Jul 6 2009

High in the sacred mountain

As we hear the van driver disappear back down the mud road for his two hour trip to town a small man with a camouflage jacket appears with a small boy in tow. This, Xiao Bing tells me, is the mountain warden. We are to go with him to his house and have tea. We haven’t walked anywhere yet, it is now one o’clock so we have been travelling for 5 hours, but hey, everything is an experience, so we follow the man and his boy through the undergrowth, past his snarling dogs which he despatches with a loud grunt, to his homestead in the sky. He invites me in, we sit, he makes strong tea and offers me food – I say I have eaten. There are chickens, dogs and mushrooms drying on large trays in the sun. This is mushroom season and the Bai people and this region are famous for these mushrooms at this time of year. Xiao Bing tells me it is a good way for the farmers to make money while they are in season. A group of 8 locals arrives soon after, they bring food – fishes, vegetables, a crate of soft drinks and some see-through eels the size of whitebait. The mountain warden’s wife busies herself washing the food and putting it in bowls. Xiao Bing and I set off up the trail next to the warden’s house and up onto the mountain. There are stunning views this way and that through the thick vegetation. After one and a half hours we reach a wide open plateau and there is a house, some cow boys herding cows (odd that). In the house, Xiao Bing tells me, lives the Master; a monk who looks after the sacred mountain. He greets us and tells us to camp away from the cows somewhere they won’t bother us. After a time, one of the cow boys and Xiao Bing strike up conversation; the boy tells us of a cave, deserted for over a year by another monk who used to live there. There he says, we will be safe from the cows. He says he will take us there. (Mu Xiang Ping 4 July)

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