Natural pinnacle of my wandering through China.
After two months of living in China's largest city, I was keen to get out, to witness some nature. After a bit of research, I opted for Huangshan (Yellow mt.) national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most famous mountain ranges in the country.
So. My friend and I boarded a train in Shanghai, and within a few hours, the surrounding behind the window changed from flat to constant steep ups and downs. At one moment, the railway was either passing through a tunnel under mountains or a bridge spanning between them. It was promising. "Clearly, there were things to look forward to," I smiled.
From the train station, it is roughly 48km/30 miles to the park. We joined a couple for a cab ride, so we got there straight away, but it was a bit of a rip-off. Still, when converting the currencies, no harm done – and we were there. The views on narrow, cloud-filled canyons between mountains were enchanting, and the air was the cleanest I've experienced in China so far. The excitement was running high.
A quick check-in at a small hotel near the park followed an even faster transfer towards our first goal: the Nine Dragon Waterfall. There is a well-maintained path; however, we went for a narrow, unpaved, and overgrown one instead. The need for nature was significant, and this way offered plenty of it. It required to wade through a stream not too far into the trail.
It was a welcomed refreshment; the weather was warm and humid. There was nobody else on this path, which also felt great, as solitude is a scarce commodity in China.
All in all, the "warm-up" for the park could hardly start any better. Eventually, we went back on the paved trail, which goes around a Buddhist temple...
..and then, about a kilometer further upstream.. there's this:
While some falls and cascades were on the way, all of them were left in the dust. Hard to compete with something of this scale; what a spectacular outlook! As a kid, I browsed books with Chinese art, and there would be paintings of waterfalls, coming from clouds to clouds, around an occasional pine.. I mean, just like these!
Back then, I thought: "Ah, these people had some proper fantasy." Now, it turned out they just came here to draw what they saw. It was a similar sensation as when I saw the sunsets in Italy for the first time. Like if you would enter an artwork. It was real, and it felt brilliant.
There were some further trails carved in the stone, but all were blocked with a fence. Looking at them, I did see why. Exposed steep stairs in wet rock, no railings, just a good-sized abyss.. one could easily imagine possible troubles this would lead to if used by tourists in flip-flops (we saw a number of them here). So we went back to the hotel.
The following day we woke up at dawn, as the plan was to board the first-morning bus to the park's entrance gate. This was a good call, not just because it allowed us to use the daylight to the max but also because we avoided big crowds that clog the area later through the day. Now; the park. It is a massive granite ridge breaking through the wavy landscape.
To get up there, you can either hike, take one of three cable cars, or pay some locals to carry you on a special chair on their shoulders (no kidding). We went with the first option. It is an excellent way to see a substantial portion of the park step by step and save some cash as a bonus. The path was in good shape and full of interesting compositions to look at.
Before traveling to the park, I read that there are people who carry supplies and materials up the mountain on their shoulders. I thought it was either a piece of old information from the age before the cable cars or just a touristy gimmick. But nope!
And it is not that the load would be some piece of cake to take. For instance, we passed a few of them who carried drinking water – they had three 12-packs of .5 litre bottles on each side of the stick – that is 36kg /80lb without the packaging. I struggled to imagine how this system works. Is it truly beneficial for the business-owners up there to pay these guys (there are around 250 of them) instead to let the cable car run a few minutes longer every day to re-stock? If so, what is the wage for such a job? It puzzled my brain for a while, but then I let it be and fully focused on the surroundings.
It was still foggy, but man, oh man. It was like walking through a beautiful botanical garden. In essence, local flora was vivid, even the humidity and temperature reminisced a greenhouse.
Through this, the clouds opened a window now and then, teasing with endless walls of granite.
About a billion stairs later, we reached the top.
Unfortunately, it happened that we climbed not just to the top of the mountain but also into the middle of a cloud. The visibility reduced to 30-50 meters at best, and it was raining.
Not much we could do about it, we went to see the trails that we originally planned.
Every single feature here has some epic, poetic name. But I didn't write them down while there, so I don't know. This is some 1000+ years old pine.
Hours passed when the clouds rose a bit.
It caused a stream of happiness recharging our will to explore more.
This was amazing, so before we knew, it was late afternoon – time to get down.
My knee, which I managed to break to pieces a little over a year ago, started protesting. No matter; stairs, more dang stairs. Once we finally got down, we checked out a local temple...
...and kept descending towards the hotel. There, we had a good supper and called it a day.
The next day began in the same fashion: early start, bus, gate. But then, we got on the cable car – we wanted to see one canyon within the park, and it was clear that to reach it, we would enjoy more than enough stairs even if we skip the first segment.
At first, the weather was roughly the same as yesterday morning: without much visibility.
However, as we descended further to the canyon, things changed...
...in a bit, we were rewarded with scenery that topped everything we saw over the last days.
The way from the canyon was a staircase either carved in, or extending from a vertical wall – this was a thrilling section.
The disadvantage of it was that it was rather crowded at places.
Until now, we were able to avoid the busy routes, but here was no alternative. Still, what an experience. Top.
With rising elevation, we returned to the clouds.
This time, it was no bother. We agreed that the canyon's beauty was more than enough for the day. It was around 4 pm anyway, just about the time to start our walk down to be able to catch the last bus.
We stopped for a snack before going down when the sky abruptly darkened.
"Hold on; it's not the sunset time yet.." I was thinking out loud as we started descending. Shortly, it truly felt like the sun had disappeared, and loud noise started resonating through the forest around us. "Is that wind or ra--" I didn't even finish the sentence, and the clouds burst open, pouring out hectolitres of water. Bang! The darkness got pierced by a flash, followed by rumbling thunder of a scale matching the strength of the rain coming on us. Um, right. I wrapped my camera in a torn piece of a raincoat I found next to the path, and I am glad I did. I know that "there was not a dry piece on me" is a common way to exaggerate the description of a rainy experience, but it couldn't be more accurate here. And it took only a few moments.
Lightning went on and off like strobes on a concert, and the decibels followed beyond words. "Aye, a summer storm, it will leave with the same speed it came," I diagnosed the situation. "From this point, it could get only better anyway." Oh, I spoke too soon! Not only the truckloads of water didn't cease; it felt the opposite. In a while, the staircase we walked on turned into a waterfall carrying around six inches deep stream of water, mud, and junk. Our shoes were wrecked already, but the fast-moving water was undermining every step, and soon it became a matter of a safety hazard. You know it is serious when I don't have any pictures of it – holy cow, talking about a proper downpour.
It lasted pretty much all the way to the base. But we got the last bus. Pfff.
Back at the hotel, I found out that my cellphone, marketed as waterproof, was refusing any cooperation. So, I let it dry together with my wallet and literally everything I had on me.
The next morning we took slowly after yesterday's adventure. I gladly found that my phone was back in business, and we went to see the Jade Valley, sometimes also called Lovers' Valley Scenic Area.
After this, we said goodbye to the park and each other as my friend returned to Shanghai, and I continued to Hongcun. Thanks for reading!
Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories