They say in China that once you have seen Huang Shan, or Yellow Mountain, there is no need to ever see another mountain. I think the main reason I would disagree with that is because Huang Shan is incredibly unique, but probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. And finally, the uniqueness of Chinese landscape paintings makes sense, since Huang Shan’s infamous sea of clouds seemed to be directly mirrored in most Chinese paintings.
As the Lonely Planet pointed out, Huang Shan has been a tourist attraction for hundreds and hundreds of years, a popular retreat for literati and painters throughout Chinese history.
I don’t really have a lot to tell about the trip, as in this case more than anything, a picture is worth a thousand words. I will (quickly) highlight our journey. They built a new highway into Anhui province, where Huang Shan is, which means that it is now possible to get from Shanghai to the nearby town of Tunxi in just over 4 hours (where, a couple of years ago, it took more than 10 hours!) by bus. Unfortunately, from there it got a bit more complicated. We then had to take another bus for about an hour (and since it is a rural public bus, it was actually an hour and a half because we had to roam around and pick people up and drop people off in random places on the way) to the town of Tangkou, at the foot of the mountain, and then a short cab ride up to the entrance to the trail.
The hike was both easy and difficult. It was incredibly easy to follow as the path was entirely made up of stone stairs. It would be nearly impossible to stray off the path, making it very safe, even when there are no people around, which occasionally actually happened, a rarity for China. That being said, it was one of the hardest hikes I have ever been on. The hike up was about 8 kilometers, not extremely long, but it was 8 kilometers of nothing but stairs. So, while I enjoyed for the first time in months blue skies, chirping birds, and the sounds of silence, I did while huffing and puffing up the mountain, stopping to take more pictures than necessary simply for the excuse to take a break.
When we reached the summit, it was suddenly incredibly cold because there were no longer trees to block the high winds. We found our hotel and stayed in for the night simply because we were just too cold to go out. The next morning, we awoke early (5:30!!!) to see the Beihai sunrise. Huang Shan has always been famous for it’s sea of clouds (while watching the sunrise, the most common word everyone uttered was “yunhai” or sea of clouds. I am already extremely familiar with the battle with Chinese tourists for optimal picture taking opportunities, as no beautiful spot in Asia is free from Chinese tourists’ expensive professional cameras. So, even though the sunrise wasn’t until 7, I made sure to get there by 6: 15.
There I ran into some other Americans we had met the day before, and we all hiked up the nearby peak for an optimal viewing area. The most abandoned one we found only had one man with his giant camera, light sensor, and tripod all set up at the end of a plank like platform. I asked if he would share the edge of the platform, and he gave me a very long sob story about how he got up at 5 in the morning to get the perfect viewing area, and he wasn’t going to move his tripod (which did in fact take up the entire width of the platform). I gave up the battle because I could still see clearly off the edge, but this man’s battles (and mine) were not over. Eventually the platform began to fill with people pressing up against us, even taking pictures over our heads and shoulders. Another man pushed his way almost to the front with his tripod and camera, yelling at the first guy to share his spot. The first guy gave him the same story he gave me, but the second man with his tripod wouldn’t accept it. He then started yelling about how he had let foreigners near the front, but wouldn’t let him up there.
I snapped at him that we were there first, but that didn’t deter his comments. He began calling the first man a traitor to the Chinese race for letting foreigners near the front but not him, which caused me to yell at him, telling him he shouldn’t discriminate like this, we all want to take pictures and we were there first. I’ve heard of this kind of discrimination before, but never really heard it before, and I was very angry. Fortunately, others on the platform began telling him to be more civilized, and he eventually stormed off to another place, leaving us in peace to take pictures.
All that being said, the sunrise was beautiful, as was the hike down. We hiked down a different path which led us up and over some peaks, along narrow staircases carved along cliffs, giving us a fantastic view of the entire mountain range (again, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves). The stairs we climbed were somewhat treacherous, going up and down, bringing us to the highest point of nearly 1800 meters only to clamber back down again.
Finally, we reached the end and looked for a taxi to bring us back to the town of tangkou. We shared it with a friend we met on the trail as well as two others, and then transferred to a bus that would bring us back to Tunxi. This is where we learned more about the bus system in rural China: they don’t leave until they are full. So we spent nearly an hour going round and round the town looking for passengers (and remember there were dozens of buses doing the same thing. Finally, we got on a private minibus that then took us to Tunxi, where we transferred to a bus that got us back to Shanghai in only 4 hours!
While this hike left me literally bedridden for a couple of days due to sore muscles, this was one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. But don’t take my word for it, check out the pictures.