4:56pm Monday, May 17 Xiangfan, Hubei|
First day on the trail of Meng Haoran, Tang Dynasty poet recluse, friend to Li Bai, Wang Wei and other Tang poets. Meng traveled extensively in Jiangnan, Jiangsu, Jiangsi and Zhejiang, and lived for a time in Changan, but most of his life was spent in seclusion near and on Lumenshan, Deer Gate Mountain, 20 km south of Xiangyang (now the combined town of Xiangfan) in northern Hubei.
Browsing through his poems last evening I noticed that he often mentions going to Lumenshan by boat. In his day river travel was the main form of long distance travel and the Han River runs through Xiangyang and on south to join the Chiangjiang at Wuhan. I decided to try to do the same, board a small boat in Xiangyang and float downstream to Lumenshan.
Asking around at my hotel and several taxi drivers I was told it was immpossible to go on the river, that there were no boats. But acting on my China travel axiom, 'if someone says "no" this means either they don't want you to do it or they just don't know', I went to the river this morning to San Qiao, Number Three Bridge, to see for myself.
I walked down to a small riverside shack where a couple of small boats were tied up, including one western style runabout with a Yamaha outboard perched on it's stern. On the wall of the shack were the rates for hourly rides on the river, but the shack was empty and no one was around except for some women pounding their laundry on the shore.
Further along I saw a small diesel powered sampan coming across the river from the south side. It came to the muddy shore and several passengers debarked. It looked like a water taxi so I walked down to take a look. The driver was lounging with some friends on one of several larger boats. I asked if it was possible to go to Lumenshan by boat and he immediately said yes! He said he would do it for 500 kuai. I put on my shocked expression and said too much. He asked if i was just one person? Yes, I replied. OK, he said, I'll do it for 300.
He led me to another boat anchored a few meters offshore, a 25 foot sampan, and offered me his back to carry me to the boat so my feet would not get wet. Onboard I moved forward to avoid the pounding din of the diesel, sat in a plastic chair and enjoyed the scene on the two hour trip downstream, happy as a lark to be following in Meng Haoran's path.
Debarked at a small village and followed a small winding path through the village, up a valley where farmers are harvesting the winter rice, and then on a mountain path. Two hours later I arrived at the 鹿門寺 Lumensi, Deer Gate Temple, on the side of Lumenshan
May 18, 2004
Today climbed to the top of Lumenshan, the small domed hill behind the Lumensi. On the top is a tower from which, on a clear day, one gets a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and the Han River to the west. I wondered to myself why the Lumensi is sited in this very unspectacular place. Although they are called mountains, there are only small hills here, and they are all soft rounded shapes. There are no sharp crags and protruding peaks.
Then I looked carefully in all directions and realized there is a ring of small hills surrounding Lumenshan, and Lumenshan is in the center of this circle. Satori! Lumenshan is the stamen of a lotus. The entire landscape is one large, soft lotus blossom!
When I returned to the Lumensi I asked my young monk friend and he replied laconically, as if it were of no importance, "some people think this way...".