I sit here in my room with the temperature slowly warming up. Spring is almost here even though it snowed in Beijing yesterday, and many parts of Tibet and Mongolia expect heavy snowfall over the next week. But not in Chengdu. On Wednesday, when I left the university for Xinnanmen Bus Station, I didn’t know that I would be back more than 3 days later with the most agonizing pain, the most exhilarating pain and the most enduring pain. Agony, exhilaration and endurance – in 3 days I knew them all. But first, the small details. After all, a mountain can only be climbed step by step. Literally.
Obtaining tickets was the easiest part of Emei Shan. Buses from Xinnanmen leave almost every 20 minutes. At RMB43, it wasn’t cheap, but well, you have to pay to cherish pain. For pain is what I was unleashing on myself. I quickly found a seat, and before long we were on our way. China’s expressways are my source of wonder and envy – how can a nation equally mired in corruption as India build roads that can rival anything I have seen in the US? Whizz past toll gates. Past dreary farmland. Past some rather picturesque farmland. Stale old houses reeking with the smoke of yesterdays. Pass them all. 2.5 hours later, the bus stops in Emei Shan. And then, for just RMB5 more, the bus says that it will take the remaining passengers to Baoguo Village, the base of Emei Shan. It seemed a good deal, and after lunch in the village, we set off. Except we didn’t know where. How often does that happen in life? You want to climb the mountain, but try finding the entrance. The first step, the baby step is always the hardest, I think as is also the last gasp before the feet collapse altogether. For a World Heritage site, signs in English are conspicuous in their absence. We straggle around trying to find the way – surely there must be a ticket counter, no? No. We are directly vaguely to some steps, and we begin the climbing. Ah, how happy we were! How little we know of the true joys in life! I didn’t know I would 24 hours later just want a bed, a little bit of warmth, some food and sleep. Right now, I have plans of climbing the summit, of wondering how long my bank balance will last, how will the lessons go, how will I write, how will I learn Chinese – and back then, all it takes to reach Emei Shan is a step. When you think of a step, you forget the staircase.
So it was then. We follow two Chinese girls – one of who had a backpack, and we thought rather intelligently that she must be climbing too. Remember that Emei Shan need not be climbed – there are buses and cable cars all the way to the summit. And in winter, it is considered even more foolhardy to climb. But well, to be crazy is fun. A whole lot. And it’s painful. We navigate the first few hundred steps easily. The blood is pumping and I have aims of reaching Wannian Si Monastery. It is around 2PM when we begin and soon we are at the first monastery. The two girls enter Fuhu Monastery and so do we, paying RMB5 as entrance fee to the temple. This monastery though I will call as ConFUSU Monastery. It’s at this point that adrenaline gave way to puzzlement. Where the heck are we, we ponder, trying to figure out the RMB5 Yuan map we bought. Take a look at the map here:
Forgive my clumsy drawing – it shows all the points of pain I traversed through. As you can see, we began at the extreme left – not exactly the recommended path of logicians, but the path that monks hoping to obtain salvation might choose. We are neither – we were just a pair of clumsy fools. Frustration grows as we try to see which path to take. Remember again, there are no signs on the trail. Some people point to the road, and we take that, deciding to just climb down and enter through what we think must be the proper entrance. Except there is none. We climb half way down before I did what I hate – ask for directions. A lady immediately points to some distance – back up from where we already came up. Frustration was now turning into plain despair. The lady – who looks like a tour guide, motions something that seems to suggest that she has a place to sleep. We agree, only wanting to reach the next monastery. She becomes a fixture for the rest of the climb. Thanks to her, we found the way to Leiyin Monastery, where we discover FINALLY the place we pay the RMB80 for entrance fees (student discounted).And I see the sign that warns that Emei should not be taken lightly.
Except that like an annoying insect, the woman refuses to go. We try asking a Chinese friend of ours, Lynn, to help, trying to tell her to go away. Does she want money? We don’t want her hotel, we don’t want her. Go away, we try to yell at her in Chinese. But stick she does. Right now, Emei is not the haven I was looking for – is there ever a haven, anywhere?
But then Emei surprised me. Each time, I felt lost, it’s almost like my old friend, the Buddha, sent someone around to help. We had walked/climbed almost 4 hours now, and the destination which we had whittled our hopes down to – Qingyin Pavilion was no where in sight. Did I say Wannian Si before? Aha, Emei had already taught me that expectations are impossible – dreams are nothing – and that hope is an illusion. Distances are what matter. The further you go, the less you reach. Yeah, that’s what Emei was teaching me. And that’s when the Buddha sends 4 students who emerge from the middle of a path we hadn’t noticed – they look askance when we ask for directions, but they know English. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Literally, they take us under their wing. We learn that any monastery is impossible to reach now that dusk is approaching. And they lead us DOWN. See my map – from climbing up, we descend down. Down. Down. To the parking lot. Can you imagine the gloom? The forlorn look we gave at life? At the #$#$@#$ mountain? At the lack of signs? We had climbed for more than 4 hours only to reach the bottom. See, this is why I hate life, I muttered in frustration to Birdy. “Why can’t I have just one thing easy?” I ask. I would know the answer to that later.
For now though the students take us to a hotel. RMB100 gives us a nice twin room. We have dinner, and learn that Wannian Si is 2.5 hours from here. I want to cry. I want to laugh. In the end, I did neither. Empty and devoid of feeling, I go to bed, once again thinking that life is just so damn unfair. But in the meantime – there are angels like these students. And irritants like THAT woman who followed us ALL the way – and led us so neatly to the way down, and even came to the hotel we choose. Emei leaves me with mixed feelings this night.