Sichuān Province

Long LakeOne of Sichuān’s star attractions is the stunning World Heritage Site of Jiŭzhàigou National Park. Admittedly the countless bluer-than-blue lakes its rushing waterfalls paired with the blazing autumn colors contrasting with the turquoise waters backed by snowy mountains make the scenery of this valley outstanding.

But with more than 2 Million visitors per year swarming along the well-maintained boardwalk trails, hundreds of tour buses that line up all the way up to the peak and a village that has more resemblance with Las Vegas than the region’s original nine Tibetan villages it’s named after, it feels more like Disney Land than a nature preserve. Along with the horrendous entry fee and the exorbitant price for a bed in a smelly, overfilled dormitory that is so humid that socks don’t even dry over night, our stay at the Jiŭzhàigou National Park was overshadowed by the extreme commercialization of this precious nature site. Exploitation of this kind is unfortunately seen all over China… But by climbing over some barriers that block abandoned boardwalks you can find some peaceful remote trails even at the most crowded places 🙂

Chengdu

After the Jiŭzhàigou valley, the land is descending into a wide, far warmer, basin around Sichuān’s capital, Chengdu. Thanks to Lukas, a bike follower we had met at the Pamir Highway, we had the contact of some Europeans sharing a flat here, who were hosting us in their glass winter garden on the roof top at the 7th floor, awesome view and entertaining evenings included 🙂

Bamboo BattleChengdu is famous for its Giant Panda Breeding Station where you can catch a glimpse of nearly 50 laid-back giant pandas and their far more active relatives, red pandas, in their spacious, carefully designed enclosures. It’s a real miracle how these lazy and clumsy creatures survive in free nature while spending most of their days masticating bamboo, of what they can only digest 17% !!

Besides of the pandas, Chengdu has not so much to offer except of dozens of flashy shopping malls and one of China’s only Decathlon outdoor shops. No question that we spent half a day there to get a much longed-for replacement for Martina’s multi-patched pants that were slowly falling into pieces. In one of those numerous malls we run into Marianne and Tom, a Swiss couple we had last seen in Samarkand in Uzbekistan, thousands of kilometers from here! The world is so small 🙂

Lèshan

72m TallFor us, Chengdu was a base for forays into China’s southwest. Equipped with borrowed backpacks our first trip destination was Lèshan, home of the serene, 1200-year old Grand Buddha, carved into a red sandstone cliff, overlooking the river and one of the world’s largest Buddha statues. At 71m tall with 8.5m long toes, he’s definitely big enough to give you a Lilliputian feeling! And as big was the crowd queuing up for the steep, winding stairway that leads from its imposing head all the way down along his body’s giant magnitude.

(Traveller tip: Lèshan is the easiest place for extending your China visa. They issue it in two days, time enough for a visit of the Grand Buddha. Make sure to check-in at a hotel before heading to the Public Security Office)

Émei Shān

Green BridgeClose to Lèshan lies Émei Shān, one of China’s four most famous Buddhist mountains. There we found fabulous forested mountain scenery dotted with ramshackle wooden temples and hordes of greedy macaque monkeys demanding tribute for safe passage. As we were hiking along pathways lined with fir, pine and cedar trees and were climbing thousands of stone steps along lofty crags and mist-shrouded precipices, we were truly feeling like in one of those mystic black ink drawing that we all associate with ancient China.

StoicismUnfortunately also this once so holy place couldn’t escape the omnipresent commercialization and when we were stopping at dusk at one of the monasteries – freezing and completely soaked by the constant rain – they refused to let us sleep together with all the other Chinese hikers in one of the dormitories (“for security reason”). Instead the ripped us off by forcing us to pay the triple normal price for a moldy, drafty double room.

Sometimes we really have the feeling for most of the Chinese we are not much more than walking dollar bills. Together with the fact that the Chinese truly don’t share the same common sense with us, this turns our journey in China into a real test for our patience. To give you a little sample: We walked into a train ticket shop. This is a little booth that is solely selling train tickets. We showed the guy behind the desk a paper with our destination written in Chinese, the train number and the departure time and still it’s impossible to purchase two train tickets. He was simply putting us off by either pretending to don’t understand – what else could we possibly want than buying a train ticket?! – or by shouting “Meo, Meo!” (meaning something like “we don’t have” or more likely “F*** Off”), a phrase we’ve definitely heard too often so far. This game continued until we finally found a translator who does nothing else than showing him the same paper but out of a sudden he is willing to cooperate!

But at least our night in the Buddhist monastery found a happy end due to the electric heating blankets they have here everywhere instead of a proper heating or an isolation, that turned the clammy bed into an oasis of soothing warmth for our tired limbs.

Bonus Material

Greedy monkeys are suddenly no more cute when they hear the rustling of a plastic bag…


One thought on “Sichuān Province”

  1. I can sympathize with your train ticket story. I can’t even remember how many times similar things have happened to me in China. Still, it’s cool you got to explore some of the incredible nature of southwestern China, despite the large crowds and commercialization.

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