Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

An Unexpected Afternoon in Yichang, China

Temple to Buddha in Yichang, China

Photo: Diane Perushek

The day our Classic China and Tibet group left the Victoria Liana, the riverboat that took us down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Yichang, the flight we were scheduled to take to Shanghai was changed, leaving us with an unexpected four hours in Yichang. This city of 4 million+ individuals boasts some very important historical sites in its environs, but our group did not have quite enough time to see any of them. So we turned to Yichang itself for entertainment, something American tour groups are rarely able to do.

The highlight of the afternoon for most of us was a stop at the “Old Buddha Temple” after a visit to the local history museum and before whiling away some time in a coffee shop. Even our local guide, Ginger Jiang, was surprised to find the entrance to the temple totally transformed by a new building site where the temple approach had once been. But once inside we found a very lively scene as numbers of Yichang women, dressed in gauze Buddhist robes, busied themselves with preparations for a special ceremony for the Medicine Buddha.

We saw a wall of incense, some in brilliantly-colors pink coils that, when suspended, hung down some three feet; and we were treated to many photos with the priest, who was dressed in his finest red-patterned robe. Upon departing from the temple, the priest wished us well and encouraged us to visit the local Christian churches, which some of us did on that Maundy Thursday. Before we left the temple compound, one of our group bought “spirit” money from a vendor that could be burned to send up to ancestors in the other world who might be in need of some cash. This unexpected afternoon turned into a unique and most memorable experience for us all.

Travel is all about rolling with the unexpected. What's your favorite serendipitous travel moment?

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