The bus into Wutai Shan wound its way up snaking roads higher into the hills, after several hours the tops of the mountains were frosted in snow as we drove into the mountain range. After close to five hours the bus dropped down into a valley and to a town which was evidentially Wutai Shan.
After checking into the more back to basics hostel I went out to explore the town’s centre and view some of its largest temples. The streets were a mix of temple and crumbling building, something that seems to be becoming a theme of China, their temples are very well maintained, but other buildings are just left to crumble and new developments fill new space.
The largest temple in Wutai Shan, Xiantong, was my main sightseeing for the afternoon. I popped into a couple of smaller ones on my way, but this was then one I wanted to see. There are over 150 Monks living here, so they are just wandering the halls and going about their business which heightens the feeling in the complex.
The opening major sight is the 1000 armed Wenshu upon which every upturned palm is a miniature Buddha. The arms sprout out like a double fan from each side and the craftsmanship especially on the tiny arms was insane. Passing through you came to a very plain looking exterior of a building, but inside was a lofty beamless space containing a pagoda and countless statues of monks in meditation. Finally you reached the solid Golden hall, not plain looking from any dimension. The hall is over five metres high and all the interior walls have mini Buddha’s gilded into them.
Upon walking back to the hostel, I took a chair up onto the roof with my speaker and Freemasons on the iPod and proceeded to have a few to many gin sundowners.
Our full day in Wutai Shan was a classic ‘Toby adventure day’ – ie walk everywhere and hike up all the hills especially if it’s a bit off the beaten path. Gabby had been feeling ill the evening before, but had recovered to come exploring. We ventured South to the Nanshan temple which is isolated some kilometres from the town and is fortress looking, high up in the hills. The temple is built up over seven levels, and from the top gives great views over the entire valley and the lower six layers beneath you.
We walked back in towards the town and went for a fantastic lunch at a vegan restaurant. Probably the priciest meal I’ve had, but my spicy tofu fake fish was delicious and a needed break from lots of noodles! In the afternoon we climbed up the 1000+ stairs to Dailou Peak just above the centre of the town. There were many people doing a pilgrimage thing up it; they would stop every third step and kneel down and prostate themselves upon the stairs. It must take them several hours to complete the climb and from the numerous people selling knee pads at the base evidentially leaves you fairly sore.
That evening I wandered to the local market in search of dinner, after a pricey lunch I wanted something cheap so found a good stall doing these pancake wrap things filled with meat, lettuce, chili and a large tortilla chip, was super tasty and 70p so an all round win.
Today we head to Pingyao, first on a bus then taxi then train. We met two Czech guys yesterday at a temple doing the same journey so we’ve all made it into the 8am bus, just. Turns out we bought the last two tickets, never been in a full bus before. We then proceeded to sit in the wrong seats as we didn’t realise they were allocated. They sell from front to back so we would have been cramped on the rear row, but after much confusion and I think some Chinese people saying they didn’t care where they sat so taking our seats, then others wanting their seats, but finding people in ours, the driver intervened and told them to sit where there’s space. I’m presuming this was how the conversations played out, we say there like the confused tourists and just smiled and nodded.
Super swish bus though and I’m headed to stay at a hostel newly opened by the same guy that owned the impeccable Datong hostel, so very much looking forward to it!