7,135 km so far.
After the past two days of rain the sky has stopped crying, the roads have been washed clean, and the air is clear. Time to ride.
We stopped off at Ningqiang’s stone tower. This is a type of tower specific to the Qiang people, and I wanted to see it, unsure if we would ever get the chance to see another. It is unlike the more traditional, squat stone gates we have seen, and is more suited as a watchtower to enable early warnings of incoming invaders.
Then we began, our ride taking us to the town of Guangyuan. Not because it holds any interest to us, but because it is on the route to Chengdu. Sometimes, cycle touring in China means you just have to ride and ride and ride, through the countryside and city after city, just to get to the next point of interest.
Riding out of the mountains we enjoyed more beautiful views, stunning scenery, and heaven-reaching peaks. The rain has pulled some of the smog out of the air, so we had clearer views than we’ve had for days.
And then we crossed into Sichuan province! With China being so incredibly huge this feels a lot like crossing into a new country in Europe, so here is the sign welcoming us.
To gorge or not to gorge. That was the question.
The town of Chaotian is home to the Mingyue Gorge, as well as a restored section of traditional raised road.
If you are reading this because you plan on cycle touring in this region, listen up. When riding south from Ningqiang, ignore the first sign to the gorge, which tells you it is 7 km away. This ride is all downhill (steep, steep downhill), and would be fun, but it is much easier to continue on the G108 about 10 km further, and follow the road just before the tunnel (with a clear sign to the Gorge), down to Chaotian.
We know this because we took the first exit. Part way down we began to question our decision, as we saw roads leading off into the valley, and back up the side of another mountain. We weren’t sure if our long downhill would turn into a long uphill. We also thought we’d probably have to come back this way. So we turned around and climbed back from whence we’d come.
Not ideal, but we decided it was the least worst option.
We also decided, upon arriving at the gorge, not to go in. The entry fee was steep (100 RMB) and it had the feel of an amusement park, with a huge parking lot, a map showing the boat ride we would take and marking off all the recently built attractions along the route.
We did have a delicious lunch of spicy dry-fried green beans, endless rice, and the local Sichuan specialty (vegetarian) mapo doufu – this initially came as the traditional meat and tofu dish but we re-explained that we are vegetarian and they apologised and happily swapped it.
Jane’s note: This is the second day in a row we’ve been served meat after being clear we don’t eat it. I am starting to wonder if they take vegetarianism less seriously in the south.
Wall Of Buddha
One reason we nixed the gorge visit was that the day was getting long, the weather was starting to turn, and we (or rather I) really wanted to visit the Quianfo sculptures. Carved into a rock face just on the outskirts of Guangyan are 7,000 statues of Buddha, the oldest dating from more than 1,300 years ago.
Sadly, the Chinese government has completely rebuilt temples and tourist attractions on the property around the sculptures, but the one good thing about this is that it is generating money to help preserve the statues.
Imagining monks scrambling up this rock face to carve these effigies of Buddha a millennia ago drove home how incredibly dedicated they were, and how incredibly brave.
Jane’s note: The steep stone stairs we climbed in the rain to look at the higher Buddhas were even a little scary for us, despite the presence of guard rails. While we were there, a woman on the work crew loaded up the basket on her back with a huge flat stone (which took two people to lift) and climbed the stairs to a work site. Amazing.
It was an awe-inspiring collection of artworks.
Some days finding a hotel goes so smoothly, other days we visit eight hotels, covering an extra 7 km of road, before we finally check into a place. Today was the latter.
Usually we haven’t planned much more than a day ahead on this trip. In China this is proving to be a minor problem some days. In Europe we were never far from a town, where we could confidently predict the services that would be available. In China, cities are incredibly far apart, and the towns that dot the roads between them are often just a small collection of homes, with no hope of a restaurant or place to sleep.
Tonight there were plenty of hotels, but they were either enormously expensive, staffed with people who couldn’t be bothered with us, or not open to foreigners. We finally found a place run by a woman and her (presumably) daughter, which was a little rough-around-the-edges, but well cared for and blissfully quiet!
Now, we aren’t sure where we are going tomorrow, and this is partly because we don’t know if there is a place to sleep between here (Guangyuan) and Langzhong, a town two days ride away that sounds like a ‘must see’. I think we’ll take our chances, but searching for a hotel exhausted us tonight, and we need to sleep on it before we make the decision.
Soundtrack: Es Duro Regrasar, my leaving LA playlist on Spotify ♥