I’m hoping Part 1 led you to this piece. If not, you missed out on Disneyland, Hot Pots, crazy monkeys and a breath-taking hike. Oh; and several world wonders.
The most adorable part of our trip was heralded by black and white Asian balls of fur: Pandas. These creatures are terribly naughty, adorable and lazy. Consuming up to 40 kg of bamboo a day, it’s a miracle they have time for anything else. But they do- an endless cycle of play for 5, lie exhausted for 10, eat for 15 and repeat.
Chengdu had the largest Panda reserve in the world and the preservation work they do is commendable. The Pandas have a foxy looking cousin- the Red Pandas. Equally cute and constantly nibbling on pumpkin.
We saw Pandas wrestle for a sleeping spot, itch their behinds on sticks, attempt to (successfully) pull down a tree-climbing neighbour and simply, quite clumsily fall flat- on face and back- from a creaking branch.
These creatures made our hearts sing and changed how we saw ourselves. J, K and N were now Master Panda, Baby Panda and Red Panda. Thereafter, we had many “Do a Panda” moments- lie on your back, eat, roll around and be cute. I couldn’t tell if onlookers (usually at train stations) were amused or mortified.
ART & CULTURE
The Chinese have a flair for art- from architecture to music and dance. We had the privilege of a 90 minute Opera where talented artists put on the most amazing acts: a glass-shattering Opera singer, performers magically switching masks before you can blink- 15 masks in 10 seconds, puppetry, dance and shadow play.
The show filled not just our thirst for art, but also our very present physical hunger. Our cups overflowed with Jasmine tea- quite literally as the server used a long pipe attached to what looked like an oxygen tank on his back, to access remote cups. The point was filling the cups, not precision. Bowls of sunflower seeds, wantons, dumplings and noodles (without surprises) kept us stuffed.
The place also offered back massages and ear-cleaning for a small fee. The massage tempted me but the look on the receiver’s face as metre long instruments penetrated their ears, made my decision for me. it wasn’t an option to have just the massage.
BIG BUDDHA, BUDDHISM AND SHANGRILA
As you’ve gathered by now, China holds plenty of world records. One of them is an enormous 71 metre tall Buddha in Leshan, the tallest in the world. Built centuries ago, the sheer size is staggering. Getting there is also a mighty effort of surviving serpentine queues and feisty old ladies with no qualms about elbowing their way to the front of the line.
We visited many Buddhist temples and were impressed by the calm and serenity they radiated. Halfway on our hike to Mount Emei we stayed at a Monastery whose head monk was delighted to “practice my English with the foreign people”. He was a darling.
The herculean Prayer Wheel in Shangrila required two dozen panting pullers to set it in motion. Atop a hill, accessed by a 100 breathless steps, the view is simply marvellous.
You know how sometimes, when on a journey, you get truly and thoroughly disoriented? That happened to us 3 days after our original but cancelled flight, we landed in Shangrila. Fresh from our 3,100 metre hike, we had toned muscles, acclimatized lungs and supple limbs. Or so we thought.
5 metres out of the airport and we were gasping for air. Was it something on the plane? We refused to believe the altitude the phone proclaimed- 3,400 metre!
Totally unprepared, we let ourselves get lost in this picturesque town with Tibetan influence and dogs the size of cows. Oh, and Yaks. And Yak milk and meat. Delicious!
After some confusion of believing we were in the North-West of China, we realized we were actually in the South-West! It was one of those disorienting but hilarious moments when you realize getting lost on a journey isn’t always bad if you can laugh about it and share it with friends.
As usual backpacking gave us; J, K and N aka Master Panda, Baby Panda and Red Panda; life lessons:
- Language is no barrier if you are willing to get creative. Limbs, grimaces, translation Apps and as often happened, involving a village. We sometimes had the whole restaurant, staff and customers help to order our food and even HOW to eat it.
- Food as we knew it was not even the tip of the universe as far as the Chinese are concerned. They can conjure food out of almost anything.
- Endless hiking and being on the road introduces you to muscles you didn’t know existed.
- After 48 hours in buses,trains and planes, a warm shower will make you cry.
- When stressed or in doubt, do a Panda!
- You don’t need much to be happy. Most of what you do fits in a backpack. And what doesn’t, is friends that make you believe life is worth it after all.
We’re already looking for our next adventure. Any suggestions?