Tuesday, July 1, 2008
To the top of the mountain.
Qian Ling Park reminds me of New York City’s Central Park: an oasis of green among a sea of concrete, although in this case it just outside the capital city and a lot harder to reach via a mile hike with a 500 foot vertical gain.
At the top of the mountain lies the main attraction: the oldest Buddhist temple in the provice dating back 500 years. And it is still active as the sprawling facilities with shrines. Prayer centers and enormous Buddha statues still houses 42 monks, their sleeping quarters, and a vegetarian restaurant.
Our guide (who is a Buddhist) said she recently met the 92-year-old head monk and he is the picture of health.
The base of the mountain, with a peaceful stream, is where the “park” amenities cluster with amusement rides, games, fast food, and ubiquitous trinkets for sale. The Olympic Logo (which reminds me of Teletubbies) in flowers attracted native tourists as a backdrop for photos.
The weather was an almost perfect 72 degrees and only slightly muggy but it was not very long after starting the climb up 12” rock steps cut in the mountain, hugging Jada to my chest, that I was sweating profusely.
About 10 minutes into the climb we spotted our first wild monkey. Our guide warned us they could get aggressive. On her last tour a five year old got too close and the monkey slapped him in the face.
Naturally with hundreds of people making the trek daily the monkeys are no longer afraid of humans and since they get plenty of food some of them are looking a tad overweight. But they are government protected so they thrive.
Because of the steep grade the rock staircase would curve as it snaked its way to the top.
The monkey was sitting on top of the rock guardrail and we stopped to take a picture. Folks coming down the trail stopped to let us get the shot resulting in a slight traffic jam. I noticed the other tourists were far more interested in our multi-racial family than the monkey.
The top of the mountain looked nothing like the tourist attraction clustered down below. It is an active monastery and many of the folks who made the climb performed prayers, the gong of ancient ritual bells frequently pierced the air and the smell of incense was everywhere.
The huge Buddha statues (including the bright gold “laughing Buddha”) were off limits to photographers and robed monks in sandals sat in the entryway to all the buildings.
We descended via a paved road on the other side of the mountain (naturally many tourists prefer to drive to the top rather than hike). About half way down at a sharp corner we could hear the loud whine of a motorcycle so we stepped completely off the road.
Two kids, one about 18 and his passenger maybe 12, were showing off by going to fast and pointing to us. He cut the corner to sharply and went down with a loud crash, sliding sideways down the road for perhaps twenty yards.
They were both stunned into silence. Our interpreter ran over and pulled up the younger one, wiping his bloody arm with a tissue who looked like he was in shock. He had “road rash” on his right arm (exposed because he was only wearing a t shirt) and probably his right hip/leg as well.
The older kid looked like he suffered little damage. The bikes front cover blew off but it managed to restart. Our guide told them to be careful, don’t show off and be respectful.
They restarted the bike and tore off. Our guide shook her head. About five minutes later we came across them on the side of the road as the bike had died.
Almost down we spotted metal tracks looping below. Kira recognized them from Disney World and yelled “roller coaster”. Donna and Kira took a ride ($2.25 each) while I sat with Jada and our guide.
The owners of the ride—a husband and wife about my age—came over and sat next to us at the picnic table. The women gave me a thumbs up and told the interpreter we were “good people” for adopting Kira and Jada.
The husband, who looked Mongolian, said he was ashamed his people would abandon these little girls (as he we speaking I noticed our guide/interpreter wince slightly). I really didn’t know what to say. I could tell he was not patronizing me and genuinely felt bad.
We shook hands, as my other one hugged Jada close.