Mystic Yellow mountains
Supposedly he has invented a horse cart, a boat, clothing and even Chinese football. He improved the lives of ancient hunters by teaching them how to build shelters and to breed animals. The emergence of the Chinese nation is attributed to the legendary Yellow Emperor. For some, he is a fanciful legend, for some he was once a living hero. But I do not want to talk about him. I want to talk about the place where the Yellow Emperor achieved his immortality and from where he raised to the heavens. I want to talk about the Yellow Mountains.
Mystic Yellow mountains Huangshan
I often hear from people that have visited China that they were disappointed because of the lack of a nature. They saw Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong… after a while they had enough of big cities and were looking forward to going home where nature is present. They say that there is no nature in China. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Just a few hours by bus from Shanghai, there is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world – the Huangshan Mountains, translated as the Yellow Mountains. It was one of the first Chinese national parks to enter UNESCO. The national park only occupies a whopping 154 km, the mountains themselves almost twice as much. They used to be called the Yishan Mountains, but in the year 747 writings about these mountains started to emerge. At this time the name was changed to the Yellow Mountains, derived from the name of the Yellow Emperor. Since then, the Huangshan Mountains have provided endless inspiration for Chinese painters and poets. And today to photographers as well, even to some of the best of the best. For example, for the Art Wolfe, the Huangshan Mountains is the most beautiful scenery he has ever seen in his life. There are several unique features: incredible sunrises, pines, oddly shaped rocks, hot springs and clouds that are above the eye level up to 200 days a year. The mountains are 100 million years old, originated in the Mesozoic and have 72 peaks higher than 1,000 meters. The highest point is the Lotus peak – 1864 m above the sea level.
Visiting Mountains in China
Visiting mountains in China is a different experience than visiting mountains in Europe. In my country we look for solitude far from civilization. Nobody should be there, just mountain trails and peace. In China it is different. First of all, Chinese aesthetics preach that nature should never be untouched. When you look at Chinese paintings, nature always has some kind of human intervention. Bridges, pagodas, fisherman, staircases … no matter what, something’s got to be there because it represents the harmony of man and nature. So the Chinese mountains are developed everywhere, full of paths and stairways. But in my opinion, it does not interfere with it in the bad sense. On the contrary, in some places it is literally a necessity. Concrete roads hanging in the air attached to bare vertical walls that are hundreds of meters long are not uncommon. Most of the hiking trails that go through the mountains today would be overpowering without these paths; some places you could see only with proper climbing equipment. Between the vertical walls, concrete bridges and stairs are everywhere. Throughout the park there are more than 60,000 steps. You should be physically and mentally prepared for this. The first trails here were built 1500 years ago, and in some places you can still find these original stairs.
However, the problem with the Chinese mountains is that these paths can get crowded because there is a lot of people in China – a lot. Many tourists come across this “problem”. I will offer you a few official statistics. In 2007, these mountains were visited by an incredible fifteen million people! Huangshan National Park has one advantage. It has 154 square km. Simply, if one is willing to walk more steps, other visitors will not. Crowds are only in the very center of the park, in places where you can find accommodation. When your feet start to be in pain from the amount of steps that you have already walked, you will find that most of the tourists are long gone. After that, you can experience the same poetic feeling that all Chinese painters and poets must have felt when they were recording the beauty of this place.
Hotel Brought up on Bare Backs
It is easy to navigate around the park. The central part is called the North and the West Sea. These are flat surfaces where they built hotels. There are a few here. All very expensive. The standard room is around 150-200 € per night. You can live in a dorm room for 6 people to save some money. For those who do not have an empty wallet, two years ago they completed a big five-star hotel. Accommodation here ranges from 600E to 2000 € per night and it really shines with luxury. It has several floors, crystal chandeliers, elevators, gilded walls, a beautiful lobby bar with alcohol from all over the world, good coffee and a fine restaurant. Why is it so special? Workers have brought it here on their own bare backs! There are several cable cars coming up, but none were made available to carry the load. Except for maybe just some extreme cases outside the visiting hours, everything that is on the top of the mountain was brought up by workers. When they were building this hotel, with my own eyes I saw how all the bricks, stone, marble, etc. were carried on their backs. I wanted to test it, so I picked up one load. It didn’t even move. Today, there is no construction anymore, but every day water, hotel equipment, food and dairy products are brought up by workers. After the trip up, they go down and take all the trash and used blankets with them. They sometimes make this trip twice, but in most cases only once a day. They usually take from 120kg to 170kg in a load. Most of these people are poor farmers who earn a little extra money in this way. Still crappy money, but they are smart enough to hide apples that they grow at home inside the blankets and they offer them to tourists. Some offer water as well, but it weighs more. They cannot take a lot of fruit, only as much as they can carry. However, if any of them comes across an unexperienced Western tourist, he can earn twice what he is paid for carrying a cargo.
Sea with no Coast
In summer there is a pleasant temperature, but the mountains can get cold very quickly. The Huangshan Mountains are high, so visitors should be prepared to bring along a jacket. If a person underestimates this problem, hotels offer jackets at their rental facilities for free. They are used mainly when guests are going to see the sunrise. Sunrises are in fact one of the main attractions of these mountains. Many sightseeing platforms were built specifically to admire the sunrises. They have names like “sunny peak”, “monkey pursuing the sun” and so on. You have to get up very early for that. People staying on top of the mountain pay for these expensive rooms just to be able to watch the sunrise. You can end up having to wait in line to see some sun if you wake up late. The early risers are usually photographers. They have to get up early because when the viewing platform is crowded, they can hardly set up a tripod. From 4 a.m. people start to walk around with light torches in their hands. All the lamps along the paths light up just after that throughout the park. The weather here is unpredictable, as it is the mountains of course. It’s sometimes foggy, sometimes sunny, and sometimes the snow kicks in. Several times I have experienced fog in the evening, and the next morning was so clear I could see kilometers of view. The best that you can see here is the “cloud sea“ – Huangshan inversion. This name comes from Chinese language and people use it to describe an infinite layer of clouds located below the mountains. In these mountains it can happen two hundred days a year, and therefore one has a big chance to see it.
Indeed, it is a unique experience; I have no words to describe it. This view will wake you up better than any strong coffee. Wuu, waa, ooo, jeee … everywhere you can hear these sounds of amazement coming from the mouths of visitors. Sunrise takes about two hours and then people go for breakfast. After that they spend all day discovering different paths and in the evening they return to the hotel. There is a wonderful bed awaiting. All hotels here have beautiful fluffy feather duvets and one feels like he has just lied down on the sea of clouds, exactly the one he had observed in the morning.
Living in the Mountains
In the Yellow Mountains there are 1,650 natural species of flora. The most typical vegetation is pine trees. Growing between 800 and 1800 meters above the sea level, they cover more than half of the park. The oldest ones are more than a thousand years old. The most famous pine in these mountains is the ‘pine welcoming the visitors’, which supposedly is more than 1,500 years old. The scientific name is Pinus hwangshanensis, which was derived precisely from the name of these mountains (Huangshan – hwangshanensis). Pine hwangshanensis is unique because it grows directly out of the rock and has beautiful crooked shapes. In addition to the flora, there are more than 300 species of fauna – various mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. There’s thirteen kinds of legally protected species, most typically macaques (monkeys), black bear, wild dog, ferret, deer, squirrels and once even the leopard. The most legendary animal would be a huge salamander which lives here. Hardly anyone is able to catch a glimpse of him. Overall, visitors see mostly squirrels and monkeys. And the monkeys only during winter, in the summer they hide. Among other things, there is one of the most famous Chinese teas. Tea Maofeng, in free translation meaning the tea of fluffed peaks, is an unusual mountain green tea.
Each season is great to visit. In the winter snowy landscape attracts a multitude of monkeys; in spring and autumn you will probably see a sea of clouds; in summer it is a very pleasant escape from hot cities. Getting here is not a problem. In the town of Tunxi directly under the Yellow Mountain is an airport. It has direct connections from Shanghai and other places as well. In addition, you can take a train or a bus. I personally recommend taking a speed train to go to the beautiful Hangzhou first, spend two to three days there and from there it’s very close to the Yellow Mountains by bus. It is also possible to rent a minibus and to visit various ancient villages in the Anhui province on the way there. You can walk or take a cable car to the top of the mountains. Either way, you have to have at least a day for the way up and a little sightseeing around, and another day to watch the sunrise, explore the mountains and then descend down. And I recommend one extra day because I am sure you will fall in love with the Yellow Mountains.