Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Black Boogers and Shaolin Priests, A Day on the New Silk Route Bike Tour

Half Way up Songshan Mountain, a Prayer Tree Glows Against the Early Morning Monochrome Landscape

Right now I am wearing gloves in my hotel room just outside Dengfeng, China. The 70 CNY ($10) hotel we’ve chosen for the tour might be lacking a few of the finer things (like heat) but it does have one advantage, it is located 300 meters from the gate of the famous Shaolin Temple, birthplace of KungFu.   

I’m here scouting the new route of the 2012 Silk Route Bike Tour.  In 2012 the tour will run East to West (a much better direction. It will start in Shanghai and finish in Istanbul.  

Fortunately for us when we bike through here on tour in 2012 the weather will be warm so the heat will not be a problem.  And the hotel is not without its charms.  It is run by a very nice Chinese family and has hot showers and internet.  The restaurant downstairs serves a wicked stir fired rabbit, complete with paws and face  (it’s surprisingly hard to eat a rabbit when you’re looking at its cooked face).  

Why do Monks and Priests Always put their temples at the top of a Mountain?

Songshan Temple

The ride into Dengfeng will be a long one, about 150 km with a few good hills to finish the day (I know how much riders just love it when camp is at the top of a long climb).  The Temple is surrounded by mountains, a welcome relief from the rest of eastern china, which has been pathetically flat thus far.  The Shaolin Temple is very close to the hotel so riders will have plenty of time to visit it in the morning before our short ride of 60 km to our rest day in Luoyang, China.

Figuring I could see the Shaolin Temple when I return on tour in 2012, I took some time to climb to another nearby attraction, the Songshan Temple.  The hotel owner told me it was difficult to get to but really that only made we want to do it more.  In my experience the more difficult something is to get to, the more rewarding the experience usually is. 

Long Way Down, you can just see the outline of the steps below

Stair Master

A six kilometer long flight of stairs leads to the temple.  It was tough.  My guide dropped off after about 2 kms of climbing.  I told him I would only go a little further then come back, but I think we both new I was lying.  I wanted to reach the top.  

After about 3 kms the route begins to hug the mountain side, dip under rock ledges and cross some impressive gorges.   I felt a little like Frodo climbing to Mordor, save for the big fiery eye at the top. I was alone on the steps at seven in the morning and for two hours I climbed without seeing or hearing anyone but the wind and birds (a real treat after two weeks in China, which is never quiet).  

At the top the temple was under renovation.  The grounds were full of stone cutters and carpenters hard at work in the chill air.  The temple itself was pretty impressive.  But more impressive were these guys:

In the video it’s hard to see, but what you are witnessing is a group of about 15 men trying to drag what must be a 500 kg brass bell up to the top of the mountain.  And all the while that they are trying to heave this thing up one step at a time other men are passing them with 50 kg sacks of sand on their heads!  Made me feel a little silly for being winded at all.  

Thick Dust Coated Everything in Gao Zhou

500 Yards of Foulness

Before reaching Dengfeng riders will have to cycle through the city of Gao Zhou. Gao Zhou is perhaps one of the dirtiest cities I have ever visited in my life.  The streets were muddy and the air was filled with cement and coal dust from a half dozen mines and factories that surround the city.  Everything was coated in a thick grey layer of dust. The landscape had been stripped bare in China’s search for resources to build the infrastructure to support 20% of the world’s population.  

The dry air, mixed with all that dust gives you some pretty epic boogers.  (I'll spare you a photo of that!)

But riding through the city will only take an hour or so and soon the mountains that surround the Temples near Dengfeng come into view and the road improves.    You climb into the mountains past centuries old temples and parks and up to the Shaolin Temple where a giant statue of a monk greets you and humbles you.  All in all, I think it will be a pretty good day of riding.  

More Pics: 

Pagoda Forest
Lots of these scary guys around... Raaahahagggghhhh!
Some Light Traffic 
Not sure where this was, some out of the way temple in the middle of nowhere (the best kind)
The Temple Air was filled with Incense
House of 500 Buddhas. I didn't Count them, but there were a lot.  Each One was Unique as well.  
Just a cool little Moon Gate 

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