Land of Shaolin Monks and Mountains…

So our last day in Xian didn’t quite go to plan – we had set our alarms for 6am to give us time to check out and get round to the hostel around the corner to set off for our excursion to the Panda Reserve but were instead greeted with torrential rain and the news that our trip had been cancelled! Apparently the reserve had phoned the hostel and told them that there was no way we would have been able to see any Pandas at all that day due to the weather and that we’d have to re-book. Of course the major problem with that was that due to our efficiency the previous day we already had train tickets to Zhengzhou booked.

We were so disappointed as although we had seen the Pandas at Beijing Zoo we really wanted to see them in their ‘own environment’. Thoroughly bummed out we spent the rest of the day moping around on the internet back at our own hostel waiting until we could leave and make our way to the train station for our 11.30pm train.

On the train we discovered what the horror stories of hard sleepers were actually all about – these ones weren’t like the ones we had been on before but really did look uncomfortable – the beds weren’t really tucked away in a cabin but instead looked like rows of beds on a prison train. At least we were in the same section this time and it was only a 7 hour trip and despite having a smelly ‘towel’ as a duvet we did actually manage to get a few hours decent kip again.

Once we stopped at Zhengzhou we needed to get a 2 hour bus to Dengfeng – a nearby city where our hostel was. We were staying at the Shaolin Travellers Hostel – about 20 minutes away from the original Shaolin Temple – the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and origin of Kung Fu. This was the reason we were heading for Dengfeng – we’d seen the Kungfu show in Beijing but thought that there would be nothing better than going to the land of Kungfu itself!

Our bus trip there was relatively painless – but we did get off a stop too early and have to get a taxi the rest of the way there! Our first impression of Dengfeng was one of slight panic however as we got out of the taxi and were greeted with a motorbike on fire in the middle of the road! Someone had set fire to it just as we pulled over and we were treated to a couple of loud bangs as the petrol tank exploded. We looked at eachother and wondered where the heck we had landed?

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We spent the evening looking at what else we could do in the area over the next day and a bit. We decided to book a Kung Fu lesson with a Shaolin Master – an exclusive service that the hostel runs due to the owner’s own involvement in Kung Fu. Coco (the very friendly hostel owner) managed to arrange a lesson for us at 8.30 the next morning at the Shaolin Temple itself – despite us having left it really late to book.

We were very excited and looking forward to our lesson with a real life Shaolin monk!

Before we went to bed we went to get some dinner in a cafe across the road and decided to be brave again and ordered some Chinese Dumplings! Nobody in the cafe spoke a word of English but we just pointed to the women sat there making the dumplings and eventually got given a big plate to share. Cautiously picking them up with our chopsticks we put them in our mouths and were pleased to discover that they tasted rather nice – just like a sort of ravioli with sausagemeat stuffing inside! And the best thing about them was that they only cost 70p!

The next day we got picked up for our lesson and driven up to the temple – the whole area is surrounded by mountains and when we met the monk – Su – we were delighted to discover that our lesson was actually going to be outside at the foothills of these mountains! Su lead us to an open patch of ground next to a stream where we were to spend to of the most memorable moments of our trip so far!

He started us off by making us stretch and run around in circles for what seemed like ages – we lost count of the number of laps we did and began to feel very unfit compared to Su. Once we were done with the warm up we went on to learn 5 different Wushu Kungfu stances (bu) and 5 different kicks (tui). Some of them were easier than others – like Zhengti tu (a straight front kick, heels down) but others were so confusing and almost physically impossible for two people who simply aren’t used to bending that way. The language barrier was a bit tricky too – Su’s knowledge of the English language was limited to ‘very good’ or ‘um…okay’ and our Chinese is even worse! Eventually we had to put all the moves together in one sequence – really hard to remember but I think we licked it in the end – albeit not looking quite as graceful as Su! He was amazing and completely fearless – while we were worried about slipping over in the mud, he was racing around jumping up to the heavens! The whole experience was amazing and I really want to do more Kung Fu now!

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Once our 2 hours was over we were taken to the Shaolin Temple itself and left there to have a look around. Although a ‘working temple’ it was quite touristy and there were a lot of tour groups milling around. We had a good look around and bought some Shaolin Biscuits from the shop. Apparently the biscuits are made by the monks themselves and they were absolutely gorgeous! They were coconut flavour and tasted a bit like a Snowball.

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After lunch (pot of noodles and some eggy Chinese nan bread) we headed over to the Wushu Training Centre to watch a Kung Fu performance. Not a full blown show like in the Beijing Theatre but a demonstration of the monks’ skills. It was very impressive and the bit where they asked audience members to go on stage and copy the monks animal moves was hilarious – One bloke did manage to flip over on his head though!

Our next stop was the Pagoda Forest a few minutes walk from Shaolin Temple beneath Shaoshi Mountain – It’s the largest pagoda forest in China and is also the final resting place for many monks.

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The next highlight of our day at the Shaolin Temple area was the cableway. I was really scared of this as I saw a film of how high it looked but the views were absolutely amazing. We were on it for ages and saw mountains and waterfalls beneath us as well as being able to look back at the Temple.

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Our reason for going up on the cable car was because we wanted to hike through the San Huangzhou mountainous area. This is where the three main mountains of this area all converge – Mt Shaoshi, Mt Taishi and Mt Song. Here we were greeted with more amazing views and walked round a precarious looking ‘hanging plank road’ built on the side of the mountains! This went on for ages and was probably harder to climb than the Great Wall of China – there were so many steps and the aches from our earlier Kung Fu lesson soon got worse!

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We also crossed a hanging bridge which wasn’t as scary as I though it would be.

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It took us around 3 hours to do the whole walk and we thoroughly enjoyed it – it’s a great sense of achievement to walk through such tricky terrain, feel absolutely knackered and still come out the other side. It didn’t take too long to get back to Dengfeng and we got there for 3quid in the end after a couple of shouting matches with some really rude ‘taxi’ drivers who kept yelling at us in the middle of the road and trying to force us to take their taxi for twice the price! Grrr.

We definitely slept well that night after all our hard work and woke the next morning refreshed and ready for our next train journey to Shanghai. When we said goodbye to Coco she gave us both a Buddhist bracelet with a Shaolin inscription on it.  Its supposed to bring us good luck so with that and my St Christopher we should be pretty safe for the rest of our travels!..

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2 Comments

  1. September 13, 23:18 #1 Mum

    Stunning views – what an experience you’re having you two – love the kung fu moves!!!!! xx

  2. September 13, 19:24 #2 Donna Marley

    Fab Fab Fab!!! sounds amazing! views look stunning! x


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