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. I opted for Huangshan (Yellow mt.) national park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous mountain ranges in the country.
So. Me and my friend 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 on a bridge spanning between them. This was promising, creating a smile on my face. Clearly, there were things to look forward.
From the train station, it is roughly 48km/30 miles to the park. We joined some couple for a cab ride, so we got there straight away. It was a bit of a rip-off; still, converting the currencies, no harm done - and we were there: narrow, cloud filled canyons between mountains were enchanting and the air was the cleanest I've experienced in China. The excitement was running high.
Quick check-in at a small hotel near the park and even quicker transfer towards the park, our first goal was 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 big, and this way offered plenty of it. Not too far into the trail, it required to wade through a stream.
It was a welcomed refreshment, the weather was warm and humid. There was nobody else on this path, which was also nice.
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.. well, there's this:
To be clear, there are some falls and cascades on the way, but all of them are left in dust; it is hard to compete with this. It was a spectacular view. As a kid, I was browsing books with Chinese art, and there would be paintings of waterfalls, coming from clouds to clouds, with a occasional pine.. I mean, just like these!
Back then I thought: "Ah these people, they had some proper fantasy." Turned out, they just came here. It was a similar feeling as when I saw the sunsets in Italy for the first time; like when you are able to enter an artwork. It was real. It was 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 stairs in a wet rock, no railings, just a good sized abyss.. one could easily imagined possible troubles this would lead if used by tourists in flipflops (there were some). So we went back to the hotel.
The following morning we woke up at the dawn, as the plan was to board the first morning bus to the entrance gate of the park. 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 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 a good way to see a good sized portion of the park step by step, and save some cash as a bonus. The path was in a 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 was thinking that it is either an old information from the age prior the cable cars, or just a touristy gimmick. But nope!
And it is not that the load would be some piece of cake to carry. 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, if it is truly beneficial for the business-owners up there to pay these guys (there is around 250 of them) instead to let the cable car running a few minutes longer every day to re-stock, what in earth is the wage, and so on.
It puzzled my brain for a while, but then I let it be and fully focused on the surroundings. Well, it was still foggy; but man, oh man. It was like walking through a very pretty botanical garden - local flora was vivid, even the humidity and temperature reminisced a greenhouse.
Well and through this, every now and then the clouds opened a window, teasing with endless walls of granite.
About a billion of 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 wrote them down while there, so I don't know. This is some 1000+ years old pine.
Hours passed, when…
The clouds risen up a bit. This caused a stream of happiness that recharged our will to explore further.
This was amazing, so before we knew, it was late afternoon - time to get down.
My knee, which I managed to break to pieces 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 begun the same: 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 will enjoy more than enough of stairs even with if we will skip the first segment.
At first, the weather was roughly the same as yesterday morning - without much of visibility.
However, as further we descended 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 an exciting portion.
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 as we were filled with the beauty of the canyon - which was more than enough for the day. It was around 4pm anyway, just about the time to start our walk down to be able to catch the last bus.
Before going down, we stopped for a snack, during which the sky suspiciously darkened.
"Hold on, it's not the sunset time yet.." I was thinking out loud as we started descending. In a moment, it was really like if the sun has disappeared and suddenly, loud noise started resonating trough the forest around us. "Is that wind or ra--" I didn't even finished the sentence and the clouds burst out with 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 found a torn piece of a raincoat next to the path, in which I packed my camera. Good I did - I know it is common to say that "there was not a dry piece on me" to exaggerate description of a rainy experience, but here it actually couldn't be more accurate. And it took only a few moments.
Lightning went on and off like strobes on a concert, and the decibels followed beyond words. I was thinking, "Aye, a summer storm, it will leave with the same speed it came. From now, it could get only better." Oh man, I spoke too soon! 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 6 inches deep stream of water, mud and stuff. Our shoes were wrecked already, but this 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 to each other as my friend went back to Shanghai and I continued the adventure as I went to Hongcun.
Thanks for reading.
Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories