The ancient capital of China holds a treasure of more than 51,000 stone Buddha reliefs and figures. Carved into the mountain wall, they range from thumb-size to 17 meters colossuses. The variations are dazzling: sitting, standing, dancing, colourful, worn and smiling Buddhas. Originally all covered, the sandstone has washed away in places leaving the huge Buddha in the blazing sun. These are the oldest stone carvings in China. Monks have carved the many figures as part of meditation in the secluded caves. Here you may come to terms with the concept of the "thousand Buddhas", symbolizing the Buddha's omnipresence through time and space. The surrounding area is covered in coal-dust, true mining-China.
The capital of China is a mind-blowing mix of imperial leftovers, bombastic communist relics, Chinese boom economy malls and just a lot of ordinary Chinese. Though it is constantly being rebuilt, there are still lots of elaborated temples, cramped hutongs and green parks with old people chatting between ultra wide boulevards. There are so many historical sites dating back to all the dynasties, that most people get templed-out before seeing them all. Luckily, there is also modern architecture, the mausoleum of Mao, and, the Chinese's favorite, never-ending shopping. If you are still standing when the night falls, head to one of the bar areas for a quiet drink - or pull an all-nighter in a Chinese disco. Almost everything is possible in Beijing, though you will probably get a stern look from one of many uniformed teen guards just for standing out.
Some travellers might think they have China all figured out after a couple weeks of travel. Mannerisms, appearances, food and even language might seem to blend all into one. But that all changes with a visit to Xinjiang province. The far western province seems like a totally different planet when compared to the rest of the country. The predominantly Uighur population speaks a language closer to Turkish than Chinese. They're also mostly Muslim. And along with their Central Asian brethren, hospitality is paramount. The opportunity to stay in a Yurt (nomadic tent) on the edge of a beautiful lake while playing a Komuz (traditional guitar) is a Chinese experience most people never even imagine.
A visit to a Chinese public toilet is best done for curiosity - and not necessity - for it can be a life changing event. Toilets are of course of the squatting type, and are often super disgusting and foul smelling. The sight of no private cubicle or even a partition walls between the squatting holes can instantly turn your worst diarrhea into constipation. Chinese squat next to each other and just do their thing without the slightest hint of embarrassment and they expect you to do the same. Toilet paper is non-existing and water for washing hands is rare, so how the Chinese manage to keep basic hygiene is beyond most Western minds.
The picture shows a clean public toilet, but these are rare.
Time spent travelling in Tibet guarantees you will emerge with interesting insights into the rituals of Buddhism. Some of them can be quite confronting such as the prostrating pilgrims you'll see along the roads, who may be years into their pilgrimage. While others, like the monks at the Sera monastery seem a lot more positive. At first you'll be unsure of exactly what they are doing! Are they acting? Are they fighting? Are they dancing? Well, apparently they're debating. However, we are not exactly sure how a discussion about Buddhist scriptures benefits from all the wild hand slapping and gesticulating that goes on in Tibet's Sera Monastery. Regardless of why, it makes for an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
Donkey meat is considered a delicacy by the Chinese. It is sold in dedicated donkey restaurants, which are easily recognisable by the donkey on their signs. The most popular dish is probably the "donkey burger", a bread with chopped donkey stuffing that is sold for a few kuais. Chinese men though tend to go for a bit more delicate part of the donkey, namely the penis. The monster will be sliced into mouth fitting pieces and served on a plate. The slices are sometimes referred to as "donkey coin money" and can be a bit pricy, but luckily you don't have to buy the whole willy.
We have of course tried it and can only... eh, recommend it. Bon appetit!
Emai Shan is one of the four holy Buddhist mountains in China (the others being Jiuhua Shan, Putuo Shan and Wutai Shan). It is a popular destination for Sichuan bound travellers, as well as locals - both tourists and pilgrims, though most of the first kind. If the weather permits, expect beautiful scenery of the lush mountains. Along the trails to the top (3099 m) there are monasteries, where it is possible to eat and sleep. It takes about two long days to walk to the top and one hard day down, but the journey can be extended or shortened as desired with use of the mountain buses and cable cars. Walking all the way is about 80 km return, so be prepared - also for monkey attacks.
When you come to Leshan and see the Giant Buddha, you do not doubt the fact that it is the tallest Buddha in the world. At 71 m tall he sits, carved out of the rock face where the Dadu river meets the Min river. The construction started 713 AD and it took more than 90 years to finish him. So if you come to Chengdu, swing by for a visit, for it is one of those sights that fully live up to their reputation. Just do not come on a holiday, where half of Chengdu seems to be out here.
Yihun Lhatso is a holy alpine lake located at 4010 m at the foot of the mountain Cholan Shan (6168 m). It is picture-perfect with a milky turquoise color with a gorgeous backdrop of rigged mountains crowned with snow. Along the shore, boulders have Tibetan mantras, like om pani padme um, carved into them and there are colorful prayer flags hanging down from the pine trees and even a stupa. The trail, used by yaks, on the east side of the lake will take you to the far end, where the views are even more breath taking - and it is not just because of the high altitude. This place is seriously pretty, and you will very likely have it all for yourself, beside the yaks.
From Gubeikou pass, The Great Wall stretches in two directions, east (the so-called Wohushan Great Wall) and west (the so-called Panlongshan Great Wall). The Panlongshan Great Wall is an authentic wall section originally constructed in the 6th century by the Qi Dynasty, but hasn't been rebuilt since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). At first, it is just an overgrown and crumbled adobe construction which hardly can be recognized as a wall, but further on towards Jinshanling it will shape up and become a real wall in bricks with towers and steps.
You can trek along the wall from Gubeikou to Jinshanling (or opposite direction) which can be done within a day. The distance is 10 km and there are 56 towers in total. After the first 25 towers, the wall will become off limit for another 25 towers, due to military installation, and you need to detour through the corn fields below.