Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lishan National Forest Park - Part 2

The entire complex seemed to be multi-tiered. Each new set of steps, maybe 20 - 50 would bring a new experience. Level two opened up to a large complex that looked a bit more formal than ancient. Formal it was. This area was the war time home, meeting and planning centre of Chang Kai Shek. He was was one of the most important political and military leaders of the 20th century not only in China but globally. His story is interesting to say the least. I just now happen to have stumbled into his war and revolution strategic home. History Nerd Alert! History Nerd Alert!

Meeting Rooms, Offices, Kitchen, Bedrooms and Officers rooms were lined up and restored in pristine fashion. There were photos on the walls of various stages of his life and what I assumed are pictures of the time in his office and meeting areas. There was enough English information to keep me occupied for about an hour. I think I said one to many "holy shits" out loud because the school group that was hanging about started laughing at the foreigner who was being really weird.

I said good bye to the former leader and heading down the trail. It is funny to call it "the trail". The trails/stairs were all well maintained and clean enough to eat off off, as are most things in this country. Anyways as I started getting higher the trees started to open up leaving great views of what was ahead. So off I went....

and up I go...

and up I go....

I was tired and I was out of water. I was sure there would be some glorious vendor selling overpriced survival fluid somewhere in the area. I was not disappointed. Rounding a bend in the trail I saw taxi's, many many taxi's. There is a road that leads to the summit, sweet. It turns out you can get to the summit by walking, gondola, large golf cart and taxi. Good planning China. As I walked towards a kiosk I hear a loud voice yell..."Liang Pi, Liang Pi" which are spicy cold noodles and I love them, plus they had cold beer. Win Win. I pull up a seat and order both. The 6 or 8 people around me laugh at my Chinese and then we all start talking as best we could. One guy spoke decent English and we went through all the great standard chatter. I ordered a second bowl of noodles, finished off my litre of beer and paid the 15 Yuan (C$3). I was tired, full and a bit wobbly one beer and limited water plus it as almost 35 degrees so I was done and ready to relax on the Gondola for the smooth (hopefully) ride down.

Nope, one final surprise to keep me going. As I wobbled towards the signs that pointed the way down I walked smack into the Laojun Palace (Laojun Dian) which is the place where Lao Tzu is worshiped. When I went to Brock University I took a Philosophy class one summer. Not really sure what I was thinking but none the less I did it. One of the books  of that class was the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and holy crap here I was in the centre of his damn place of worship.  Having the book would have been the ultimate to sit and read it where he is worshiped. Regardless when I get back to Canada I will dig it up and spend time with it.

I have started to notice, well it is fairly obvious, that the design and colors of most of the major temples and shrines in this area are very similar. From what I read it is a historical regional design and temples in other provinces are different. Good to learn.

This day turned into one of the best things I have done in China so far and as is usually the case I had no expectations. All I wanted to do was climb a mountain. I can only imagine how spectacular this entire area will be in the fall when the leaves on all the maples start to change. You can bet I will be here with my camera battery fully charged and my memory card empty.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lishan National Forest Park - Part 1

Lishan mean Li Mountain or Mount Li. If you say Lishan Mountain you are actually saying Li Mountain Mountain. Who cares what you call it because today I hiked the shit out of it. My legs were quivering and I was a disgusting sweaty mess. I found my first Chinese Happy Place and it's called Lishan

Getting to Lishan from Xian is simple enough. You take the same bus from the Bus Lot outside the North Gate near the train station that you would take to go to the Terracotta Warriors Museum. These are the 5/306 tourist bus, the 914 Green or Blue Bus with the obvious writing on the side. The are about the same price but the Blue bus does not take the toll rode and makes more stop so it is about 20 minutes slower. After you get on the bus the Ticket guy or girl will come by to have you pay. Tell them you are going to Lintong but stopping at Lishan and not going to The Terracotta Warriors.

The stop is an obvious and popular stop with a massive fountain surrounded by a huge square. The porter may know a bit of English but if you do not know any Chinese, please have a translation app or something written down in Pinyin, better yet have someone write down your destination in Chinese characters if you can. Everyone's life would be a bit easier if you put in just a bit of effort. I jumped on the 5/306, the price was 6 Yuan and the ride took about an hour.

I was excited today. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I love the feeling of not knowing. I do not know where it has come from or how it has developed but it is now a part of my psyche. So with that we pulled into Lintong which is an oddly pleasant city. I got off the bus and stood staring at the mountains in front of me. They were not massive by any means but they were spread out with 3 discernible peaks and covered with huge leafy trees and that combination made me salivate. This entire area is the HuaChing Palace Heritage Site and it sits in front of the Lishan National Forest.

In all my travels I have see taxi's of various colors and states of repair. Today I found what has to be the best looking taxi I have even seen here in Lintong. Aside from pristine condition, the soft two tone blues instantly calmed me and called out "Jump in and enjoy the ride. Sure I may rip you off but you will be relaxed when it happens. Sorry no happy endings".
There are many information sites about Chinese Travel including China Travel Guide, China Highlights, and Lonely Planet. Trip Advisor has good tips but you have to dig deep and past the complaining plus random site help. My go to right now is China Travel Guide. Yes, they are trying to sell tours but they also give great information about most destinations you are looking for including finding the right bus. I recommend them. Well, that was a random thought.

The Entrance to the Heritage Site can not be missed. A huge fountain and massive brick courtyard awaits. When you wander past the masses taking photos of the fountain and walk up the steps you will find information plaques explaining the 1000 year old earthen wall you will suddenly realize you are looking at. History everywhere in this country.

You can spend a couple of hours walking the grounds outside the park if you really wanted to. There are monuments, shrines, ponds, a small museum and an array of information about the historical significance of the area. From the great emperors to, what I was surprise to discover, WW2 and the Chinese Revolution with Chiang Kai-shek being head quartered here. That got my history nerd self into a tizzy.

The park entrance is fairly obvious and the price is 150Y (C$30). There is the standard security of good looking young girls who are very serious until you smile and say hello. They then break out the camera's and giggle at the Western guy trying to speak Chinese. The park opens up right away and you are embraced by well tended to gardens, pagodas and temples. There is an abundance of goldfish and Koi, ponds, picturesque bridges and walking paths. Talk about immediate serenity.

I am sure the designs and layouts all had some meaning but I stopped reading and just wandered about, enjoying myself. I spent a bit to long staring at the fish in the ponds. With the quirky smiles and odd looks I received a few of the locals thought I was either looking for dinner or was going to pull An Incredible Mr Limpit.

There was a temple what a dude that was the centre of attention that looked like a combination of Genghis Khan and a pissed of Poseidon. History's greatest conqueror and the Ancient Greek God of the Sea now that is a dude to be feared. I wandered for the better part of 2 hours and because it was still early and the sun did not set until almost 8:30 the mountains were not going anywhere, but I heard them calling.

 I crossed one bridge to a new area with ponds and small shrines then walked into a new garden without even realizing it. Time stood still and I do not say that lightly. Yes, this place was spruced up and ready for tourists but the history was oozing from the every crack and crevice. I walked through the three domed gate and into what what yet another moment of "What the Fu**". I did not know which way to go because you could go in any direction and it would be special.

Luckily I grasped my reality a bit and found a huge park map and trail guide. As with many hikes in China it was going to be stair, lots and lots of stairs as these were working mountains at one time. I could see where I was going to go, there were instructions in English, a layout of major stops and sites and the sun was shining.

I was having a fantastic time doing my thing but I had no idea what was in store for me