Biqeq Things to Do
Two men look after the complex (oh, and the sleeping monks) and it lacks warmth or sanctity. They do nothng to keep the surroundings clean, yet try every trick to extort money from you. The visitor is charged RMB15 entry to the site at a barrier lower down the valley, then they want RMB20 for parking the car (more than it costs me to park the car in downtown Beijing), then hassle you constantly for "tips" and to buy incense.
The ravages of 'touristic development' and the lack of interest in the treasure they guard by the caretakers conspire, but they do not destroy the atmosphere of the place. The lack of information in any language is best summed up by one of the caretakers pointing at Sakyamuni and saying "This... Buddha". I countered by asking "Which one?" He shrugged his shoulders.
Don't be put off by my comments about the state of the place. This monastery and its surrounding landscapes are really worth the effort!
The Lamadong Monastery is hidden away in the folds of the Daqingshan range. A good concrete road swoops up through a pass and then along a wide bright valley to the secluded hillside monastery.
The front building of the complex is derelict and surrounded by high grass, and only the middle complex and the upper temple are accessible.
The middle complex is attractive inside, but surrounded by garbage and nasty buildings. Somebody, at some time, has worked hard to remove all vestiges of character from this monastery and have come close to succeeding: a huge concrete car-park, ugly 'touristic' buildings scattered around, half-finished, telephone poles and high-power lines across the nicest points, and concrete pipes. It is actually pretty disgusting how much litter and rubbish can accumulate in a place like this where there is no village, no vendors and no facilities at all.
Behind the middle complex (where "the monks are sleeping" I was told. "Yeah, right!") you follow broken concrete walls and walk over builders' rubble to a steep flight of steps, up a long way (perhaps 40 metres) to the upper temple which is constructed in a cleft in the cliff. On the cliff side are beautiful Buddhist carvings that are beautiful but just inaccessible...possibly the point of their location.
At the top, a white painted tall temple watches over the valley: the views are quite beautiful, over the high ridges, studded with cypress, some really gorgeous cedars, larch and Mongolian pine. The view and the serenity make it all worthwhile, and I just wished that I had come prepared for a hike up either one of the valleys behind the monastery.
0 Hotels in Biqeq
Some of the sites recommended in and around Hohhot (Biqeq and Baita) absolutely require car transportation.
The trouble is that taxi drivers, especially it seems in Hohhot, are very fickle and the concept of hiring them by the hour combined with maximum number of kilometres works fine in principle, but invariably the drivers become unhappy: they simply do not want to be cosntantly turning off the road onto smaller lanes in unknown places. They prefer to be barrelling along tarmac roads at breakneck speed.
I really recommend trying out a few taxi-drivers first, around the city, to get an understanding of their mentality and disposure to your 'odd' behaviour, before booking someone for the whole day.
An easier option is to find someone with a car who wants to earn a few hundred kuai.
Clarify at the beginning exactly what you want to do, and make it explicitly clear that you ate not interested in just going to the usual tourist sites, you want to go where YOU want to go. This will not stop the regular "You want to go to Zhajun's tomb now?", but at least it makes it clear what you want.
However, do be sensitive to the needs of the driver. They will invariably not bring water so bring some for them, and tell them how long you will be.
Do not pay any money until you return to where you started, or where you want to go, especially if you are going off hiking in the hills.
Finally, do take note of the car registration (and the taxi-drivers number) if you feel any unease with anything and SMS it to someone (or yourself) and make a point of communicating that to the driver if you run into any problems (which is extremely unlikely).
Biqeq Off The Beaten Path
I have written about the Zhao Great Wall in an entry for Hohhot, but the wall is very accessible in this area. You can claim your very own part of the wall, safe in the knowledge that no other visitor has been there before.
If you are short of time, you can simply visit the section crossed on the way up to the Lamadong Monastery.
At km post 3 on the road up to the monastery, after you turn right from G101, at a break in a long brick wall (ironic, huh?) on the left, the Zhao wall crosses the road.
It is much more substantial here than above Hohhot at Wusutu, but this sugests that over the centuries it may have been modified. It is about 5 metres high and about 15 metres across at the base. Even on the top it is about 9 metres in width, so this is substantial. Unfortunately a telephone line has been constructed along the top of it for some distance. The photo of the cross-section shows the profile.
I didn't have the time to follow it for more than a few hundred metres in either direction, but it should be possible to follow it much further. Unfortunately, the new Hohhot-Baotou express highway has cut through it in a number of places, and it would be dangerous to try to cross this motorway on foot.