Part of our tour of China included a stay in a Monastery at Emei Shan. A real life monastery with monks! On one of China’s sacred mountains of Buddhism! I was very excited!
This is what I was expecting:
Image courtesy of Michael Folley @ Flickr
Oh yes I had visions of mist, tranquil mountains and a deserted, peaceful monastery with ‘rustic’ features, a retreat from the hustle and bustle of China.
Ha! Nowhere is quiet on the eve of the National Holiday in a country of a billion people. Our bus took a long time to drive to Baoguo, one of the little towns at the base of Emei Mountain. We seemed to only go a kilometre every ten minutes thanks to the endless traffic and pedestrians. I kept thinking – boy we still have a long way to go to get to the misty lush top of the mountain! In amidst of traffic and crowds our mini bus stopped and our guide said ‘We’re here!’
Huh? All I could see were ‘Chinese looking buildings’ (educated response, I know) , tourists and cars. Surely the peaceful monastery isn’t around here?
Well yes, we are staying in this busy complex of buildings that is a working monastery and did we mention it’s also a tourist attraction? That opens at 7am… The Baoguo Temple to be exact.
I did get some funny looks walking through the grounds of the temple to the public toilets (and our accommodation’s amenities for 2 nights) in my pyjama’s with toothbrush in hand. Sure I feature in some Chinese photo albums now too.
So yes we were woken to the sound of monks chanting at 5am, but we never got to engage or see the monks really. We did get to share the monastery with hordes of Chinese tourists there at 7am. Was it peaceful and quiet – uh no! Late at night when the tourists had gone it was quieter but the building itself is right near town at a busy spot at the base of Emei Mountain, and for China’s National Day it was pretty packed.
Rooms were dorm like for those not in a couple, 4-5 beds in one room, hard beds (like all of China) and minimal furniture. The toilets and sinks were the ones the public visitors used so late in the afternoon they were pretty bad, and not western of course. The showers were communal, with no doors (MacGyver style scarf shower curtain needed!). I still think it was pretty cool to go to the toilets one morning with 4 monks there with me in the other cubicles. That doesn’t happen very often!
It certainly didn’t live up to my expectations (oh… we’re not staying on top of the mountain…) but it was a good base for exploring the many hikes and paths of Emei Shan.