29 June, 2007

No.10: Henan - Shaolin Temple

Shaolin Temple
(1st-4th October, 2004)

After July-August summer holidays, another major holiday in China is from 1st-10th October. 1st October is the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and Double Tenth National Day celebrated every year on 10th October to commemorate the 1911 Wuch'ng Uprising, a milestone in China's political development and new chapter in the history of the Chinese people. October holiday is also a good occasion for many people to take a short excursion.

After a wonderful time in Inner Mongolia for my summer holidays and a month of work, it was time again to plan on how or what I would do during the October holidays. By this time, I've befriended G, a teacher from my University who was also open to travel. Though we knew October holiday was gonna be way crowded in all the tourist places in China, we felt we needed to take a break away from the confinement of our campus. So together we decided to go to the famous Shaolin Temple. whah-huh-hah!!

I got to know about the Shaolin Temple from martial arts movies I've seen which happens to be my favourite action movies. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee...I love watching their lithe moves :) I've set my priority of not missing the chance to visit this place once I set foot in China. It's a 'must visit' place on my list. The fact that it was started by a Buddhist monk from India named Buddhabhadra, or Ba Tuo in Chinese, made it more special for me.

We went to Luoyang in Henan Province (1st-4th October, 2004) with three other friends by train which takes 7 hours from Xi'an. We arrived at Luoyang in the afternoon. Since we didn't book a hotel before going, we had a tough time finding one that could take us in. As a law, China permits only certain hotels to host foreigners. We finally came to a Youth Hostel after endless hours of searching for a hotel....Phew! The five of us shared a dormitory......but that'll do. The more the merrier :)

We went for a walk after supper. That was the first time I came to know about the 'Pink lighted hair salons'....ummmm....a variant to the red-light zone. During our stay, we also came across shops that sells things I've never seen before. I just couldn't figure it out until I was told the ultimate truth....it turns out to be sex-toy shops! It was rather shocking for me to see it so publicly displayed. I reckon that's the reason I just couldn't figure it out in the first place. But I haven't seen the like again in any other cities I've been to in China.

We also booked a KTV (Karaoke)room and sang our voices out. Funny though, the only English songs they had were so old that I've never heard them before. And the ones I knew were by Backstreet Boys, which most of us still couldn't sing along with!! Well...you see, we were...one chinese, three Indians and one Aussie.....imagine the rest....When our chinese friend sang Chinese songs, we couldn't join in, and when we sang English songs, she couldn't follow us either.....lolz! What a night ...but we still had a lot of fun together.

The next day was the 'big day'. The day I had been waiting for with anticipation for quite sometime. The day I thought would never happen or would have the opportunity to make it come true...not even in my wildest dreams. The thought that we could as well be the very first few Mizo's to have visited the Shaolin Temple makes it almost...humbling. First and foremost...we 'had' to go to the Shaolin Temple before visiting any other places.

We took a van and was about an hours ride from Luoyang. On reaching the Shaolin Temple main gate, there were hoards of tourists....But that's not gonna deter me. We purchased our ticket which costs us 40 RMB.

The Shaolin Temple can be described as comprising of three major places. The first comprising of Kung Fu performance hall, about 10 minutes walk from the main gate. However, we got to see the performance at the end of our tour as we thought it better to see the rest of the place first. Their concentration and skill is palpable and was just incredible watching them perform live, right infront of us.

Area two comprises of the Shaolin Temple. We had to walk 20 minutes from the Kung Fu performance hall. Entering from the bottom, we had to make our way up through multiple halls to reach the top. We took sometime to enter as we clicked away photos as though we were afraid it would all vanish :)

Inside, there was the training hall aka Hall of a thousand Buddhas where the floor was badly battered due to many years of training by the monks. If you have seen Jet Li's movie "The Shaolin Temple", you'll get the idea how it'd look like. In fact, I recently watched the movie for the first time and it's fun as I've been there and could picturise the place in which the movie was shot. I could make out the many changes it's gone through the years. I'm told it's Jet Li's first movie! Hmmm....

There were also multiple stone tablets erected in memory of the great Buddhist monk leaders. What I realised after sometime was that I don't recollect coming across any 'real' monks. I understand the Shaolin Temple is highly commercialised now. With thousands of visitors thronging the place every year, the Temple is flourishing. We saw many martial art schools in the nearby vicinity where thousands of Chinese children were practising.

The third area is the Pagoda Forest, about half a kilometer west of the Shaolin Temple. There are more than 250 stone and brick pagodas from various dynasties. These pagodas are tombs for eminent monks, abbots and ranking monks at the temple. We took the whole day wandering around the complex. It takes quite a while and taking photos without people in it was next to impossible with so many people around us. And majority of the visitors were Chinese.

I bought a set of miniature art work posing in different kung fu styles, a T-shirt imprinted with different kung fu pose before actual combat and a huge painting which now grace the wall of my home back in India. The Shaolin Temple is fully worth visiting.

A minute of Shaolin Kung Fu lesson *_*

24 June, 2007

No.09: Fun Pics

No striding on the rooftops...:P
At Hua Shan (Hua Mountain)
In front of a waiting room
Ticket Counter
At Hua Shan (Hua Mountain)

18 June, 2007

No.08: Things I came across....1

Chicken foot......any takers? Yep, I'm warning you....it's 'Dang rous'
'Don't Get Over' this wall.....will ya?

Do NOT ignore the sign on this trash can......:o)

Pulizzz.....follow the rules in this bar!!

15 June, 2007

No.07: Inner Mongolia - To the Grassland

Xilamuren Grassland
(04th-16th July,2004)

I was often told about the scenic beauty and relaxing 'grasslands' of Inner Mongolia. I was intrigued. Students coming from there would often tell me with pride how lovely and peaceful it is in the grassland. I quite couldn't picture how it'd look like at the time. As it turns out, it is no less amazing than as described by my students. It's breathtaking!

After spending two days in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, Cathy and I went to the different tourist agencies to negotiate for a tour to the famous grasslands. There were several grasslands to go to, but I was particularly looking for a tour agency that can offer us with an English Interpreter. No such luck! Well... not at the amount I'm willing to pay anyway. The popular travel agencies charge exorbitant fares on tours for foreigners! So, we embarked on a tour with a group of 8 other chinese tourists. And then off we went to the famous "Xilamuren Grassland".

After travelling several hours, we made a turn from the paved road into a dirt road. The bumpy road was soon tucked away at the back of my mind to be replaced by the striking sight of the prairie , the bluest sky and herd of cattle dotted here and there like moving white clouds.We also drove past hundreds of the largest and most conspicuous white wind-mills I've ever seen!Wow!

We reached at about 3:00 pm in the afternoon. As we got down from the van, I noticed several Yurts, traditional Mongolian houses called "pao". We were to stay in these Yurts.We were welcomed by several Mongolian youths at the gate all attired in the colourful Mongolian traditonal dress. They started singing songs and each of us were given a drink in a tiny china cup. On enquiring about the drink, I found out that it was a traditional drink of liquor offered to visitors. I told Cathy that I don't drink and was about to hand over the cup back. Cathy explained to me that it would be taken as an offense not to drink. I eventually gave in and thought that just one small peg wouldn't be of any harm or have effect on me. I downed it in one gulp!! Ooops....a big mistake!! The drink turned out to be VERY strong, or so I think. My head started to spin and I felt like throwing up! We were immediately shown to our room in the Yurt and the rest of the day is spent feeling pretty sick. I urged Cathy to go on ahead with the others. There's no point in staying with me, who's quite whacked because of one little 'harmless' peg of Mongolian traditional drink! Tsk tsk!

I felt a little better by supper time. We were served special traditional dishes including a whole-roasted-lamb! After supper, they made a bonfire and there were traditional singing and dancing. We were also entertained with the traditional 'horse fiddle', a stringed musical instrument which has a horse head carved on the top. The strings are made of horse hair!It's quite chilly outside in the evening though. The sky lit up with millions of stars, a sight to behold in itself. I haven't seen so many stars in my life!

The next day, we went horse-riding. We paid 100 RMB (about Rs. 520) for 2 hours, to go to another village and back. It was just as I imagined. As a child it was my dream to own a horse :) I have always been facinated by horses and riding on one in this vast and beautiful land felt almost...surreal. We headed for the village which comprises of more Yurts. We were offered milked tea inside the Yurt with Genghis Khan's picture peering right down at us from the wall. As an ardent tea lover, I found the tea a bit yucky which was lukewarm and has no or little tea-leaf on it. Yuck! But then it was all part of the culture experience.

I also rode a camel, yay! The local youth performed horse race and traditional wrestling which was very entertaining. I especially enjoy the time we went out walking. There were wild-flowers everywhere and I could see horses and other cattle grazing nearby and in the far horizon.The kind of feeling I had at that moment was total freedom...just myself and nature....nothing else..and it was definitely rejuvenating and invigorating. I wished I could stay on for a few more days. But all too soon, it was time to head back to Hohhot again.

04 June, 2007

No.06: Xi'an - Cui Hua Shan

Heavenly Pool
(3rd June, 2007)

A month before, my friends and I decided to go for a days tour away from Xi'an for the weekend. But it was kinda difficult to set an ideal date together when we'd all be free. So 3rd June seemed to be a favourable time for us all and hence marked our diaries for the wonderful day out together.

However, as mentioned in my previous post, I hadn't been in the best of my health of late. Now that I've fully recovered, I woke up on Saturday morning with mixed feelings. The morning started off being fairly hot. The weather forecast for that particular day was around 39 deg.cel which dampens my desire to go to a certain extent. I went anyway with the intention to make the best out of the day.

We hired a van as we were a rather large group of 11 friends altogether(6 Australians and 5 Mizo's). We started off from Xi'an at 8:30 am towards the famed 'Cui Hua Shan' (Cui Hua Mountain) which was about an hours ride from where we started. Though I've been to Cui Hua Shan before, I went late in the afternoon to join my friends and had missed the chance to see most of the places. This time, I was determined to have a smashing time.

When we reached several kilometres still shy from our destination, by Jove.......we found out too late the road was under construction these days! We arranged for the van particularly to drop us at the top of the mountain to avoid having to walk on foot. And yet here we are...left with no alternative but to gradually make our way up to (I guess) more than a kilometer to catch a van to reach the main gate, and from there we had to catch yet another bus to reach the top of the mountain! The sun seems to enjoy our ill luck and was burning down on us mercilessly. We walked past rough and dusty road that has been unearthed, dug and furiously drilled by huge machines.

After paying for the entrance fee, we took a bus, crossed a tunnel drilled through a mountain and finally reached our destination. The sight that greeted us was so amazing that I forgot all my tiredness to absorb the scenic beauty that nature offered. I found that the dusty rough climb, van plus bus ride up which seemed determined to break me down is now fully worth it.It was like drinking sweet cool spring water after prolonged thirst.

Tunnel in the mountain

I tried out the 'flying fox' (I don't exactly know why it's called 'flying fox'), which has a long cable attached from one post to the other. I was straddled to a seat like a parachute, and wheeeeeeeee..... Exhilarating!!

But the major highlight of our day out is the 'jetski'.....I went ... vrrrroooooom....vrrroooom on the jetski all driven by myself with the instructor sitting right behind me....I could feel the wind on my face as I raced around speedily on the lake.I felt very proud of myself being able to maneuver the water bike on my own...hooray!!

What an awesome day!

01 June, 2007

No.05: Official Blog Release :)

Today, on the 1st of June 2007 (12:07 a.m) , I hereby officially release my Blog posts for public view. Feel at home... Take a seat, have a cuppa coffee and enter my "blorld" (blog+world). And oh yes, don't forget the cookies. :o)