Ni hao to all the souls who have come here to see the spell-bound world of Chinese through the eyes of the so-called Indu. The Chinese refer us as Indu. (Ni hao: 'Hello' in Mandarin)
I set on a journey to the Hunan province - a destination which still is undetected on the radar of foreign tourists. We entered the Chinese territory through the sea after boarding a ferry from Hong kong to Shenzhen. Traveling by a taxi from the port to the hotel on the smooth roads of Shenzhen city, for a moment it felt like I was moving in the world of NFS(Need For Speed game) with fancy cars zooming past the downtown.
Hunan, a province located in the southern part of China is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the Xiang River flows from south to north through the lush green hilly terrain. Reaching Zhang Jia Jie from Shenzhen involves a day long journey. Three and half hours by the Bullet train from Shenzhen North railway station to Changsa South and then a five-hour bus journey from Changsa takes us to this beautiful city. The overcast weather and intermittent rain made the bus journey quite enjoyable. Food would have been a major challenge during this trip but un-ticking a single criteria on the 'Things I eat' list made the amazing Safar free of sufferings. Then started the food porn with pork making its maiden entry into my ghaspus filled tummy. What else was coming in the seven days ahead was a mystery to be unraveled. Our guide received us at the bus stand and the long day ended with a surprisingly delicious Jeera rice, dal fry (Thanks to ready to eat MTR) and bread.
Come next morning and we were off to Wulingyuan district to witness the beauty of Avatar Hallelujah Mountains. A forty minute drive from Zhang Jia Jie took us to the base of these mountains. In awe of the tall mountains, which resemble a gigantic form of five fingers of a hand, we climbed heights in a glass elevator and reached the mountain top within a minute. Even the best of lenses would be able to capture just a glimpse of the breath-taking views and it was best to capture the panoramic view through the eyes and paint the image on canvas of mind. Seeing these mountains from different viewpoints, we came across a naturally formed bridge leading to a small Buddha monastery atop the mountain. With the digital clock recording close to 24000 steps, it was time to end the day and return to the hotel.
Hunan province is known for its spicy food and we decided to try the street food in the evening. Close to the hotel was quite a happening street with many food stalls. Few offered shallow fried potatoes and corns flavored with red chili paste and garnished with coriander leaves while others served sea food fried in humongous vessels filled with oil to the brim. We ate noodles tossed in egg yolk along with onion, carrot, spring onions, capsicum and some masalas to spice it up. At 10 yuan and quantity sufficient for two people these were the best noodles I had ever had.
At the end of the street was a river with red, blue, green neon lights dazzling all along its side, a band playing songs and a lively night market followed.
On the second day in Wulingyuan, we explored the nature along the base of these mountains. A beautiful stream flows hustling and bustling through the tall peaks. Songs of birds and occasional sightings of monkeys add excitement to the five km walk along the stream. Crossing some beautiful waterfalls en-route, the pleasant and calm atmosphere is worth experiencing. Since we were short on time, we did not complete the entire walk, returned half way and further visited the ten miles gallery. This place offered some fantastic views and unique photography opportunities.
The overcast weather and grey clouds hopping from one peak to another truly took me on cloud nine. A toy train takes visitors along the entire path in a matter of minutes for those who don't wish to walk 6 km. Plenty of fruits are available in most of the places and the temptation is irresistible. Mangoes in particular were very delicious and my Alphonso loving taste buds couldn't deny the fact.
The only reason for hurrying up in the first half of the day was to find sufficient time to visit the most awaited glass bridge. Reaching the glass bridge well ahead of time, sitting in the waiting area sipping warm coffee, it seemed that weather would play spoil sport as the entire area got covered with clouds resulting in low visibility. We quickly equipped ourselves with the ponchos and rubber soled cotton covers over the shoes and slowly moved towards the doors leading to the glass bridge. Luckily the weather improved and we witnessed the misty clouds hovering over the thousand feet deep valley and few trembling feet over the transparent glass. One can completely see through the crystal clear glass flooring and one may feel as if he is flying over the valley.
The other end of the bridge leads to narrow steps which take us thousand feet down in the valley. These steps and the walk way further are infact as incredible as the glass bridge and the two hour walk all along the gorge take us besides the green waters sometimes gushing through rapidly and sometimes flowing calmly only to transform into small waterfalls ahead. On one occasion I just turned back for a moment and found an extremely beautiful landscape. This small moment on the three feet wide road made me realise that sometimes it is worth looking back to spend some time observing the path which has led us to the present. I photographed the scene and moved forward. Few hundred metres ahead, where the river dived somewhat deeper into the valley, a zip line was installed. The moment I turned up at the ticket counter, the Chinese lady put a notice board saying 'Ticket selling suspended due to bad weather'. But many were already standing in queue ready to zip past down the valley. Taking an overview of the situation, I decided to wait near the counter and pleaded a few times to give me a ticket. Finally she got convinced and I zoomed over the rope downstream. The instructor tried to explain few things to me through actions and I felt that those things were to be avoided while going down. But the actions he tried to explain me were supposedly to be used for slowing down at the landing point and I just dashed into the rubber padding there! The last leg of the journey was completed through a small ferry, which left us at the other side of the bank in a beautifully architected building. Thus another day ended and we headed back to Zhang Jia Jie.
Third day was reserved for the Tianmen mountain. The Chinese have developed the tourist spots in an extremely planned manner. Buses take the tourists to the mountain top through a series of ninety nine adventurous hair pin bends. Wait, the journey isn't over yet. One has to climb 999 steps further to reach an intermediate point. The steps are quite steep,angled almost at 60 degrees in the last leg. Alternatively, a provision of escalators is made for those who don't wish to climb the stairs. But one would miss the heart pumping adventure by not choosing to climb the stairs.
Five escalators, each leaving the passenger almost 10 floors higher finally help us in truly reaching mountain top. Another engineering marvel awaits at a height of 4700 feet. A sixty meter long glass sky walk surely thrills every person standing on it, sending chills down the spine of those wary of heights. Fantastic views of the ninety nine hair pin bends finding their way through the mountains like a snake crawling through crevices instantly grab attention. The way down the mountain is by means of a half hour cable car ride. This ride uncovers some hidden and unique views of the hills and the road navigating through it. A 4D show is run in a dome shaped theatre at the place where people get down from the cable car. This show made the adrenaline rush through our blood streams, we experienced that uneasy feeling in the stomach as the imaginary race car which we were made to sit in jumped form the Tianmen mountain into the valley, then suddenly landed somewhere in the bushes and took us to the destination at last.
Following three days were planned for work in Dong Guan. During these days, I surveyed a bit for good places to buy cheap electronics from the near-by market. On the last day, I found that Hua Qianbei in Shenzhen was the best street to buy such goods. Without spending much time, I and one friend of my father decided to go to that market. We had already faced many language related issues in the past seven days. On one occasion, we needed to attend the nature's call urgently and asked one local guy to show us the way to heaven*(toilet).But the guy didn't understand the translation in Google translate. At last, I had to show him the unzipping action of the chain which ignited the spark in his mind and he directed us to the toilet. Remembering this event, we requested one of our Chinese friend to write the name of the market in Chinese on a paper along with the details of the train routes which could take us there. Shenzhen is close to 110 km from Dong Guan, so we had to go there by Bullet train. Standing at the ticket counter, the uncle accompanying me realized that he brought neither his passport nor any identity proof. Sadly he had to return back to the hotel and I went ahead alone. As soon as I got down at Shenzhen north station, I tried to find a suitable person who could guide me through the subway. This time, to my good luck, I asked the right person. Brad, a young Chinese guy who could understand some English helped me in buying the ticket to Hua Qiangbei. Reaching Hua Qiangbei required changing the subway line at one of the station. He too was going to the same station and this made my travel super easy. Hua Qiangbei is an extraordinarily large market.
Multi storeyed malls occupy both the sides of the wide street almost a kilometre long. Brad took me to few shops in one mall but those were not the ones I was looking for. Once again luck favoured me, we had just come out from a shop and I met a group of 8 Indians from Ahmedabad. They had come there for purchasing electronic components, had already spent a day in exploring the market. Brad wanted to meet his friend and we bid goodbye to each other. I spent the next 4 hours in the company of the Indians. The most striking feature of these malls is that the ground floor shops are all authorised dealers whereas as one goes to the floors above, one gets to see the real Chinese stuff, the stuff I was really excited to see. Drones, binoculars, fancy gadgets, cameras, mobiles and related accessories can be seen in every nook and corner. It is an excellent place for a person with good bargaining skills. Starting with 200 yuan for a wifi enabled 4K Chinese Go pro camera, I was successful in bargaining it to 80 yuan. Although I didn't buy it, it was fun to bargain with the shopkeepers. When I priced the item extraordinarily lower than what they demanded, the conversation ended with the shopkeeper yelling "I buy from you!" Thinking about those moments now, I regret not having bought a few things. I decided to leave the market at 5 in the evening as it was going to take me around 2 hours to reach the hotel in Dong Guan. Two people approached me while I was returning to the subway station. They offered IPhone X at 3500 yuan. I fumbled for a second and then decided to have a look at the phone. When he said 3500 yuan, I started the deal with 350 yuan. The first salesman got frustrated and left. Few minutes later another man came to me with same offer, once again I started with 350 yuan but this time I decided to engage in a longer conversation. I tried to persuade him saying "My friend buy from you, you very good person". Repeating these lines a number of times, he started reducing the price. 3500-2300-1200-1000-800-600 yuan, finally he agreed to sell me the phone at 550 yuan. I would have never bargained so much had I not known that one of the Indians I met earlier had bought a similar phone at the same price! I returned to the hotel awed and amazed!
It was our last evening in Dong Guan and we were successful in finding yet another good street food vendor. It was a barbecue stall and we ordered whatever looked familiar-French beans, spring onions, mushrooms, brinjal, sweet corn, chicken and oyster to end the feast. Most of the preparation had garlic and red chillies as the prime masalas.
A delay in booking a return ferry to Hong Kong forced us to book a ferry scheduled at 12 noon instead of 4 pm and we regretted wasting an entire day. We reached the ferry port at 10.30 am, completed the immigration procedure and then asked if we could visit the local market in the meantime. With permission to roam around till 11.30, I and the uncle-who missed the electronics market trip ventured out to buy some local stuff. Short on time, we intermittently ran on the streets to cover as much area as possible. Bought some stuff and completed the last mile of the trip by riding triple seat on a local two wheeler. This ended our excitement filled trip to the phenomenally growing land of dragons.