I woke late with the sun shining in my eyes. I lazily rubbed them as I got up from bed. The scientific conference was over and our agenda that day was to have fun, which, in my case, would be to see a bit of China as a tourist. The organizers had thoughtfully arranged a tour of the Yandang Mountain Forest, a well-known spot for nature lovers and hikers. I chowed down a hearty breakfast and got my gear together.
I had anticipated such a trip, but due to limited space in my luggage, could not pack all my hiking gear. I had with me my trusted Tilley hat, and a trekking shirt of moisture-wicking material. But I did not have proper trekking shoes. There is only so much you can pack in a small, carry on suitcase. One of my colleagues went to the extent of buying a new pair of sneakers for the excursion. I did not go to that extreme, instead, settled for a light, comfortable pair of rubber-soled dress shoes.
I packed a light jacket, a water bottle, a couple of granola bars and sunblock (essentials for such day hikes) into a day-pack. My camera with an extra battery and memory chip was in a pouch on my belt. After a final check, I headed for the hotel lobby to meet up with the others going on the trip.
The bus arrived and we piled in. An English speaking tour guide welcomed us and we were off. We left the busy environs of Wenzhou and headed for the mountains. The air became progressively cleaner and cooler.
Yandang Mountain Forest Park is remarkably beautiful with vertical rock faces split by fissures giving rise to picturesque shapes. The hills are covered in vegetation that range from lush tropical to deciduous at higher elevations. The paths are well marked in Chinese but there are very few signs in English. This led to a near mishap; on that, later. Some of the peaks and pinnacles have poetic names like “bamboo shoots” or “lovers kissing” and the one I found particularly intriguing, the “lovelorn maiden”. I studied the peaks very carefully trying to match the shape with the name. The first two, maybe, made a little sense. But I had no idea how a mountain peak could resemble a lovelorn maiden. I freely admit that the fault could be mine, I have never seen a lovelorn maiden and so have no idea of her looks. The guide tried his best to explain but some of us were not convinced. We shook our heads and continued walking.
We passed ponds with bright orange koi fish and ornamental stone bridges with carved lions on the railings. Soon we came to a fissure in the mountains with a temple lodged high up inside. From a distance it resembled two palms in a ‘namaste’ gesture with the ancient temple nestled inside them. This was the famous Guanyin or Avalokiteswar temple in Lingfeng Peak. The peak is also called Holding Palms Peak, just look at the photo below.
There were a large number of stone steps leading up to the temple in the rock cleft.
We started to climb passing several colorful statues on either side of the path.
At one point we stopped for a group photo.
I took that opportunity to sit, rest and enjoy the view from the top. It was lovely.
By the time we descended it was high noon. The sun was brighter, the temperature warmer and we were hungrier. We boarded our bus and went for lunch at a restaurant in a charming village in the mountains. The narrow, winding, sloping streets with shops and restaurants lining them reminded me of mountain resorts in Europe.
The walk and the steep climb had worked up an appetite and we dug into the many delicious dishes that were bought in one after the other. One particular item was cooked pigeon eggs in their pigeon-gray shells. I tried to pick one up with my chopsticks already slick with oil. It was not easy but I finally managed. The eggs were small and had a unique flavor, my first taste of pigeon eggs. I filed this away in my memory.
After lunch we headed for another part of the mountain where there is a famous Buddhist temple with a large golden statue of the Buddha. There was a shaved monk in ochre robes chanting incantations. He had a resonant voice with the correct cadence and diction. I was impressed. Too bad I could not find CDs on sale. I would have loved to listen to the chants back home. I saw several devotees with joss sticks and lighted candles offering their prayers. I prayed alongside.
I decided to stay and enjoy the ambience while the others went on another climb to see a temple higher up. Soon I felt the need to use a rest room but I could not locate one. All the signs were in Chinese and I found nobody who understood English. To make matters worse, cell phone reception at that particular spot was bad so my Baidu translator (Chinese-English) which I had thoughtfully downloaded in anticipation of just such an emergency, was ineffective. But as many of my readers will attest, public restrooms in heavily used tourist spots in the mountains have a distinct, unmistakable odor. I followed my nose and soon hit the target. Bingo! What a relief! There, I did find a picture for ‘toilet’ in Chinese and English. I took a photo as insurance against any such predicaments in the future.
It was late in the afternoon. The sun was sliding westward. A chill breeze sprang up and we put on our jackets. We got into the bus for the trip back to Wenzhou. We had dinner at a restaurant. It had one huge eating area, almost as big as a warehouse.
At the back there were tanks with live fish, crabs, lobsters and other sea foods. Along the side, we saw cooks with big pots and steamers. You could select your item and watch it being cooked. But we opted for the by now familiar circular table with the rotating tray and an ensemble of delicious dishes in a separate dining room.
After dinner we took a stroll on the sidewalk. I saw a scooter with a bag placed on the seat. It was not locked or attached by any means. I took a photo wondering what prevented anyone from walking off with the bag. I asked the guide who explained that Wenzhou was a safe place with minimal crime. I had to agree, just look at the photo.
Back in my hotel room I stretched out on my bed. It had been a long, exhilarating day. I had had another glimpse of China and taken a lot of pictures for remembrance. I went over the day’s adventures in my mind as I drifted off to sleep thinking of the unsolved mystery of the “lovelorn maiden”…..
To be continued.