In the path of totality

One of natures greatest spectacles!

One of nature's greatest spectacles!

After getting off the 47-hour Lhasa-Chengdu train we got a bus straight down to Emei Shan again, to try to be on the top of the mountain for the July 22 (..yes, I’m a bit behind on the blog) solar eclipse the next morning. Chengdu would have been in the path of a total eclipse as well (though not quite as centered as Emei) but we hadn’t really seen any blue skies there – there’s a constant haze in the air, apparently covering the whole province judging by the last few hours on the train back from Tibet. Then again, the last time we were on Emei a couple weeks back it was completely covered in fog the whole time, though we hoped that at 3100 meters above sea level at least the odds should be slightly better for cloud-free views. I’d been a bit afraid of huge crowds descending on the mountain for the day of the eclipse, but we did manage to get a room booked for the night at least. In the morning we got the bus up the mountain before sunrise – with the eclipse scheduled for 9am – and there wasn’t even that many people there for the bus. The bus was extremely slow though, overtaken by all other buses it seemed, and it was well past 8am when we finally got to the cable car stop at 2500m. It was also completely foggy – just like last time, and the queue for the cable car was enormous. I stayed for a couple minutes to judge the speed of the queue, then set off climbing. Edel stayed behind in the queue, and half an hour later when it got dark could witness a thousand people all say “aaaah” at the same time, then try to take photos using flash straight into the glass window of the darkness outside. I hurried on – if I got a few hundred meters higher in time maybe I’d be above the clouds. I met a few people going downhill which seemed a bit odd – come to think of it there were no signs of the eclipse yet..should have been slowly getting darker from about 8am as the disc of the moon moves in to cover more and more of the sun. Then of course, it was so foggy I couldn’t even tell which side of the sky the sun was.. A couple minutes past 9am when I was a hundred meters shy of the mountain top on a path through some forest it got dark, very suddenly, then light again 5-10 minutes later. One of natures greatest spectacles, a once in a lifetime experience, over. The next eclipse this long will be in June 2150.. Sweaty and exhausted I climbed on a bit slower – at least I hadn’t missed it because I didn’t make the top on time which would probably have been more annoying – the summit was covered in the same thick fog as the rest of the mountain, same as two weeks before. When Edel caught up after the cable car half an hour later we couldn’t even really see the big golden statue and temples at the top through the thick milky soup.

Incense burning on top on Emei Shan.

Incense burning on top on Emei Shan.

Determined to make the trip worth it we spent some interesting time at the top with first class people spotting – the crazy western pagan sun-worshippers sitting and chanting in one of the temples (blocking the way for the real Buddhists trying to make the clockwise circumnavigation), the disappointed-looking space enthusiasts who had flown in from all over the world with big expensive gyroscope-stabilized telescopes, and the even more disappointed-looking tour groups all wearing identical “Mount Emei Eclipse 2009” T-shirts… All westerners – Chinese tourists didn’t actually seem to bother at all with the eclipse which surprised me. We shared a bus down with some of the tour group people – they didn’t say a word the whole way down..felt really sorry for them. At the lowest stop we hopped off the bus to walk some of the paths we had missed when we climbed the mountain two weeks earlier – some very nice bamboo forest on the lower slopes and many more little temples and monasteries hidden in the forest. Next morning we caught a bus for Chengdu and train for Xi’an, will cover this in the next post.

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