Langzhong: a taste of traditional China

Nestled by the Jialing River, Langzhong is a relaxed small city in Sichuan Province, about 300 kilometres east of the province’s capital, Chengdu. With beautiful traditional architecture, towers, temples, an ancient examination hall where candidates for government jobs were tested on their knowledge of Confucian texts, swooping tiled roof lines, and narrow streets, there is an intact link with its 2,300 year old history.

The old part of the city is pedestrianised, and is especially appealing on a summer night as people enjoy the cooler air, promenading, exercising, relaxing on stools, playing cards, the young ones enjoying soccer and other games, always in the half light of old buildings, with glimpses of enticing courtyards and exotic wares for sale.

An evening stroll in old Langzhong

Many courtyards are invitingly open. Stay in a courtyard guesthouse to enhance the sense of history, stroll through the multiple courtyards of a wealthy merchant’s home from the Tang Dynasty, visit the memorial courtyard home where Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai stayed during the Long March in 1935 as leaders of the Red Army, later destined to be leaders of China after the revolution in 1949.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter L.

A visit to Emei Shan, China’s holy mountain

Emei Shan (Mount Emei) is one of China’s four holy Buddhist mountains, a place of pilgrimage for nearly two thousand years, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Traditionally, pilgrims hiked to the top of the mountain, a distance of about 30 kilometres, while stopping off at temples and monasteries on the way. Many monasteries still provide overnight accommodation. Modern pilgrims can take the easier option of ascending by bus and cable car, and staying in hotels.

Like important pilgrimage sites elsewhere, many now visit Emei Shan for reasons other than religion. The walk up the mountain is the pinnacle of the experience, and is reputedly a place of enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. Pilgrims and hikers often use thick bamboo poles to assist their climb, a reminder of the wooden ‘Pilgrim’s Staff” traditionally used for the Camino de Santiago, the long walk to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Emei Shan is 3099 metres high (10,167 ft), providing superb views of misty mountain slopes reminiscent of classic Chinese landscape paintings, lush forests, mirror like lakes, waterfalls and rushing streams. The temples and monasteries, of which there are more than one hundred, vary in age and style, and are often constructed to best fit into the landscape and exploit the views. Those interested in temples, Buddhism and Chinese history will find Emei Shan very rewarding, while hikers can enjoy the natural world and challenging walks.

Our friends from Chengdu observed that the admission fees paid to each temple or monastery, given the numbers of visitors, indicated a substantial source of income. An interesting point. Religious institutions often do have a very successful business model, whether in China or elsewhere, one that supplies more revenue than required to simply meet the spiritual needs of their devotees.

Before arriving at Emei Shan, our friends mentioned that on the return journey of a couple of hours to Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital city, they could take us on the ‘Narrow Road.’ Not quite understanding the meaning of this option, we agreed. During our several days on the mountain, they kept us informed about weather conditions, eventually explaining that the absence of rain meant that we could undertake the trip as there would be no landslides, and the road would not be too slippery. Should we have been more alert and a little alarmed? This road was not one of China’s modern tollways, or even a modest country road. It was something much more challenging. But that is another story.

This is my contribution to Fiona’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘E’.

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