It took us more than two hours on a bus from Hangzhou to Tunxi, a town not far from Huangshan, Anhui Province. We had a local tour guide met us at the bus station with a van and a driver. After checking into a local hotel and a quick lunch, we visited the “Mysterious Grottos” at Flower Mountain, about an hour away from the city.
No one knew when and why the enormous man-made grottos were made. Supposedly there 36 of them, of which, four were developed for tourism. The size, design, supporting pillars, and carving patterns indicate the mastery of geology and science in ancient times. Many speculative theories about their usage and time, but none conclusive. Quite an amazing sight.
What is most impressive was of course the visit to Huangshan, or Mount Huang, one of the sacred mountains in China. We left for the mountain early the following morning, about an hour’s drive from Tunxi. Lisa and I wanted to climb up instead of taking the tram, but Francis and our tour guide opposed it.
“You still have 7.5 kilometers to walk on the maintains today,” Jiang, our tour guide argued. “You won’t be able to make those steps up and down the mountains if you climb up.”
In the end, the arising fog solved our dispute. Since we wouldn’t be able to see much in the thick fog, we all got into the tram, regretting not being to see the steep cliffs on our way up.
But the mountain delivered wonders in front of our eyes: once on top, a breeze of the wind quickly opened a pocket, revealing the beauty of pine trees planting themselves firmly on rocks, as we marveled at the sight and took pictures, another wave of fog covered them, making everything mysterious. We felt like walking in the clouds, enjoying the clarify of one moment and the wrap up of the fog the next.
Jiang was right. The walk was quite demanding. The stone-paved trail went up and down, leaving many tourists panting on the side. We made numerous stops to take photos and catch our breath. The “welcome pine”, the signature tree serving as a symbol of Huangshan, looked more resilient and strong than “welcoming”, with an extended branch being interpreted as a waving arm.
We were lucky that as soon as we reached our hotel on the mountain at about 4 pm, it began to rain. We settled down and had a nice dinner at the hotel and admired the photos we had taken. Despite the rain, a forecast of 60% chance of seeing sunrise was predicted. So the following morning, we got up at 4:30 to go to a nearby peak to see the sunrise. With the large crowd and numerous trees in the way, I must say the sunrise on Lake Michigan that I can see from my bedroom most of the mornings is more beautiful and grand.
Jiang took us to various sights of natural beauty—the ten magnificent pine trees, the formations of rocks that are interpreted for different meanings, and the observatory dome that does research and predicts weather in the mountain areas. The walk downhill was not any easier. But we learned that all the food at the hotels and restaurants on top of the mountains were carried up by farmers on their shoulders, as we walked down, we saw quite a few of them, climbing up with bamboo poles and heavy loads of a hundred pounds or so on each side of their shoulders. Seeing them humbled us and minimized our own challenges. I tried to keep up with Lisa, a prize I paid with sore calves and thighs the following day, despite an immediate foot massage upon returning to our hotel in Tunxi.
One surprising discovery was that iPhone took better pictures outdoors than a point-and-shoot camera. When Lisa used up the battery on her iPhone up in the mountains, I gave her mine. Unfortunately, during the 20-minute bus ride from the foot of the mountain to the park entrance where our van was waiting, Lisa fell asleep. By the time we got to a restaurant for lunch, Lisa realized she no longer had my iPhone. We went back to the bus station and got on to the number 92 bus. Where the litter of used cans and paper left behind by passengers were still on the floor, there was no sight of the black pouch in which Lisa placed my iPhone. The loss put a dent to our spirit, but we managed to let it go, since there was nothing we could do about it.
Huangshan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in China, and equally impressive, the trails and the park were well-maintained and very clean.
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.