Sichuan pepper known for its spsiciness.
The covered walkway leading to Chisui Waterfall.
Natural spring between Qinglong and Heilong Bridges.
Icicles form on cherry trees in Fairy Mountain.
Hongyadong, the place that inspired Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away.

Chongqing in China has much to enthrall visitors, including breathtaking scenery at the Golden Buddha Mountain, Three Natural Bridges and Hongya Cave, writes Loong Wai Ting

“THERE’S no golden Buddha on Golden Buddha Mountain,” ourguide tells us with a deadpan face, “but you can see the mountain formation that resembles a sleeping Buddha and when the late afternoon sun shines on that particular spot, it bathes the area in a golden hue.”

Hence, he continues, the name Golden Buddha Mountain.

But it is too early in the day to see the sleeping Buddha formation bathed in sunset lights when we reach the foot of Golden Buddha Mountain, a stone’s throw from our hotel.

The bus service, which will take us to the cable car station that goes up to the top of the mountain, is still closed. It only opens at 10am.

Our guide suggests a 20-minute walk to the nearest bus stop. But it turns into a 40-minute walk, with us making constant stops to admire the beautiful scenery.

Like a brush-and-ink painting, the place seems magical. I half expect to see a sage with flowing white beard and in white robes appearing from the bamboo forest.

Amid the lush virgin forest, I can see a stream flanked by trees with red, cherry-like fruit. The birds chirp as if welcoming us — a group of Malaysian media on a 6D5N familiarisation trip to China’s Chongqing, co-organised by Travel Dynamics and Malaysia Association of Tour and Travel Agents.

A mini bus arrives and we waste no time hopping into it. Resting our aching feet, we take a 20-minute ride up a winding road to the cable car station. The drive on the winding road is not for the faint-hearted. The bus comes very close to the edge of the road. But if you look at the horizon, you see mountains, the colours blending with one another.

The cable car ride up to the top of Golden Buddha Mountain takes less than 15minutes. We see beautiful images of frozen waterfalls on our way up. Due to the heavy mist, wecan’t get to the highest cliff to view the Golden Tortoise — yes, a rock formation that resembles a tortoise.

I am determined not to let my tiring hike go to waste. I take another 10-minute uphill walk to the famous Golden Buddha Temple. Like most temples in China, it is devoted to Buddhism. There’s a vegetarian restaurant near the temple if you’re feeling hungry.

We’re allowed to roam around the temple on our own but photos are not allowed in certain areas like the main prayer hall. One of the monks in the temple explains that it is rude to take photos of the Buddha but we’re allowed to take photos of the temple from outside.

It is late afternoon by the time we make our way down. After a quick lunch, we take a 2 1/2-hour ride to Chisui in Guizhou province.

Next day, I’m game for anything — even a quick breakfast of watery congee and seasonal vegetables.

On today’s itineraryis the scenic Chisui Waterfalldeep in a mountain surrounded by bamboo forest.

We’re saved from a hike up 2,000 stone stepsto reach the waterfall. With an elevator, we reach the top in minutes, before continuing on foot on a stone and moss-covered walkway to get to the waterfall.

I feel small standing in front of the waterfall, which is gushing with greenish water. The sound of the water drowns out everything around me. In ancient times, the area was thick red strata, a layer of sedimentary rock that formed at the earth’s surface.

Over time, the strata formed valleys and the famous waterfall.


BRIDGES AND MOUNTAIN

The Chisui Waterfallis the fourth attraction since we landed at Jiangbei International Airport in Chongqing three days ago.

On the first day, we makea four-hour drive to Wulong county, 139km southeast of Chongqing city centre. Our first stop: Wulong Karst.

Once a sleepy town, Wulong is now buzzing with tourists. It became well-known after acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou made his award-winning movie Curse of the Golden Flower here. One of the locations which is prominently featured in his movie is the Three Natural Bridges, also known as Tiankeng Three Bridges. They are Tianlong Bridge (235m high), Qinglong Bridge (281m) and Heilong Bridge (223m). They cross Yangshuihe Gorge and connect mountains.

From where our bus stops, we take the lift down to the foothills, where a 2 1/2-hourhike to get to the other side of the mountain starts. Yes, it’s quite a long hike but with such amazing views,time flies.

Here, we come across an ancient-looking house, similar to what you’d expect in a wuxia or kung fu movie. It looks familiar... oh yes, that’s where one of the fight scenes in Curse of the Golden Flower was shot.

As I wander the corridors, right in the middle of the gorge, the guidesays: “Don’t spend too much time here. It’s not worth it. Move along so that you get to enjoy the great view ahead.”

It’s true, butasa movie fan, I am a bit disappointed I do not get to spend more time in the house, replaying some of the great scenes.

True to the guide’s words, the view ahead is magnificent. Primitive forests, waterfalls and natural spring water which gushes down to a stream below us. We’re in betweenmountains and the temperature drops drastically in the valley. Our warm breath vapourises in the frigid air and the wind that blows between the valley makes it even colder.

As we reach the end of Heilong Bridge, I am overwhelmed by a sudden sense of deja vu. I’ve seen this somewhere! Ah, right! This area serves as the backdrop to several scenes in Michael Bay’s Hollywood blockbuster, Transformers: Age of Extinction.

The following day, we go to Fairy Mountain, a natural forest park that covers 8,910 hectares of land where horses and sheep roam freely.

With an average altitude of 1,900m (the highest at 2,033m), it can get cold here too. We see remnants of snowon top ofpine trees that line both sides of the road.

As the warm wintry sun shines down on the vast land, snow and icicles from the trees melt and rain down on us as we pass underneath them. Just like the Mongolian grassland, except smaller, the view stretches as far as the eyes can see.

It is easy to get carried away by the beautiful scenery framed by clear blue skies, with green grass at our feet. Fo shutterbugs, this place is worth a visit.


CHONGQING TREAT

No trip to Chongqing is complete without a visit to the famous Hongyadong or Hongya Cave. It has 11 floors, nine floors dedicated to selling local delicacies, souvenirs and daily items. Two floors are turned into hotels.

At night, Hongya Cavecomes to life when the bright lights come on and offer a spectacular view of the Jialing River across the street.

It’s easy to get lost in this vast building if you’re not careful. Sticking to the main route, I go to the ground floorwhere handmade souvenirs are sold. Onestore catches my eye. It sells handmade shoes with designs synonymous with Chinese culture like colourful masks and auspicious drawings.

Next, I follow the scent of food and trace it to the second floor, where a vast courtyard is turned into a food court. Exotic food like spicy rabbit head and fried silkworm beckon. Candies, cakes and noodles can also be found here. Oh, not to forget the famous mala (spicy and numbing) hotpot. With lots of fresh hua jiao or Sichuan pepper, make sure your stomach can handle the heat.

Be sure to drop by Ciqikou 30 minutes’ drive away. Once a bustling port, this ancient town was originally called Longyinzhen or Little Chongqing.

Formerly a busy port, porcelain production in this town can be traced to as far back as the Ming and Qing dynasties. Not much has changed since I was here five years ago except for the tourists. Shopkeepers are selling more sophisticated stuff like wine steeped in local fruit.

The town has a lot of small alleyways, which can easily confuse a traveller. Unless you’re a local, stick to the main street. Straddled on the side of the town is a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple, which has survived the second Sino-Japanese war.

Trivia: Chongqing remains the most heavily bombed city in history, where 268 air raids were conducted against the city in the spring of 1941.


FAST FACTS

For details on this tour package or other packages, contact Travel Dynamics at 03-7876 6288 or 012-222 5604. Or visit its website http://travel-dynamics.com.my/.

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