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From skyscrapers to mountains

April 19, 2012

~ By Dev Lewis

This past weekend a group of friends and I decided it was time to experience rural China, so backpacks strapped on, we hopped on a 5-hour bus to Huangshan in Anhui province, to climb Mt.Huangshan (Huang = Yellow, Shan = mountain), China’s most famous mountain.

On the first day we went to the bamboo forests where we zip lined across the valley, which was quite awesome. Later, as we wandered along the mountain path we encountered a local tribe that live in the bamboo forests and now work as part of the reserve to do a local dance and perform for tourists. We ended up having quite the experience – in fact, they were even more excited when they found out that I was from India- yup, they’ve seen Bollywood movies. So, instead of dancing for us they prodded us on stage and we danced with them, and afterwards (my favourite part) they very graciously shared with us their lunch- rice with bamboo shoots, their staple diet. Much later, we sat around a fire together (see picture) before saying our farewells. Strange but very cool experience at the same time.

That evening we made our way to the town of Qunzi where our hostel was located, and then the next morning we headed out to Mr. Huanghshan to begin our ascent of China’s most famous mountain. My experience turned out to be quite bi-polar. The landscape of the Huangshan range was incredible and got better with our gradual ascent. After about 4 hours of climbing, exhausted, we finally got to the top of the mountain, to a truly amazing vantage point. We towered above all the other mountains, which appeared to be floating, as if they were shrouded in mist.

Yet, as amazing as the views were, the experience of climbing the mountain was quite undesirable, to say the least. For starters, the entire route up was paved with steps, so it wasn’t as much of a trek up the mountain as a very, very long route of steps to climb. This meant the climb was physically exhausting we probably climbed over 10,000 steps, quite different from trekking up a mountain. Being China’s most famous mountain, this place was tourist haven, and there were points when I was surrounded in chaos by hundreds of people, which felt more like I was at a train station than high up on a mountain. Of course, it was partly my fault I expected to be escaping the rest of the world while trekking up this otherwise mountain. Lesson duly learnt. On speaking to a few other people I encountered while climbing the mountain and later some of my Chinese friends, I soon learnt the immense symbolism of Mt. Huangshan, as to the millions of Chinese that came from all ends of the country, this was a pilgrimage.

Besides the mountains, traveling through Anhui province was an amazing experience. Out of my group of friends I spoke the most Chinese so I took the lead in finding the various busses we had to take and make sure we got from place to place. My Chinese has been getting better with every week, and finding my way through Anhui with relative ease, and engaging myself with people I encountered on the way, it felt like I had passed a huge personal test within the language. I know I’ve said this before, but the more I am able to speak the more I find Chinese people to be very kind and interesting.

Since you are reading this on Inchin Closer, you should also know that I met a rickshaw driver, who loves India and the concept of “Chindia”, telling me how he believes these two countries should be like brothers. Anhui is one of the poorer provinces in East China and is home to many of the migrant workers who come to Shanghai in search of a more lucrative job. It was also here that I could get the feeling of what China used to be, before the economic growth of these past decades. Many people, tourists or local, I encountered had seen very few foreigners and their faces would transform from a curious and nervous stare to delight when I greeted them and conversed with them in Mandarin.

The Huangshan mountains are beautiful and If you come to Shanghai then it would be a great place to visit, although I’d recommend finding less touristy parts of the mountain if you’d like a more authentic experience.

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