Imagine stepping back in time a few thousand years and going on a quest. Oh, there’s fun to be had tapping into that side of your imagination. You could find a few handy companions, a dodgy map and pack yourself some provisions. Then you’d set out to conquer an ancient mountain.
That’s what I did a few days ago, but with a little less ancient mystique and quite a few more Chinese people. And a couple of Norwegians.
Mount Huangshan is a good spot for such an expedition. It’s about a 6 hour bus-ride or 13 hours on a comfy train south of Shanghai. (Of course, I took the longer route.)
On this ancient mission you should not forget your wallet. You’ll need a fair bit of coin to survive on the mountain. Most notably, you’ll need to fork out 230 yuan to get in the gate.
All you have to do is find your way to the other side.
That means strapping up your boots at the Mercy Light Pavilion, climbing a few thousand steps to CelestialPeak, cresting LotusPeak on your way to the Heavenly Sea and then finally reaching the hotel at Bright-Top Peak. Then you can find the room that you’ll share with 20 others, includingh 17 friendly locals.
The Chinese have made this much easier by attaching concrete pathways to the side of the sheer cliffs on Huangshan. And the prehistoric mountain, with its exceptionally steep slopes and sharp granite outcrops, is as easy to navigate as a brand spanking shopping trolley.
In China, accessibility means people. The domestic tourists swarmed around the peaks like greenies at vulnerable old gum tree. They were ubiquitous. Many are wearing yellow hats that are themed for their special tour group and they follow their flag-waving, yelling-Chinese-into-the-microphone-so-the-people-in-Shanghai-can-hear-but-no-one-one-the-mountain-can-hear-their-own-footsteps guide fastidiously.
The Mandarin is like the buzz of your next-door neighbour’s lawnmower on a Sunday morning. It can be annoying, but you learn to tune out and both are non-negotiable.
The people were a mixed bag. Some charged up the hill, and it’s a bloody steep hill, as if there was a pot of gold at the top.
Others were less keen on the hiking and paid men to carry them up in chairs attached to bamboo poles.
In fact, the Chinese tourists came in many shapes and size, from the hard-core Adidas-shod athletes to the pretty ladies strolling up in Dior shirts, tight jeans and heels.
It was a strange sensation to be atop a stunning mountain, with peaks cascading upon each other all the way to the misty horizon, with thousands of other people.
I’m impressed by their enthusiasm for the outdoors and that they take the time to visit these places. On the flip side, it’s overwhelming. And it seems ironic to have a swanky four-star hotel in such a mystical place.
But, hey, that’s China. It’s modern and ancient, simultaneously.
The biggest surprise for me was that I already knew this place. It’s one of China’s most famous landmarks and features on many of their oriental paintings. It’s what I always imagined China to look like, but without the tourists and the cable cars.
Still, the mountain has myriad charms. The scenery is exceptional, especially at sunrise and sunset, and the place names are something else entirely.
On your way down the Huangshan you’ll need to keep Flying–Over Rock on your left as you head towards the Black Tiger Pine. The trick here is not to go to the White Goose Station, but instead go straight down to the CloudValleyTemple via the Scenery-Inviting Pavilion.
If you get lost, which I did, of course, you can make your way back to the Black Tiger Pine by the Beginning-to-BelievePeak and the Harp Pine. It’s best not to take the path to the Stone Monkey Watching the Sea. Instead you should take the sign to the North Sea.
Of course, if you were on an ancient quest there would probably be no signs and fewer tourists to ask advice from, but you should never let the facts get in the way of a good imagination.