Archive for the ‘Chengdu’ Category

Wenchuan Earthquake

May 12, 2008

Nature has not been good to Wenchuan: Last year there were some rock slides and now it was hit by the strongest earth quake that has hit China for more than 30 years. According to Xinhua the epicenter was some 90 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, Sichuan’s province capital, and Chinese news agency Xinhua has called the natural disaster “汶川地震” (Wenchuan earth quake).

Last year on my way from Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu I passed Wenchuan and Dujiangyan, those two cities largely effected by the quake. As a matter of fact, when taking the 12 hour bus ride from Jiuzhaigou to the provincial capital, I met a student from Wenchuan who was just coming back from Jiuzhai to Wenchuan as her college was closed before because it had been hit by a landslide. For some pictures taken after the quake, see here.

Street in northern Sichuan
Mountain roads making it difficult for rescue teams to enter the villages, soldiers are reported to advance on foot only.

I have just talked with a Chinese friend from Chengdu (who is studying in Germany now) and she said that it was hard to get a hold of their family since the cell phone network broke down due to too many phone calls. While everyone of her family in Chengdu was fine, she told me that nobody had heard from their relatives in Wenchuan yet. The problem the rescue teams are facing now are quite big: Many roads in this mountain area have been destroyed by falling rocks or landslides – and there is also heavy rain in some parts so that helicopters could not even check out the situation. And while there is no way in for the rescue teams – there is no way out of the area for those who live in the small villages. Because houses there often are self-made, they are not very solid and many could have elapsed during the quake.

A problem in Sichuan now might be that there are many people without housing, either because their homes were destroyed or because people are afraid of going back into their homes. On the pictures above one can see homeless people gathering on the streets or setting up temporary tents.

The quake was even perceivable in Beijing, some one thousand kilometers away. A friend of mine was in a job interview in the 15th floor of a high-rise during the quake and that that the building started shaking.


Sacred Sites in Southern Sichuan

August 22, 2007

After we got back from Jiuzhaigou we once again stayed at our “home base”, Chengdu, for a day to relax in the Wuhouci temple and the neighbouring park with its nice tea house where we spend some hours.

The next day I took the bus to Leshan, location of the world’s largest Buddha statue. Together with Jiuzhaigou and Emeishan it is one of Sichuan’s three UNESCO world heritage sites and the title caused the Chinese to come in big groups to this Buddhist place – foreigners on the other hand were quite rare. So when being in the line to make the small slope down along the figure that is facing the river everybody was eager to chat with me. Unfortunately it was very hazy that day so I decided to not take the boat cruise passing the statue since I was not even able to clearly see the other bank of the river.

Great Buddha at Leshan
The 71 meter high statue in Leshan.

I decided to go to the Wuyou temple that was included in the entrance fee of the Great Buddha (大佛). After crossing the bridge to the temple area it was suddenly quiet as the tourist groups seemed to avoid the “ordinary” temple. But I was lucky as I bumped into some locals that I had met earlier when they helped me take a picture of me in front of the Buddha statue. They simply showed me around the temple, so I had my private tour guides. The same has happened to me when I was still on the areal of the Great Buddha when I had a look at the more remote temples and pagoda.

Another famous Buddhist site in Sichuan is Emeishan (Mt. Emei 峨眉山), about 45 minutes from Leshan by bus. We spend the night on the foot of the mountain and started the exhausting climb up the mountain the next morning. Well, we cheated a little bit, as we took a bus for the first some miles but then we resisted to cable car that most of the Chinese took. We made our way up literally about thousands of steep, it is not a difficult climb but is exhausting. In the evening we were going to sleep at one of the monasteries along the path, but we had to make some seven extra kilometers as we found out the it was subject to construction and we had to go to the next one. There we met a monk from Chengdu who was taking a pilgrimage to the sacred Buddhist mountain and we saw him again the next day quite often: Every time we chatted a bit, took a photo or were subject of a photo being taken by a Chinese because both a monk and foreigners seems to be the ideal object to appear in a photo to take home.

Night at Emeishan
The moon above the monastery where we spend the night.

The next morning we could feel the nearly 30 kilometers and more then 1500 meters of elevation we had mastered the day before, but on the second day we made it to the top in the early afternoon. While the weather was not that good during the first day, it became much clearer on the second day and the clouds around us were just beautiful. We had plenty of time at the summit because we originally planed to take the monorail to the 3099 meter high “Tenthousand Buddha Summit”, but it was out of service.
On the way up we also saw another attraction of the mountain: the monkeys that were really clever when it comes to food. When taking a rest and having a snack at a small restaurant we were witnessed how a monkey stole some noodles from the restaurant and were eating them high up in a tree without the reach of the stones that the angry shop-owner throw after the monkey.

Top of Emeishan
The top of Emeishan in the evening sun.

In comparison to the youth hostels that we had mainly stayed during our trip, we stayed at a rather crappy (and expensive) hotel, but it was near the top of the mountain so after we got up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning we only had a short walk for the platform to see the sunrise. As a matter of fact, a beautiful sunrise on the 3077 high summit is pretty rare and we were satisfied with what we saw: The sun was making it’s way through the clouds near the horizon and send us some warm sunrays.

Sunrise at Emeishan
The sunrise at Emeishan.

The so-called “sea of clouds” (云海) must be amazing and on clear days one can see Mt. Gonga (7556 m) rising from the clouds. But this day we were more bathing in that sea, so we were in the clouds ourselves up to the neck. After the sunrise we made our way back to the foot of the mountain by bus, changed into another bus to Chengdu and arrived there in the afternoon. Once again we were in Chengdu, at the hostel we were even greeted “welcome back home”…

Beautiful lakes and waterfalls at Jiuzhaigou

August 18, 2007

After we did not get bus tickets for the next day after we got to Chengdu last week, we just used the extra day to explore Chengdu. So we had a chance to see the lively Wenshu monastery, the People’s Park, the big Mao statue in a central place in the city and walked the little touristy streets and had some local snacks. Sichuan is famous for its spicy food, the noodles and other local dishes we had were delicious.

Peppers used for spicy food
Spicy peppers are used en masse to prepare the local dished (川菜, Chuancai) in Sichuan.

With a delay of one day we started to Jiuzhaigou – well, as we do not have a fixed schedule, one cannot speak of delay anyway.
To get there from Chengdu one can either take the plane or a twelve hour bus ride. We decided to take the 434 km ride by both both going to Jiuzhaigou and getting back to Chengdu. The road was sometimes in a scary height above the valley, but it gave us some fantastic views on the mountain area. Compared with other mountain areas I have been to, the Sichuan mountains – somehow the back end of Tibet – feature a huge difference in elevation from the bottom of the valley to the mountain peaks.

Jiuzhaigou itself is known by almost every Chinese that we have talked to, it is a valley were one can admire the crystal clear, deep blue lakes, huge waterfalls and the surrounding mountains. As it is reknown for its “shanshui” (water and mountains), the highest form a Chinese can think of when it comes to nature, the valley has become rather crowded and tourist groups are making their way to the most beautiful lakes and waterfalls. However, they are usually taking the busses that carry the tourists up and down the Y-shaped valley so if one decides to hike the trails, one can leave behind the noisy tour groups rather quickly.

Waterfall at Jiuzhaigou
One of the plentiful waterfalls at Jiuzhaigou.

It had rained heavily before our arrival there (somehow the same situation we experienced in Chongqing), so some trails were closed because of stone slides. But the extra water made the waterfalls even more beautiful as the water was plentiful. The clear and freezing cold water is making its thirty-plus km way down the valley, forming beautiful colored lakes on its route. I have never seen such clear lakes and the downside is that after coming back to Chengdu every lake in a park seems dirty…

Blue Lake at Jiuzhaigou
The “five colored lake” (五彩海) at Jiuzhaigou.

The ticket prizes of the Jiuzhaigou mountain area are rather high – after getting a student discount the cost was still 170 yuan for the two day pass – not including the bus rides inside the valley. But the mostly untouched nature is worth the entrance fee and long hours in the bus to get to Jiuzhaigou in the very north of Sichuan province.

After getting back to Chengdu, we had a relaxing day that we used to wash clothes and visited the Wuhouci temple. There is also a park surrounding this temple with a nice little tea house where we spend some hours talking, relaxing and drinking tea in the midst of Chinese playing cards and Mahjong (麻将).