of sleep, I gratefully accepted the simple but tasty vegetarian dinner before falling into a deep sleep.
The next day I headed onwards after saying my goodbyes at the temple, making good speed as I continued up the still very steep step.
Walking in Chinese mountains like Mount Emei or Mount Huang has in my experience been very different from walking in mountains elsewhere. While in my native Norway you typically follow a simple trail and a few red “T”s painted on cliffs to mark the way, this trail in China was a paved path, sometimes with mosaics and always with steps rather than a natural incline. This certainly makes it easier to follow the path and perhaps less laborious, even if the monotony of the thousands of steps can be tiring in its own way.
I continued on until I reached the Elephant Bathing Pool, a temple further up towards the summit where I stopped for a rest. I do not know the history of the temple, and I did not not think to ask the monk I spoke to there about the significance of the white elephant sculpture in the small pool. Instead, we talked about where I were from, religion in Norway (my limited language could not provide an elaborate answer), how long he had been at the temple, etc.
I remember his laugh the most: a full, deep, hearty laugh, even if the occasion was just that he was not able to remember an English word to prod the Chinese conversation along.
I continued on, a few hours later arriving at a developed area with the last bus station before the summit. Most tourists seemed to favor going directly to this bus station an hour or so from the summit: Between leaving the low-lying areas in the morning the day before and reaching this place I had seen less than 10 other travelers, but here there were hundreds. I decided to make haste for the peak.
This story appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Baedeker.