Mt. Emei is the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the first century BC and is still home to more than 70 monasteries located all over the mountain. Yesterdays trip to the top of Mt. Emei provided an opportunity to get in some hiking with a 16km or so hike from the place we lunched with the group back to the hotel. We figured that it would take around three hours to make the journey, perhaps more if we wanted to go see monkeys which Beatrice was very much in favor of. We had some folks cautioning us not to make the trip because we’d be arriving well after dark and possibly missing dinner. Missing dinner was honestly no big loss as the food was not that good at the hotel, and walking in the dark was no big deal either as I had packed a flashlight along with Orson who also had a flashlight. Our post-doc Yanhua tried to encourage me not to go because I was carrying an expensive camera. I replied that I’d just hit anyone over the head with the camera if they tried to take it, to which he responded that “your camera would make an expensive weapon” which set up my response “all good weapons are expensive”. We laughed and headed off for the first part of the hike back to visit the monkey temple where Beatrice and Alecia were absolutely overjoyed at being able to see and touch monkeys, something that I was quite happy to view from behind the camera lens.
The monkeys we went to visit are Tibetan Macaques (Macaca thibetana), intelligent and sometimes aggressive in their attempts to open backpacks, reach into pockets and generally take whatever they can get away with from people who happen to be walking along. Curiously, this was not far off from the experience we had with some nuns a couple of hours later down the path…
After spending time visiting with monkeys, Alecia, Doug, Orson, Beatrice and I began the walk back to the hotel through bamboo forests, conifer forests with 400 year old Tsuga chinensis trees, a number of monasteries and tiny remote Chinese villages with late season vegetables growing in their gardens. The paths were well built with stone and very easy to walk on, though there was some climbing up and down steep hills and carrying ~30lbs of camera gear makes it a bit more difficult. Walking through all of this made me wish that I could have spent an extra few days here just hiking from monastery to monastery.
In the end, for the hike yesterday night back to the hotel, it turned out that we did in fact arrive well after dark, avoiding all of the land crabs on the trail that came out in the evening, and walked into the evening dinner to widespread applause, for making it back safely I presume. We were completely drenched with sweat, tired, hungry and most happy to have been able to make the hike. This hike yesterday essentially made the whole trip to China worthwhile as I was afraid that seeing rural China was not going to be possible on this trip and I am grateful to have spent that time with good friends.
Tonight, after the scientific sessions, David, Felix and I were able to take a quick hike into the valley beyond the hotel where we watched evening prayers at one monastery, explored other monasteries and visited a graveyard for monks and nuns. It really was like something right out of a movie, especially as the sun went down as we hiked as far as we could possibly go before losing the light completely. Again, thanks to an efficient, yet very bright flashlight I brought along, we were able to see enough to get back safely and turn in before more science the next day.
As an aside, I have been surprised at the lack of bird life around Emishan. I had been told that Emishan was a birders paradise, so a number of us including Michael Redmond, a real birder, had been expecting to see many more birds than the isolated crow or one of three songbirds I saw the entire day on our hike up to Emei Shan. Unfortunately, I suspect that the rather horrible pollution in the area is either killing the birds or driving them out of the area. To give you some idea for how bad the pollution is in the area, I made this animated gif that has an untouched image showing the pollution along with a simulated image I made that removes wavelengths of light associated with the pollution, thus digitally “cleaning” the air.