I first heard of the concept of templestay on a visit to Korea in 2005, and found the concept tempting ever since. I had never actually done it though, allowing it to grow into something very romantic in my mind. In wooden barracks I would sleep, in between monks in orange robes who would wake me up at 5 am to take a cold shower and meditate. There would be six hours of mandatory meditation every day, and no word should leave my lips. They would shave my head and initiate me with ceremonial ointments and acupuncture. There would be no sound after sunset, and vegan food. We would nod at each other and they would teach me how to carve highlights of the scripture. We would mount a holy summit every week and bring sacrifices to a Buddha throned in thin mountain air. I will end up sleeping in a temple complex today, but it will be a little different.
We are still in Chengdu. There are a number of ways to order breakfast in China. If you speak Chinese, just tell the waiter what you want to order. If you can only read, but not speak, just point at the menu and you’ll get the right thing. If you can neihter read nor speak Chinese, take a pencil, hold it between thumb and index finger about 40 centimeters above the table, and move the menu sheet back and forth underneath it. Then drop the pencil onto the sheet and order the dish that has been marked by the dot. We try this in a local restaurant on the top floor of a mall in southern Chengdu and it gives us some plates of delicious dumplings and tasteless glutinous rice-soup.
After the random breakfast we take the bus to Emei, a pictoresque little hillside village and your perfect location to start a beautiful hike through gorgeous gorges up to the Golden Summit. The few people that live there will gladly direct you to the beginning of the ascend, a narrow abandoned path that curls its way up the magnificent spine. Come and be the first one to admire this natural splendour!
After a two-hour bus ride, we arrive in the megacity of Emei, where we feel a bit lost at first. Hitching a ride to the “entry” of the mountain seems not an option, but taxis are glad to take us. The base of the mountain is packed with shops, hotels, bars, and tourist buses. There is an open-air museum about the history of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in China which we enjoy before walking to the Baoguo monastery. Patrick the Local has spotted me in the crowd and wants to give us some suggestions. Here’s a guy that just wants to help out, no strings attached. He tells us he is a tourist guide and you can find him in the Lonely Planet. Why don’t you guys stay in the monastery? Yes, why not? We follow him, pay for a simple but convenient room (the only inconvenience is the awkward lack of privacy that comes the lack of curtains), and prepare for dinner with the monks and other visitors. The staple is a bowl of rice and a plate of maize and green vegetables, not salty, not spicy, low in proteins and fat. I kind of like it and think of how much our diet influences our behaviour, and all those studies they are conducting about it and how a fastfood diet can ruin young lives. This food really keeps you calm, but you have to get used to it. I believe we find ourselves behind a spicy plate of chicken the next day, after climbing that mountain.
At night, we have a strange cup of tea in the restaurant street at the base of the mountain, that is now lit like a christmas lunapark with thousands of colored lights. We decide to go up Mt. Emei tomorrow.