We woke up early in Xi’an to make our way to Dengfeng. Rather than catching a train we were boarding a coach instead. Dengfeng, with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants is by Chinese standards too small to even bother building a train station. The coach was suprisingly comfortable, the seats actually reclined and the leg room was spacious which for me being lanky is the feature I check out first when using public transport. Apart from a man being violently sick on the aisle of the coach half way through the journey it was quite uneventful, believe me I’ve seen a lot worse in China that wouldn’t be suitable to publish on the Internet.
We arrived in the sunshine surrounded by the beautiful Songshan mountains. We met our new adventure leader a half Russian – half Kazackstani woman named Sasha (not Baron Cohen) who has been living in China for some time and speaks pretty much fluently. We were taken to our Guesthouse by somebody called ‘Master’ which at that point did not realise the significance of this title, which we will get to. After not eating for ages the family who run the guest house cooked us an elaborate meal for each of us, we were paying 100 kuai for all of our meals whilst staying in Shaolin which is about £11, what a bargain.
Now we were heading to the Kung Fu school in Shaolin, it houses around 20-25 students at a time from under privileged backgrounds to teach them classes aswell as Kung Fu. Some of the students will become monks, some movie stars and some will go into the military or security. All of them though are frighteningly athletic but equally as cheeky. I have no doubt that one of the 6 year olds there could have flattened me by sneezing. They put on a Kung Fu show for us which lasted about 45 minutes, they did some pretty awesome tricks that I won’t try and explain in text form but nethertheless it was impressive. Later we were able to pay a small fortune to train with the students. It lasted about 3 hours which was well worth the money, we learned a traditional Kung Fu routine and were able to train with weapons also. Believe it or not learning the moves was suprisingly difficult and at this point we realised that ‘Master’ who was our taxi driver was also the ‘Master’ and dedicated Zen Buddhist Monk who ran the Kung Fu school.
Sasha the next morning was really ill, she had been up from 1am-7am with an upset stomach. She went to the hospital and they said that the oil and grease in the Chinese food had upset her stomach. To be honest we all felt the same, most people in our tour had stomach aches and pains everyday because of the amount of grease in each of our meals.
Instead of Sasha being our tour guide for the day we instead had the pleasure of being shown around by SeiFei one of the students at the Kung Fu school and ‘Uncle’ who helped run the guesthouse. We visited the internationally famous Shaolin Temple, a place where every Martial Art originally stemmed from. A dream for people to visit, including myself it was a very memorable moment and one I hope I never forget. Before our hike we walked through the Pagoda forest, quite literally a forest of old and new pagodas dedicated to deceased masters of the temples. Each level a pagoda had represented the skill and respect for the master it is dedicated to, they used to bury the full body underneath the pagoda now they bury the ashes.
Next, the hike. A vertical climb of about 1200 steps that is a known as a Buddhist pilgrimage. On the way up we visited the Dharma Cave which is credited as the spot where Bodhidharma the Indian monk mediated for 9 years before spreading the message of Chan Buddhism to China, a religion that has shaped China the way it is today. After a 1 and a half hour climb in the boiling heat, well it was only about 22 degrees but when you’re used to 7 degrees..we reached the top of the mountain and had some bread underneath the beautiful white and gold Buddha looking solemnly over the Songshan mountains.
After we climbed back down we watched another Kung Fu show. This was a bit different, for some reason we got special VIP treatment and were given the box seats to the theatre and were allowed to enter and leave before everyone else. I had never had that celebrity feel before and I didn’t like it, I would of much preferred to sit down with every one else to enjoy the show. The celebrity in me didn’t stop there though. Residents from Shaolin and Dengfeng aren’t used to seeing white people, most have not ever seen one in real life. So every maybe 2-3 minutes I, Georgia or any of us were stopped by hoards of people asking for photos. It was quite weird at first as they would literally be all over you acting like your best friend so that they could share their experience in social media claiming they had made a new best western friend or something. Georgia didn’t like it, I didn’t mind it as much, what I didn’t like was when someone would walk up to you shove a camera in your face and take some snaps and just walk away. But hey, that is China. We had some lunch and packed ready for a return trip to Beijing.