A bus out to Shibaoshan, this is supposed to be a beautiful scenic walk through the hills seeing the only hanging temple in the province.
The bus was easy to get, and it even dropped us at the entrance. We were not expecting this, as it was a little mini van going to Shaxi Valley, and the entrance was a good couple of kilometres after the turn off. A nice touch.
Paying for our ticket we had to wait for the internal bus to take us to the first temple complex. A nice guy invited us to join in with a young Chinese tour group, where we had to participate in the team building exercises. It was not as if they knew each other either. They were just waiting for the bus as well. But we had to remember names, throw things into the centre of a circle and indicate others to get it. A bit strange and uncomfortable, but weirdly fun. They were a good group. The bus was finally ready to go, so on we piled. Driving up into the mountains was nice, we were following a small stream with the hills rising on either side, and climbing steadily. Glad we were not walking.
At the first stop, we all got out. There is an old style water wheel set up for decoration, and a lot of vendors trying to sell you lunch. A staircase leads up from here to the temple. Of course.
Following that, we managed to keep up with the group, past a few monkeys (!) that followed us looking for hand outs. They would sit and watch us pass before running ahead to sit and watch again.
At the temple we started diverging paths with the group. They were very nice, and even gave us some information in English, but they had their own things to do, and we were slow.
Exploring the temple complex we walked up the cliff sides to the hanging shrines, going up very steep dilapidated carved steps, and rotten handrails to look out over the valley. Down to follow another path, and see what it had to offer. Then circling around the hill to try and make it to the summit. This was the most interesting. There were a couple of very old graves. Probably from the first abbots of the area, and lots of monkeys. The troupe was heading down the hill to the monastery tucked around the corner. We stood and waited for them to pass. And waited. And waited. The monkeys kept coming. There were old ones that sedately walked past, stopping to glance at us, to young mothers keeping a protective eye on their young. Then there were the young ones frolicking around. Running, falling, tripping over themselves and jumping in shock when they finally noticed us.
With the monkeys gone we continued walking. Then there were even more monkeys. There must have been over 200 of them. We were trying to make our way along this narrow path with streams of monkeys going past. At first we were a bit worried as we had been warned that they could be aggressive, but most were wary, or timid, but not all that worried about us. We did keep our movements slow though, just in case.
Deciding after this to not go all the way up, we headed back. Back at the base of the hill we tried to get on the next bus, but were not allowed. We don’t know why, we just had to sit for about 20 minutes waiting for the next bus. The vendors tried to sell us lunch again but quickly gave up and retreated to the shade waiting for less stingy or more hungry tourists.
The next section is where the grottoes are. These are supposed to be famous examples of Buddhist rock carvings. Skipping the temple complex to start, we walked around a separate path that would hopefully loop back to where we started. Down hill, then across and we reached the first grotto. This had been cut away from the rock face and enclosed in a building. It was locked. Yet we still managed to get a glimpse of the “Persian”. Badly weathered and you can just make out that it is human shaped. Then onto the next one This was carved up on the cliff and was still in place. There was a gate to get into it as well, but this one was open. There was a way past here but it has been walled up. Going back out and following the path we came to the other side of the wall, so it used to be connected. Then it was a steep climb uphill to the dragon bridge. This turned out to be a small section that is under fallen stone, and not that impressive, but the last grotto was the kings family. Again it has been removed from its wall, but is in a lot better condition. You also get a very good view of the temple complex on the opposite hill from here.
The walk back to the road is a bit of a climb in sections, and its only saving grace is the plants in flower. There wasn’t much else to be seen. Very few lizards, and fewer birds. Still, it is a nice walk, and well recommended if you have the time.
Then it was back down the other side to the temple. This temple has been built up around the other grotto carvings. Walking to it we met a very spry 85 year old that was having a great, if slow, time walking down. He was an American guy that was here with his wife, and loving every second of it. If only we can be doing this well into our 80’s!
The temple is pretty standard, but the carvings that it has been built around are much better. There is Buddha of course, and a few others, but the most intriguing and baffling is the carved vulva. Nobody is sure why this has been carved, let alone what it represents (other than the obvious fact that monks get horny as well as any one else, they just carve it better). We were not allowed to take photos, and they had a guy standing guard pretty intently so we couldn’t sneak much.
I have no idea why this would be an issue, as the carvings have been exposed to people for generations, and a photo isn’t going to make it crumble, but that is just the way it is. I suppose you cant sell the post cards if people can take photos.
Then it was on to the walk to Shaxi Valley. I wish they had signposted this properly, as we took a number of false paths before deciding to go to the one properly marked trail. The last path would have taken us where we wanted to go, but we were not going to risk a hike down the hill to have to return if it was wrong. We only worked it out after walking the proper trail for an hour or two.
So this walk was a very long walk around the side of the hill. Slowly descending into the valley. Along the way there were a few more grottos. These were completely closed off with wooden structures, but we could still catch glimpses of them. Almost all of the way across we ran into a Chinese couple coming the other way, and we stopped for a talk with them. They spoke english, so we compared walks and let each other know what was coming up. For us it was a steep descent into the valley, and for them it was a long walk to the temple, and even further if they wanted to go to the first complex.
Down. And Down again. Steep steps carved into the mountain side before popping out beside a small stream. Following the stream took us out to the valley, and then it was another couple of kilometres to the main road and we were in Shaxi Valley proper. Then it was just a walk along until we found a mini van that was willing to take us back to town. As it was getting late we were worried that there may not be any vans, and it did take a while for one to go past. Luckily for us, the price was not outrageous, and we hopped in. Turns out we were his only takers, and we had a nice easy ride all the way back to town.