Saturday, October 24, 2009

Up in Aba county, Sichuan

Yaks grazed below us all over verdant valleys nestled between towering peaks of the Minshan (泯山)range. The van crept pass the frigid Snow Ridge at 4000m before descending to about 3000m from which we started our walk. Sadly for us, Huang Long was cloaked in fog and snow. More flakes descended upon our puffy clothes as we made our ascent, further dampening the mood. We were ill-prepared for this - snow in the first week of October, wet socks and pathetic wind breakers. Eventually, some of us decided to turn back.

Like a gasping goldfish out of water, I eventually made my way to the famed turquoise terraced pools. On a bright clear day, I could imagine that it would make a stunning photograph but in such poor light, I simply snapped a few SOPs and hurried along a two hour track back to the van....

Illuminated by headlights, streaks of raindrops appeared from nowhere in the darkness and pounded upon the windscreen with pugnacity.

I was the front seat passenger of the little van speeding past queer villages interspersed by stands of coniferous trees. The van was going at 100km/hr on a narrow winding mountain road that had an official speed limit of 30km /hr.

We were late and cold, and I was still having tsunamis in my gut. I shuddered at the thought of what local cuisine might be available to us up here, having just attended a grand banquet in the lowland village a couple of days ago.... ....I was convinced SiChuan food is not good for me. I did not know if it was the peppercorn or something else. It might well be the peppercorn - if it could numb my lips and tongue upon contact - imagine what it could do if it lingered a couple of hours inside the gut.

"Entering the road of nine bends" said a sign.

As the van made an almost 180 degree turn, a sign appeared at the turning point: "First of nine Bends"

"Second of nine Bends".

"Third of nine Bends". I was ready to wind down the window and puke on the tarmac.

When we finally turned pass the sign declaring "Ninth of nine Bends", my head was oscillating and eye balls spinning, but managed to let out a sigh of relief nontheless - a gesture to others sitting behind that I had not passed out. Then the van suddenly veered right and make another sharp descending hairpin turn, and yet another on the left. Someone had obviously forgotten about the "Tenth of nine Bends" - or eleventh for that matter.....

At the restaurant's cashier counter, there was a curious large glass jar filled with a dark coloured liquid with lots of fibrous debris at the bottom. An attendent gestured me to try it. The Chinese labelled read "Duo Bian Jiu" or multiple-penises wine - very good if you want to you-know-what. I tried to explain that in my current state, it could reduce my chance of survival.

An adjacent counter was selling all types of local medicine - deer antlers ; pseudobulbs of Tian Ma or Gastrodia in Latin, a saprophytic orchid ; dried flower heads of Snow Lotuses or Sasssurea sp, a magical herb much mentioned in Kung Fu novels as an antidote for an "evil heat" toxin but used traditionally as cure for inflammation, flu, stomach ache and infertility :
claws of a badger-like beast : Of course, we also found some of the raw ingredients of potent wine - yak penises almost 2 foot long : and those of wild dogs, which I suspect could be dholes or red dogs :

By next daylight, we realised we were actually surrounded by lush slopes on both flanks of the hotel. As it turned out, the trip in Jiu Zhai Gou was very tame - shuttles ferried visitors to most attractions. So now I could claim to have seen with my eyes those emerald pools, waterfalls. snow dusted conifers etc etc previously seen in brochures and coffee table books. I do wish the light condition had been better though .......

.... the little piece of mound that one calls home is pinched away by hostile forces well beyond one's control.

Signing off....

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