"Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery." -John Ruskin
"Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley." -Theodore Roethke
A long weekend was approaching in September 2016 with the Mid-autumn day on September 15 th. We were wondering where to go and one of the options was Huangshan, the yellow mountain in Anhui province. Hari explored the tour agencies with the help of his colleagues and we decided. We checked with others and Bhaskar decided to join us. It was the same company that organized the Shanxi trip. The deal was 5300 RMB per person for three nights including high speed train tickets.
The high speed train was from Beijing south station on 15 th September at 7.48am. The train journey was pleasant. We had lunch in the train around 11am. We reached Huanshan north station exactly at the scheduled time of 2.14pm.
Mr. Victor, the guide and a young driver Mr Rao were waiting for us. After checking in, we were taken to Tunxi Ancient Street, as per the day's program. It was raining and there was not much activity there, but we could see the glimpses of Tunxi Street, a typical Ancient Street that has traditional food, handicrafts and restaurants. Huangshan is famous for ink and tea. There were many shops selling ink stones needed for Chinese calligraphy and art. We visited one tea shop. They make you sit around a traditional table and let you taste different teas. We also got to taste a kind of fried mushroom that we liked very much and bought. We had early dinner and Victor helped us to choose predominantly vegetarian food. After dinner, we walked for some time and retired. The next morning we had early breakfast at 6am, and left for the dock. It was about an hour and a half's drive to the Qiandao Lake dock (Shendu dock). There were many people selling fresh fruits at the dock. The ferry was very comfortable and food was sold inside. The voyage was spectacular with picturesque mountains and unique white buildings on either side of the lake.
Qiandao Lake or Thousand Island Lake is a human-made lake located in the neighboring Zhejiang Province. It is a lake formed in 1959 as a result of the construction of Anjiang Hydroelectric Power Station. Two ancient counties Chun'an and Sui'an with cities He Cheng and Shi Cheng got submerged due to the dam. It is a beautiful lake with 1078 islets showing different views in different seasons. There are many small islands, but some major ones have been developed for tourism. Qiandao Lake is also the major source for popular Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water. With 81% of the area covered in forests, Thousand Islets Lake (Qiandao Lake) is a pure lake with clean, fresh air. They sell fresh fried fish in the ferry. There were many visitors, and we felt that the place was popular among Taiwanese tourists. The first stop was around noon to see the beautiful smaller islands. There are few peaks in the bigger island like Plum peak and Meifeng peak. There is cable car to the top and the view is spectacular from top.
The next stop was Lock Island, a world of locks, including happiness lock, wisdom lock, health lock and carp lock. The first Lock Museum in China was built here housing Safety Lock, the biggest lock in Guinness World Records. People tie locks here and throw the key in the lake to secure their love for life! The next stop was Moonlight Island, famous for its moon worshiping platform and several gardens like the Love (Qing) garden. We returned to the dock by 6pm. The vehicle was waiting for us. From there we went for dinner. Vegetarian dinner with boiled groundnuts, beans, corn and sweet potato was delicious. The city lights, including that on the tower bridge, were amazing.
The next day was the visit to Hongcun village. We left after the breakfast around 8am and reached the village at 9.30am.
Hongcun Village enjoys the reputation of 'a village in the beautiful Chinese picture' because of its location at high altitude and being shrouded by clouds and mist. It has about 140 Ming and Qing style residences. It is built in the shape of an ox, with Leigang Hill as the 'head', two huge trees on the hill as the 'horns', the residences in it as the 'body', a winding stream as the 'intestines', a crescent pond as the 'stomach' and the four bridges as the 'four feet'. There were many art students painting the view from across the entrance of the village. While the scenery they witnessed is similar, we could see difference in each artist's expression.
The residences are built with white walls and black tiles and are well arranged. All the residences have running water outside. There is the south lake school and many famous halls. Among them, the Chengzhi Hall is the most representative and is praised as the 'Folk Imperial Palace'. Numerous varieties of figures and patterns are carved on the columns, beams and door frames and are gilded with gold. It is said that about five kilograms (11 pounds) gold had been used in gilding the wood carvings during the construction of the house. Hundreds of visitors from home and abroad are fascinated by its wood carvings. There are many small shops setting flower tea and fruits. The moon lake is a great spectacle with the clear and symmetrical reflections of the buildings in the water.
We had lunch in a local restaurant, and the place we chose was outside the building, letting us great views of the village. The vegetarian cuisine of beans, greens, mushrooms and sprouts was nice. After lunch, we proceeded towards Hunagshan Mountain. We reached the foothill ticket house in about 45 minutes and I was keen in climbing up. But as my companions were not keen and Victor also told that there is not much to see on the way, we decided to go by cable car. It was quite cold and I purchased a jacket for 150 RMB. Though we reached the top by 3 pm, it was very foggy and the visibility was very poor. We roamed around for some time and treated ourselves to Chivas that was sold in the hotel. The hotel was comfortable and had great views. Once again here, there were many locks, small and big.
We went to bed hoping for a better tomorrow when we could see the famous sunrise on Mount Huangshan. We got up early the next day. Though it was cloudy initially, we could see the golden hue increasing on the clouds and the sunrise around 6.20 am was enthralling. As the light increased, an amazing sight of mountain peaked all around unraveled providing a visual treat.
Hunagshan (黄山), or the Yellow Mountains are not so called because they are yellow, but because the area was renamed after the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) in 747 AD from the earlier name Yishan. After that Huangshan began its ascent to fame. Many Buddhist temples have been built there and, more recently, it has become a major tourist attraction. It is said that the Yellow Mountains is the place where the Yellow Emperor, the mythical ancestor of the Chinese, lived, refined precious medicines and became a supernatural being. Xu Xiake, a noted Chinese geologist in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), who visited the Yellow Mountains twice, left his praise in this quote: "You don't need to see any more mountains after seeing 'the Five Mountains', and you don't need to see 'the Five Mountains' after seeing Huangshan."
It was lot of walking, climbing from one scenic view point to the other, and the views were unbelievable. There are stone steps leading to the view points, believed to be carved ~ 1500 years ago. The peaks are all of unique shapes, and are known by different names. One legend tells of a man who did not believe the tales of Huangshan's beauty and went to the mountains to see them; almost immediately, he was converted to the same view. One of the peaks he is said to have visited was named Shixin (始信), roughly meaning "start to believe."
The pine trees are also very old and have unique shapes. They are imaginatively named like welcome pine, Crouching tiger, Dinosaur, paint brush and so on based on their shapes.
We spent a long time appreciating the beauty of nature and viewing the sea of clouds which are named by the direction they are in. There are mountain peaks in unique shapes and are named as Lianhua Peak (Lotus Peak), Tiandu Peak (Heavenly Capital Peak), Aoyu Peak (Big Turtle Peak) and so on.
By 11, we came down by cable came and drove to the city to catch the fast train which was at 2.38pm. We reached Beijing South station by 9.10pm and could get a bus back home. Huangshan will remain fresh in my memory for the unique peaks, pines and the clouds. I would like to visit again as a trekker rather than a tourist. Once again, the guide and the driver were very professional and helpful. I would like to Thank Victor for also correcting the matter in this blog.