Hot tea, hospitality, and ascension into Buddha’s clouds.Beijing, Summer 2012
A few weeks ago IES provided all the students with an opportunity to travel beyond Beijing for a long weekend. We had two options: Wutaishan, a Buddhist pilgrimage site, or Inner Mongolia, specifically to visit the grass lands and nomadic herders. Due to my inability to avoid succumbing to my desire for afternoon naps, I missed the meeting that would have allowed me to choose my destination. I was subsequently placed in the Wutaishan group, much to my chagrin. At the time I desperately wanted to feast my eyes on the majestic rural grass lands of Mongolia that had inspired my imagination to run wild so many times before. The moment I arrived in Wutaishan, I thanked myself for having napped on decision day.
Firstly, I must thank all of the people at IES Beijing who helped facilitate the trips, our guide, our bus driver, and especially the two staff members that accompanied us. Our journey took us from the sprawling metropolis of one of the biggest cities in the world, through lowland valleys where farmers ride their bicycles to, and then tend by hand, their farms, and finally into the mountains of Wutaishan that are covered with thick evergreen woods and interspersed with looming granite walls.
We exited the bus in the mid-afternoon following the scenic five hour drive and ate a traditional Buddhist meal (i.e., sans meat.) The guide then led us into a village of magnificent ancient Buddhist temples and up the 1080 stairs one needs to climb to reach the first of a number of loftily placed temples in the area. Needless to say, there was not a single person in our group that could catch their breath, both because of the ferocious climb (seriously try climbing that many stairs) and the view of the village’s ancient structures below.
Despite the rain, we left the hotel early the following morning to climb one of the five peaks in Wutaishan (which translates to mean “five mountains”.) The rain was so heavy, and the road so poor, that we were forced to stop miles short of the trail head. This was yet another blessing in disguise. It allowed us to delight in the moisture and leisurely warm up our legs while traveling through a few small villages. As my sub-group of four neared the base of the mountain, after reaching the summit, we encountered a small hut. A monk and his friend spotted us and insisted we come, sit, and rehydrate with a bowl of freshly brewed tea. Fortunately, there was a staff member with us to help smooth out some of the communication barriers. This was truly a special experience.
Everyone was sufficiently tired by this point. However, we reached the clouds and the peak of one more mountain, then hurried back to the bus just in time to miss a rather severe storm. It was full throttle back to campus at this point, has we had to prepare for a quiz and a presentation due the following morning.
Beyond its innate scenic beauty, its ornate historic temples, its importance as a religious center, and its exceedingly hospitable people, it was the unexpected aspects of the trip that made Wutaishan such a pleasure.
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