Monday, March 05, 2007

On Lantau Island


The cable car ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping is a 5.7 km. stretch dangling above a tributary of the South China Sea and over rolling green hills of the North Lantau Country Park. Hiking trails crisscross these hills and there were a few hikers about. Suddenly through light rain and mist, we beheld the Tian Tan Buddha in the distance. It was a magical moment.

We got off at Ngong Ping Village where our first stop was the Tea House. I love to drink tea but have never done so in a tea ceremony. The ritual starts with the cleansing of tiny cups in a bowl of hot water. Then a spoonful of green tea is poured into a small pitcher filled with water heated to a temperature level that brings out the best of the selected tea. The guide transferred the tea to a filtered glass pitcher to remove the tea leaves. She then filled all our cups. Raising the cup to her nose she inhaled the aroma of the tea, just like wine. We followed suit. She took a sip of the tea. The first sip she explained is to quench the thirst. The second cup is to slowly appreciate the rich flavors and the third drink is for sheer enjoyment.

Fortified we made our way in the direction of Po Lin Monastery and started our climb to the Giant Buddha on top of the hill. About 200+ steps lead to the top for a close-up view of the 34-meter seated bronze Buddha, the tallest of its kind. It took 10 years to build the Buddha which sits on a lotus throne. There is a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below.

Hong Kong residents and our hosts, Kent and Wendy, had a special treat in mind when they took us to Tai O. The bus dropped us at the harbor and we walked the short distance to the dried fish market. Tai O is well known for its dried fish and seafood. As it was the Chinese New Year holidays, the restaurant we chose was packed with families celebrating the Year of the Fire Pig. Our hosts ordered the local specialties like shrimps with extra thick shell which is a little difficult to eat but is very juicy, deep fried bean curd sprinkled with salt and really tasty, Chinese broccoli, and a terrific dish of minced pork and squid topped with salted dried fish. It was incredibly good.

After lunch we strolled to the bridge and took a boat out to sea to watch for white dolphins. Our skipper took off like a speed maniac and the stilted houses passed like a blur. He didn’t let go until we were in open sea. We didn’t have to wait for long to see white dolphins bobbing in the water. It was exhilarating to be out at sea and see the rocky contours of the island. Returning to the village, we cruised through a community of stilted homes, with their laundry hanging out to dry next to pots of colorful flowers and an occasional raised dinghy. Tai O is dubbed as the “Venice of Hong Kong”.

The bus trip back to Tung Chung passes through the Park. It is a two-lane highway with enough twists and turns and is quite narrow in certain parts that buses have to stop at designated areas to let oncoming vehicles pass through. At this point I felt so relaxed I was ready to fall asleep.

Lantau Island is a far cry from the bustling streets of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon yet close enough for those in search of a quick restorative getaway.

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

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