I’d been really looking forward to visiting Wutai Shan for a few weeks now. All the travel guides had said how amazing the mountain ranges near by were too hike, not too mention the vast number of temples and Buddhist shrines the region has to offer!
We woke in the morning to the sound of my phone alarm mixed with the torrential rain hitting the window. I’d already decided last night that I wouldn’t be running in Wutai Shan due to the creepy experience with the wild dog in the shop last night but still wanted to get up early to make the most of our time here. However, after getting out of our bed covers, realising how cold the room was, coupled with the rain falling outside, I was a little hesitant to leave the room….
Today we’d planned to walk around a few of the monasteries in the morning and then wanted to go for a short hike in the afternoon if the weather improved. The main area was a short car ride away (about 20minutes drive) but we were informed by the hotel owner that there actually weren’t any buses or taxis in Wutai Shan! Instead, to get anywhere without driving yourself, you had to wait by the side of the road and hitchhike your way to your next destination.
We had managed to get a ‘taxi’ last night so headed outside into the rain and hoped that one would emerge from the mist by the main road – it was very wishful thinking- but after 15minutes waiting outside we bailed and walked to a nearby hotel and asked to use their driver. We walked into the reception dripping wet and was greeted by a lovely receptionist who informed us that we were at the ‘Flower Hostel’ and that we would be able to use their driver for 50 yuan – which was pretty expensive but we really didn’t want to get in a complete randomers car. After bargaining the price down, we met the driver who walked us back out into the rain. We thought that we would be walking to the car together but the driver literally ran away from us…. we hadn’t paid him yet so didn’t know where he was going but after waiting for another 10 minutes in the rain we headed back inside the Flower Hostel to explain what had happened… the man had literally ran away from us…
After being given flower tea and having our photos taken in their reception for the hostel to use as promotion (although we were still soaked) a new driver was called and we were on our way to Taiyuan Temple – our first stop for the day.
Although the weather wasn’t ideal, it hadn’t put off the hundreds of people walking around the monasteries in Wutai Shan. We started off by visiting the biggest temple and were not disappointed with what it has to offer! There were lots of rooms for us to explore containing shrines and statues, as well as the main prayer halls dotted around the site. We were running from one building to the next to avoid the rain, trying to warm up amongst the people huddled inside. We also joined in with circling the supta in the middle of the site and spinning the prayer wheels along with the rest of the visitors.
After a while of exploring the sites, the weather was beginning to get too us and our anoraks were no longer performing optimally. Cold and damp we tried to find somewhere to fill up our flasks (which we’d now filled with the Jasmine tea bought last night, and were using as hand warmers) and ended up eating lunch with the monks in their dining hall (I kid you not).
On reflection this is still a really surreal situation for me. We walked into a room (not knowing that it was the dining hall) around 11am and held up our flasks to one of the monks walking past, motioning that we’d like it filled with hot water. On looking around the room we noticed lots of men in robes sitting along wooden benches on one side of the hall, with women sitting on the opposite side. One monk led us to the women’s side (where we thought he was getting us hot water from) but instead he led us to a bench and motioned for us to sit down. I was seated inbetween two Chinese ladies and Leah was seated a few spaces away from me. We each had two bowls in front of us which were then filled with a huge scoop of white rice in one, and a huge scoop of vegetable stew in the other!
We didn’t want to be rude so began to eat the food they’d provided us with when another monk began walking up and down the rows of benches. When my rice was served a small piece was spilled onto the table which I didn’t notice until this new monk slammed his fist down on the table in front of my bowl and the two women either side of me rushed to scoop the rice up with their chopsticks! I was shocked but then remembered that Buddhists have a strong aversion to wasting anything, even a few grains of rice.
Half way through lunch a bell was rung and everyone laid down their chopsticks and prayed. After a short while people began to finish off their food in a hurried manor. Because of the no-waste culture we hurried up to finish off our lunch as the women either side of Leah and I laughed at our panicked chop stick scooping. By the time we finished we were warmed up with bloated bellies but still didn’t have hot water for our flasks so after cleaning out our bowls we went in search for a hot water source.
After walking around more of the monastery sites until the early afternoon, we were extremely cold, tired and wet so decided to head to back to the hostel room (bypassing our hike) to warm up. We still didn’t want to get in a randomers car so decided to try to walk back using our map app, and i’m so happy that we did!
We found a vegan restaurant, in the middle of a mountain range!
After walking for over an hour in the drissling rain, we were just about to give in and flagged down a car when I noticed a restaurant along the side of the road with an English sign which said ‘Vegan for your Health’. We were both still pretty full from our lunch with the monks but thought it was too serendipitous not to check out!
As soon as we walked through the door we were greeted by two girls, one who spoke almost perfect English as she talked us through the menu on an Ipad. We were brought tea to warm us up as we ordered a few dishes to share – sweet and sour ‘chicken’, veggie dumplings, a savory moon cake as well as a sweet moon cake for dessert. The food was really tasty, especially the ‘chicken’! The decor of the place was really sweet; the walls were lined with love heart post-it notes with handwritten messages as well as photos of diners (including monks!)
After warming up and filling our stomachs with food at the vegan restaurant we carried on with our walk back to the hotel room. The warmth from the restaurant was a little counterproductive though because when we got back outside we found it even colder! Within a few minutes we were shivering so gave in to the Wutai Shan custom and flagged down a car from the roadside.
Because it was our first real attempt at hitch hiking we were a little nervous and passed up the first few cars that stopped for us. Eventually we got in a car, and after haggling the price, ensuring that the doors could be opened from the inside (no child locks) and that our gps would track our route we were on our way.
Back at the hostel
Once we got back to our hostel room we made the decision to bail on Wutai Shan in the morning. One of the main reasons why we wanted to visit was to hike in the surrounding mountains but the weather was so bad (and the weather forecast showed that this would last all week) that it would be dangerous. Getting lost in the Chinese mountain with mist, rain and stray dogs was not something either of us wanted to do.Instead, we decided to get a coach to Beijing a few days early.
We bought snacks from the shop opposite, made some more jasmine tea and got back in bed underneath the duvet (and the extra blankets we were given) to watch Pitch Perfect on Leah’s Ipad – we downloaded it a week or so ago but were saving it for when we were desperate….