14th - 25th November 2003
When we got back from Beijing, Jining had thawed a little and the roads at least were largely ice free. We set off the next day about luch time, just has many people and children were going home for lunch. When we stopped in the street a crowd of them formed round us, wanting to see who these foreigners on bicycles with many bags were doing:
Later that day we stopped at a cafe in a small village, it was the only cafe we'd seen for a while so we thought we'd best take the opportunity for a meal. Ju said to the owner "Wu yow chee" by which she meant "I want to eat", but actually sounded more like "I want chicken". The lady dutifully dug a heap of chicken pieces out of a freezer and spent forty minutes cooking them into a very tasty stew containing lots of bones, two gizzards, a couple of parson's noses, various pieces of neck, a foot and very little meat!
From Jining we pedalled to Datong where we spent a couple of nights so we could see the sights there, including the amazing Cloud Ridge Buddha Caves and the Dragon Screen:
Also in Datong we visited the PSB (the police) and managed to get a list of the closed counties in Shanxi (they wouldn't photocopy it because it was secret but we were allowed to copy it by hand!). This showed that the place we were intending to go through next was closed, so we took a bus through it with our bikes on the roof.
The bus dropped us at Hunyuan near the famous "Hanging Monastery", a Buddhist temple perched half way up a cliff:
From there we pedalled towards Wutai Shan ("Five terrace mountain") in the mountains of N.E. Shanxi. We crossed a couple of passes of around 1700m, which we were expecting. But then the road went almost over the top of Wutai Shan, reaching 2700m, and our map didn't even show a pass! Luckily it was a well made road and had been ploughed so we were able to ride most of the way. The weather was good and the views superb (note the grey pollution cloud in the distance).
Once at the top it was downhill all the way to Taihuai, a small town nestling in the mountains of Wutai Shan, surrounded by about thirty Buddhist monasteries. It was a very beautiful and relaxing place (away from the touts) and we spent two days there. This also gave us a chance to get rid of a nasty cold we had both caught during our travels to Beijing.
We visited a very friendly vegetarian cafe run by a monk. He told us that his father had cycled to Yunnan and was very interested in what we were doing. When we stopped for breakfast on the day we left he blessed us, gave us a pot of tea and wouldn't let us pay for our food.
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