Monday, October 31, 2016

Sacred Mountains tour, part 6

Well I made it the 880 km to Tai'an in one day because no one bothered to boot me off the expressway. Then, when I got up next the morning, I could actually see Taishan out my hotel window. Well, almost, it was actually too cloudy and raining to see it very well but here's a photo from my hotel window taken on my last day there. Its the mountain in the background right in the middle of the picture:



Now this mountain is in some ways the most special of the 5 Greats. It is the head of Pangu, it is the Eastern mountain, and it is the mountain that all the emperors of China would visit to make sacrifices to help establish in their status as emperor of China. Some Emperors would make the pilgrimage to all 5 of the great mountains but they would all at least make it to Taishan.

There were a number of approaches to this mountain, from 3 different sides. I chose to take the same approach that the emperors would have taken. That means starting from the Dai Temple and going straight up from there. This was also convenient for me as the temple was within walking distance of my hotel (3 KM). From the outside it looks more like a fortress than a temple but I guess that makes sense if it is where the emperor stayed when in town:



I entered by the back entrance and worked my way through the gardens



and temple areas



to the front. Close to the front is a lovely Hobbit door



And it leads to another hobbit door that has a bonsai garden inside:



There are many more bonsai gardens, some of the more delicate varieties are in greenhouses like this. In behind the greenhouse you can see one of the 4 corner towers of this complex.



And then, out the front door is the modern street which lies where the ancient road used to be, the road that the emperors would take to the mountain (which is just to the left of center - behind the tree).



This is named "Red Gate Road" because it leads to the Red Gate which is the entrance to the mountain. After about 1-1/2 kilometers we start seeing red buildings but its not yet a gate. And the stone steps are starting already here and also there is a sign saying something like "ascent starts here"



And along the way are many shops selling essential tourists supplies, like sticks - walking sticks, incense sticks and selfie sticks.



Finally I reach the Red Gate;



Then are are a fewer tourist shops and more steps. The steps start out relatively gentle:



The staircase looks wide enough for thousands of people to pass in both directions. Even so, a family group of 5 can easily spread out along the width of this path completely blocking traffic in both directions - while seeming to be completely oblivious to the fact that that they are inconveniencing other people. Fortunately this was a rainy weekday at the end of October - so no crowds.

Of course there are many more gates along the way. There is a gate for everything in China. And sometimes it seems like, in the middle of nowhere there is a gate for no other reason than someone thought it must be a good place to put another gate. Anyway, this is something I've never seen before - trees growing right out of the wall of the gate:



After much walking and climbing of stairs I got to a patio which marks the half way point in vertical rise. The whole mountain is a rise in elevation of about 1300 meters and this is at about the 650 meters up.




It  maybe 1/2 way but it still looks like a long way to the top:



This 1/2 way point is also a transfer point for people getting assisted travel to the top. Buses bring people up this far and then to get to the cable car they have walk along this corridor where, in case they missed it before, they can buy all sorts of tourist sticks.




So, about 3/4 of the way up someone stopped me to have his picture taken with me. This happens all over the place. There are not a lot of westerners around and some people like to have their picture taken with us when see one.



At this point the stairways are pretty steep and there is still no end in site. This was also one of the times when Carole happened to send me a text from Canada so I took a few moments to "chat" with her before proceeding on.  Our contact was sporadic while I was on this trip so we both tried to respond when attempts were made.



Beside the main stairway we can see the remains of an older set of steps. The Chinese have been building steps up their sacred mountains for centuries:



And finally getting close to the end. There are more people here because the cable car ends just below this staircase so everyone wanting to get to the summit must pass this way:



The view from here (at least there is a view as the summit was completely socked in with fog):



And here is the temple at the very top. In the center is a sort of wishing well covered in padlocks. I'm guessing that if you buy one of their blessed padlocks, make a wish and lock it to the fence around the well, then surely your wish will come true.



This climb seemed to me to be harder than the other climbs, I was exhausted. I think it was probably about 200 meters more vertical rise than any of the other climbs I did this past month. I was happy to take the cable car and bus back down onto town - and then even a taxi back to my hotel.

This was the last mountain  of my tour but I was not yet home. There were still 600 KM to go and the weather forecast said rain all the way home. Now I can handle getting wet, but also I was now back in Northern China and the expected low at my destination was 0 degrees. I wasn't ready to be wet AND COLD for an 8 hour ride. The forecast also said that the following day would be cold but dry the whole distance - so I stayed another day. I didn't do much that day other than catch up on writing this blog. Anyway, a day later, I made it safely home, cold but dry.  Carole arrived back from Canada two days later.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 5

So I left Yangshou and, as planned, in order to protect the heavily loaded bike from breaking again on the bumpy Chinese roads I took the Expressway (which is not legal for motorcycles in most provinces). On the expressway I easily arrived at the town of Nanyue well before dark. Since this town is right at the foot of the Southern Mount Heng, I could just set out on foot from my hotel in the morning.

The lower part of the trail up Hengshan follows along side a stream with many small waterfalls along the way. This creates a sound bath all along the path which is named something like "Buddhist Music Garden":



Then the path joins the road which goes almost half way up the mountain. But it is only partway on the road as there are many exits onto walking paths that avoid the road with a constant stream of tourist buses (the sign says "Climb on foot")



As  usual there are little temples along the way, Here's one with a wall that has a lovely hobbit doorway in it:



And finally I reached the summit. You can just see the flames coming from the furnace on the right of the following photo. That is where people offer their sacrifice of incense. Now usually temples have an area where you can burn incense sticks and some people burn a few sticks at a time. Here I saw many people carrying a plastic bag full of many boxes of incense sticks. Well they would say their prayer and then toss the whole bag of incense in the furnace.



Also for a short time while I was at the summit, there was a break in the clouds. For a while we were actually between cloud layers so I got the heavenly view of the sea of clouds for which these mountains are famous.



On the way down I stumbled upon a path that went a different route, beside a stream that completely bypassed the road way I took up the mountain.

Next on the agenda is Huangshan (Yellow mountain) which is 900 km away. I had originally scheduled 2 days to do this trip, but with my new plan of using the expressways to avoid rattling my motorcycle to pieces, I figured I could do it in one day, Well at the first rest stop I was escorted off the expressway by  the traffic police. They were very nice a about it and wished me a pleasant journey - on the regular roads. Since they officially recorded and photographed my passport and driving license, I thought it wise to stay off the expressway for the rest of the province of Jiangxi.

This put me back on the regular Chinese roads which are often OK, but can also run for long stretches like this (or worse):



And as luck would have it, I got a fair amount of the above - so I was glad I had my bamboo struts supporting my luggage racks. Also, since it had recently rained a lot, it was also full of mud. Of course this meant it was again a 2 day trip to make it to Huangshan so  I camped by the side of the road this night.

I am so happy with my "2 second tent" That's what it is called but in reality it takes about a full 30 seconds to set it up and maybe 2 minutes to fold it up again. In the rain it is a real treat to be able to set up for the night in under a minute. Also, whether its a "2 second" tent or not, it is great security to have a tent because, when plans change and you are out in the country, it is often not possible to find a hotel. For a hotel to accept foreigners they have to be officially registered with the police department. So in out of the way, countryside areas where a hotel could expect at best one foreigner every 2 or three years, its just not worth the trouble to go through the registration process, hence they are not allowed to accept foreigners. But, in China, one is allowed to pitch a tent pretty much anywhere.

Once through the mud, it was a nice drive on the regular roads, I got to see things that you just don't see on the expressways: villages, terraced rice fields and gardens, water buffalo with birds sitting on their shoulders and incredible bamboo forests just like in the movies. But I was driving and didn't take photos as my phone was clamped to my handlebars as a GPS Navigation tool - which led me straight to my hotel in Huangshan city.

And that was a problem. I didn't research thoroughly enough. You can see on the map below Huangshan park is in the middle of the map and just north of it is what looks like a town named Huangshan. So I booked myself a hotel in Huangshan City, It wasn't until I got there that I discovered the mountain Huangshan was not at all nearby. Then on closer inspection of the map I could see there are 2 towns named "Huangshan" in English, but only be looking at the Chinese characters underneath can we know that only one of them is Huangshan city and the other is Huangshan district. So, now, instead of being close to the mountain, I was 1-1/2 hours away. Actually it took me longer than that because my GPS was malfunctioning. After many wrong  turns I finally rebooted my phone and was back on track.



One more little glitch along the way is that my radiator fan stopped working. As long as I kept moving faster than 40 KM/hour I was OK but in slow city traffic the bike would quickly overheat. I made out alright by shutting the engine down at every red light.

So here we are on the trail up Yellow mountain (Huang = Yellow, Shan = mountain). It has amazing stairs all the way to the top:




It was foggy, which gave everything a bit of a mystical look:



The further I got, the steeper became the stairs:



No  words required for this stairway:



People resting on the summit:



There is another way down so I had new stairways for the return trip:






And a couple of hundred meters down from the summit suddenly the clouds broke to again give me a view of the sea of clouds:






By  the way, Huangshan seems to be known to foreigners. I saw about a dozen westerners on this mountain. Up until now, on the 6 sacred mountains I visited (which are all major Chinese tourist sites) I saw a total of 2 Caucasians.

My original plan had me visiting Jiuhuashan (top left of the map) the next day which would have been a 1-1/2 hour drive each way from a hotel in Huangshan District. But my being in Huangshan City now made it a 3-1/2 hour drive. This meant that in order to be able to still drive back in mostly daylight, I would have at most 2 hours on the mountain. That's definitely not long enough to climb, but I could take the cable car to the top and back.

Here's the entrance gate to the Jiuhuashan scenic area which unfortunately for me was the best part:



I have learned that on these tourist mountains, the roads are closed to private vehicles. To control traffic they only allow tour buses on the roads, so unless you are walking, the only way to get there is to transfer to a tourist bus. I bought a bus ticket to the base of the cable car to the top. I ensured this by pointing on the map to the Chinese characters on the bottom of the cable car. Well ended up on a bus to the tourist street in the village at the base of the mountain (many kilometers from the cable car). Since I only had a 2 hour window there was really no time to head back to the reception area and get a different bus, so I figured I may well look around at what was there on the tourist street. Well the fog was so thick we could not even see across the street:



At  least I had a pleasant motorcycle ride there and back. The roads were mostly good pavement, nice mountain twisty roads and not a lot of traffic.

And now, because of the delays waiting for gas tanks, I had to skip Putuashan, the island mountain on the coast. Besides with no radiator fan I could not head into the heavily populated area that surrounds Shanghai. So next was to head straight for the last mountain on my tour, Taishan...


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 4: Yangshuo

So here I am hanging out in Yangshuo for a few days. Yangshuo county of Guilin city is most famous for the Li river winding through karst hills. Most foreigners have seen photos, paintings or drawings of this landscape and Chinese residents see it everyday on the 20 yuan note:



Just one or 2 bends up river from the 20 yuan note is the view from the top of Xianggong hill as photographed by my hotel host during my stay here.



Originally I had planned on coming here to relax and do laundry before continuing on the mountain tour. I was also meeting my friend Penny who was here taking a break in between work contracts in Shenzhen. Now of course I had the additional job of motorcycle repairs while here. Fortunately I had booked a small, family owned bed and breakfast type hotel and the hosts both spoke English and were more than willing to help me find parts and otherwise support my project. First thing of course was to order the new fuel tank which was easily done with the help of Sophia doing the communication in Chinese with the on-line seller.

While waiting for the tank to arrive, Penny and I explored the area on bicycles. We were staying a bit west of Yangshuo town which meant we were on the Yulong river rather than the Li river. We visited a couple of very old bridges, here's one:



And Penny and me standing on the bridge:



This next bridge, the Fuli bridge is even older and you can see one of the bamboo rafts that are constantly going down the river. Hmm, the tourist rafts all have chairs and umbrellas attached (like in the first bridge photo), maybe this is actually some locals going down the river ion a non-tourist trip.



And here's the same bridge from the other side. I am just adding one more photo because I like the way the reflections on the water make a perfect circle.



One day, I discovered I was missing my bank card and I realized  had left it in the ATM 2 days earlier when I withdrew some cash. This was a big problem because I wasn't sure I'd be able to get the card back especially after so long. But I definitely had to try. So off I went to town back to the bank where I was at 2 days before.  Yes, I thought it was a bank but when I got there, I realized it was not an actual bank but just a standalone ATM.



OH oh, that means I can't just go inside to ask for my card, so I set about looking for the actual bank. I could not find the Bank of China so went in to a branch of ICBC (Industrial Commercial Bank of China) which is my bank at home - the bank that issued my lost card. I thought I'd explain to them my situation and ask them to tell me where to find the Bank of China. Well it turned out to be a good thing I stopped here because they explained that they would have to do a special printout of my account details which if I take to the Bank of China they will give my my card. Of course this whole process takes time because I have to have someone on the phone who speaks Chinese and English and we pass the phone back and forth with the banking staff. So finally we get to the counter and I give the clerk my account number and passport so she can produce the special printout... It took 40 minutes with three bank tellers huddled in front of the computer to produce this printout. One of the bank tellers drew me a map of how to find the bank of China. It is not nearby. At the bank of China, it looks promising because not only did I find someone who spoke a little English, but after giving her my special printout and my passport she said "OK, I'll go and get your card now". Well, not quite, she came back saying they have the card with that account number on it but my special printout did not have my passport number printed on it so they could not release the card. Back I went to ICBC to ask for a new printout this time including my passport number. They were not able to do this but they made a combination of 2 official printouts that had all the required information on it. So back to the Bank of China I went hoping it was not closed since it was getting late in the day. Fortunately, the bank was open and they accepted the 2 documents and I got my card back.

This is often how it works in China with anything official. There are many forms to be completed, in triplicate and all officially stamped and distributed to various offices. One never really knows how long it'll take or how many other offices you will be directed to before the process is complete, I was actually fortunate that everything was successfully resolved in one afternoon without having to continue the next day.

Next day my fuel tank arrived. It was defective. One of the nuts that secure the fuel pump to the tank was misaligned. on the inside of the tank it was welded off center from the hole. This meant I could not get a screw in straight and could not seal the fuel pump to the tank.



I tried everything I could think of but could not get it to seal. I could have filed the hole wider and that might have worked. But if it didn't work, the act of filling would mean I could no longer return the tank for refund. So, in the end, I just had to give up on this tank, send it back and order another. Even this process took 2 hours of Sophia on the phone with the seller. He would not believe there was anything wrong with the tank and said it is me who does not know how to install the fuel pump. Finally we convinced him - to exchange the tank that is, he still believed I was an idiot.

So, more waiting... More trips to the Youlong river... Here are some tourist rafts shooting over the mini rapids:



Now originally I had bought some low grade hardware store bolts locally to re-attach my frame. I figured they would hold at least long enough for me to drive into Guilin City to buy some automotive grade bolts. But after investigating where to go in the city by buy hardened steel bolts, the conclusion was they would be very difficult to find - I'd have to order them online. So I did and I fixed the frame. But this being China, just because the bolt head is stamped with the grade does not mean for sure that it is actually heat treated to that grade. So I tested a sample of my new bolts against one of my hardware store bolts. I fixed both bolts to an old machine I found in the bush and whacked them both with a hammer. The hardware store bolt folded right over and the high grade bold required harder hammer hits before it started to bend and then snapped in half. (high grade bolts withstand bending but after a point something has to give and they snap) This proves at least that my new bolts are a higher grade than the hardware store bolts. We still don't know for sure that they are the extra high grade they claim to be, but for sure they are better than the hardware store bolts:



Still waiting for the replacement fuel tank... The seller was a day late in getting it ready for shipping, so I wait yet another day. To this rural location the air express shipping takes 2 full days rather than the 1-1/2 days to Chengdu for the first tank. So lots more time to go exploring. Another site withing cycling distance is "Moon Hill" so named because of the moon shaped hole in the center. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get to the top. This photos is from a viewpoint part way up:



The next day after discussing my predicament on the motorcycle forum I usually use back in Canada, http://xlforum.net/vbportal/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=7, I learned that a properly designed luggage rack would not be only attached to the rear frame but would also have some sort of support to the main frame. So, I figured out a way to, temporarily at least, using tools and materials available to me, add some supporting struts from the main frame to the luggage racks:






I'm sure that these will help. Even so I will try to stick to the smooth expressways for the remainder of my trip, it is a great comfort for me to know that I now have added support in case I do get stuck on another hellishly pot-holed torn-up Chinese road.

The next morning my gas tank arrived, I installed it and went to town to get my chain tightened and oil changed then made final preparations to leave the next morning. That night, my hosts invited me and the 2 other guests to join them for dinner:



I was eight days here, waiting and relaxing and was now finally ready to head out to the next mountain...