Thursday, May 12, 2005

Shanxi Province - Part IV: The Hanging Monastery & Heng Mountain

After sleeping most of the previous day, I woke up early and, still a little weak-kneed, felt healthy and happy. The weather was already hot and the skies were blueish. We gathered our things together and cleared out, hiring a tuk-tuk on the street to take us to the station.

After arriving, an employee told us to wait behind a couple at one of two open ticket windows, actually escorting us from the entrance to the line. After helping the couple ahead of us, the ticket agent quickly closed the window without a word to us. Disgruntled, but satisfied that neither line had lengthened since our arrival, we moved over to the only other remaining line. When it was our turn, the ticket agent explained that we could actually purchase our tickets on the bus, telling us the price (¥22) and directing us through a turnstyle. We made our way to the bus and boarded. A skinny, talkative man, not the bus driver, asked us for ¥25, but smilingly accepted our ¥22 after a short protest. We were haggling over 36¢.

We were early enough to get good seats, although we weren't going anywhere until the bus was filled. As with our train ride, they were going to do their best to get as many people on the bus as possible. After about 30 minutes, shortly after 9PM, we departed. The skinny man arranged some of the late-comers in such a way as to make it appear that the bus wasn't as full as we actually were. Angela explained that they would have to pay less in fees if they could disguise the actual number of passengers. The bus stopped at the gate, the door opened, and the number of passengers was reported to an old man dressed in dark blue clothing (circa The Cultural Revolution) who glanced up momentarily. The door closed and we were on our way. As we made our way toward The Hanging Monastery, we added, at least, another six passengers who simply stood together near the door, which was the only unoccupied space left. After a little more than an hour, the bus stopped along the highway, and we stepped off along with a number of other passengers who were going sightseeing.

In the quest for information, Angela befriended a Chinese person, Shanmu, an engineer from Beijing, who mentioned he was going to Wutai Mountain afterwards, which was coincidentally our final destination, and we decided to travel there together and share the cost. After touring The Hanging Monastery, which was smaller than I'd expected and lacked in relics, we ate lunch together and rested. Shanmu talked us into stopping at another mountain along the way, Heng Mountain, of which we had been unaware. It sounded good to us and it would be on our way.

It only took us about fifteen minutes by taxi to get to Heng Mountain, which was crowded. From the parking lot, we could see many structures nestled in the side of the mountain. A ropeway ride halfway up the mountain looked more appealing than walking up the hot trail in the midday sun, but the line was quite long and we thought that we had better conserve our money.

We spent longer there than we had anticipated. The mountain, aside from its beauty, was famous for being a large collective of Taoist temples and there were many ancient buildings to explore. It was like a small village high up in the mountains. The weather had become quite beautiful, we were far from the dirty confines of Datong, and we rested frequently as we climbed. By the time we left, it was nearly 4PM and we had no idea how far we had to go to get to Wutai Mountain.

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