A wet morning greeted us today, which was a real disappointment as we were about to visit the Red Pagoda at Shibaozhai. The pictures we had seen of the Red Pagoda - in brilliant sunshine, naturally! - were extremely impressive and we had hoped to experience the same. Sadly, we had to settle for merely awesome! So, we donned our raincoats and set out right after breakfast.
It was only a ten minute walk from the dock to the bridge across to the Pagoda, but the street was lined with vendors and hustlers. The latter were mainly concerned with grabbing what business they could for a Sedan Chair ride to the Pagoda, and we mean grabbing! One of our group, a tiny Asian lady of 70 or so, was literally gripped by her arms and was being forced into a chair, despite her protests. Fortunately, one of the big lads from our group saw what was going on and rescued her. Not a pleasant moment.
Having run the gauntlet of shops, we then had to negotiate a swing bridge over the water. The Red Pagoda at Shibaozhai used to be at the top of a small, but steep-sided mountain, until the Upper Reaches of the Yangtze were flooded, following the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Gradually, the mountain became an island and the swing bridge was built to join the new island to the mainland.
Crossing the bridge was fun, but some people over-indulged in bouncing, which made the journey a little tricky for the more frail members of our group. Still, we all arrived safely and proceeded around the dyke wall to the entrance. This wall had to be built to preserve the Pagoda, as its centrance is several metres below the new maximum level of the Yangtze. Consequently, we had to climbed down many steps to enter the Pagoda.
In effect, the Red Pagoda is a covered stairway to the temple, which is perched high above on the top of the mountain/island. There are nine levels to the Pagoda, each more steep and narrow than the one below. To take your mind off the effort required to climb up are great views across the river - OK, not so great, today - and some beautiful sculptures and architecture at every level. One of the more remarkable features of the Red Pagoda is that it is constructed entirely of wood, without a single nail.
The temple at the top is very attractive and important to Buddhists, featuring many of the key gods and including special prayer places. One wall contains different types of very ancient bricks, said to confer various qualities, such as fertility and long life; another place has a bridge that must be crossed in a certain way to ask for long life; and there are several other interesting parts to the temple. Our local guide explained many of the special features, but sadly my memory is not perfect! Suffice to say, it is a beautiful building and very impressive.
We had to run the gauntlet of vendors on our return to the ship but, unlike when we were heading to the Pagoda, we had the intent and time to stop, inspect, be harassed and barter. As usual, when in this situation, Ray had a lot of fun during the exchange and we made our purchases at around 60% discount to the original asking price. We were happy, and judging by the smiles we received, the vendors were happy, too. Win, win!
We were almost last to reboard and Katarina was underway in no time. The afternoon stop was at Fengdu, for an optional tour to visit the Ghost City. We had decided against this tour and spent the time engaging in the on board activities, including Mahjong and dumpling making. Both were fun and it was sobering to be told that while it took us two minutes to make one dumpling, the ship’s chef could turn out 20 a minute! Guess practice makes perfect!
The final event for the day, indeed for the cruise, was the Captain’s Gala Dinner. Compared to similar dinners we have experienced on other cruises, it was fairly low key and the food, while good, was not “gala” exceptional. It did, however, provide an opportunity to say thanks to the crew for a job well done and a pleasant cruise.
Then, it was back to the cabin to pack and get ready for disembarkation in another fascinating city.