The heights of Huang Shan

High in the mountains of Anhui Province

When one thinks of Chinese scroll paintings, one thinks of mountains in the background, breaking through cloud cover again and again. It forms a mystical illusion and gives a sense of the mountains having no beginning and no end. You might think that such paintings are just the offspring of an artists fertile imaginations and no such place can exist on earth.

That is until you see the mountains of Anhui province and most particularly, the mountains around Huang Shan (Huángshān, 黄山). The area around Huang Shan is an artist's dream and a poet's muse all rolled into one mist covered vista.

Huang Shan is one of the top tourist destinations in China ( after the Great Wall ofcourse). One one cold December day, we catch a bus from the bus stand at Shanghai South Railway Station to go to Tunxi a.k.a Huangshan City. The bus was the Chinese knock-off of a Volvo bus, carrying locals going back to their home towns and it were the only foreigners on the bus. The 5 hour journey was quite uneventful and we got to Tunxi in a light drizzle. Upon getting off, we walked down the road to catch a cab to take us to Huangshan International Youth hostel where we did not have advanced bookings. With our new found skills in Chinese ( numbers, what is your name, too costly etc), we negotiated a cab fare of 10 yuan for the trip. The cabbie was extremely happy and took off at a roaring pace, and 50 m down the road took a U-turn and stopped right opposite to where the bus had stopped. Damn!

We checked into the hostel, which was really very nice and completely unlike what I had expected a hostel to be. We got a double room that was not only cheap (50 yuan) but was also quiet, warm and most importantly, clean. At the reception counter, they offered multiple tours to locations around Tunxi and we picked the mini-bus journey to go to Tangkou, at the base of Mt Huang Shan (HS from now on) for a fee of 20 odd yuan. Once in Tangkou, we had to catch a cab to take us to the base to catch the cable car that would take us half way up and then we'd trek up to the top and climb back down before dusk.

I found a map online which I used pretty extensively to track our progress through the climb. HS is normally a very very crowded place. In the spring summer and fall, there is hardly any place to walk and from the accounts I've heard, its easier standing in line in Tirupati. Winter is a great time to go to avoid the crowds and also it is supposed to be exceedingly beautiful after snowfall which I had the bad luck to miss and got rain instead.

Nevertheless, going up the cable car was quite interesting as the cloud cover completely obscured our view, but when it suddenly cleared, the views below us were absolutely terrifying and fabulous at the same time. Deep below us, we could see the tops of trees barely covered by the clouds, and a wisp of wind wipes them away to show rocky cliffs and bushes precariously perched along the sides. We got up to the cable station for the 3 hour walk up into the top of the mountain and the return journey

The limited experience I've had while trekking/hiking in India has been that the paths are generally not too well maintained and are generally rocky, muddy and garbage strewn especially if its a popular route. I was mentally prepared to see all of this but was in for quite a surprise

But here, the entire stretch was paved and cleaned and had clear signs in Chinese, English,
German, French and Japanese all over. There were guard rails to stop people from falling over, garbage collections to throw trash and rest areas where one could stop and take a breather.

The experience of walking through the dark woods with the mild drizzle was like a scene out of a fantasy movie and I half expected to see people fighting jumping from tree top to tree top like in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which incidentally was also filmed in the area. We walked through pine trees and across frozen streams and occasionally passed a group of Japanese tourists with their battery of high end cameras and totally succeeding in making me jealous.

Frozen Stream

Peaks & Pines
At the top of the mountain there are 3 hotels which you can choose to stay at if you wish. Room rents are very expensive and buying things on the mountain also cost a lot of money. This is due to the fact that anything and everything needs to be hand carried to the top by porters. The highlight of the peak is to view the sunrise above a sea of clouds. Many people hike up the path in the evening or at night, in time for sun rise or stay on top at one of hotels($$$) or dorms($).

There are numerous sights all along the path and some of them have very interesting names.A few samplers : 'The Immortal Pointing the Way', 'Dancing Flowers in the Noon Snow','Walking Fairy Peak' and tonnes more. We obviously did not have the time nor the energy to explore the whole area which is apparently 250 sq km and very wide and time consuming

On top of the hill, we had lunch at one of the restaurants and somehow managed to communicate that we are vegetarian and do not eat meat. What came out was noodles soaked in soya sauce and a bunch of greens thrown in. The warmth and comfort of the restaurant provided a brief respite from the near freezing temperatures outside and we did not think of the taste of the food at all

Post lunch, we came across a bridge which had a number of locks on the railings. Apparently, couples place a lock with their names engraved and throw away the keys. The myth is that their love would last as long as the lock stays in place. It was quite obvious to me that the locks would be cleared up occasionally as there were very few locks that were rusted. Can you imagine if they actually DID leave the tens of thousands of locks every year? As is with the case in touristy areas, we kept bumping into the same group of tourists from HK. The guide was very friendly and didn't mind that we tagged along and listened to what she was saying.

After a lot of walking and tonnes of pictures, we plodded back down to the cable car station to catch the last trip to the base station. We scrambled together in a shared taxi and got back to Tunxi and to the hostel and some warm food.

Trampled byY Trip at Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Anonymous said... March 16, 2010 at 7:53 PM  

Good set of pictures

Prashant said... March 17, 2010 at 11:52 AM  

Awesome post Y!. Had a good laugh at the cab experience to Huangshan International Youth hostel. But this place looks to be really beautiful. Is it possible to share high resolution pics of this place? Otherwise awesome post..let more of dragon stories flow on.

Y Trip said... March 17, 2010 at 12:11 PM  

Keep visiting !

Nisha said... March 20, 2010 at 7:48 PM  

The place looks quite cold and the food ummm hot.

And taxi fellow was hahaha ,,,

hota hai hota hai....

Haddock said... March 21, 2010 at 5:18 PM  

Nice pictures

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