After a 10 hour overnight train whereby I got lucky and pinched a hard-bed, a 9 seater minibus (that I got ushered on to without a clue as to its destination), a coach journey up hair-pin bends that I expected to go off the edge at any moment AND a final bus that dropped me at the start point – I was ready to begin my 900m ascent of Mt Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain as it’s also known.
It was 4 degrees and I hadn’t slept well. But after a hearty breakfast of beef noodle soup (wonderfully topped with a fried egg) and a unexpected meeting with a friendly Hungarian, nothing would persuade me to take the cable car instead of good old thigh-burning power.
Staring up at the smooth granite, as I quickly gave up trying to count the seemingly endless steps, I shook my head in disbelief – this view just couldn’t be real. Tall, lush pine protruding from the rock? Wispy clouds hugging the peaks? Every rock suggested something different – a turtle here, a dragon over there – a fairytale mountain range just hours from the metropolis that is Shanghai. Not possible.
Something felt so very strange the higher I climbed. My body attempted to panic, a tickle gathering at the back of my throat – a cough – something my body has adapted to these past few months, a thing that has become habit rather than veracity. But alas, the air up there was fresh and every exhalation was like a ridding of the city smog, an instant unchaining of the Beijing blues. That moment of honesty, almost like looking in to a mirror and telling myself that
“this is where I belong”.
My questionable thoughts and unnecessary grunts were soon hushed at the sight of a mountain porter. Middle aged man with an everyday physique, worn out shoes and around 45kg of produce. He balances a bamboo shoot over one shoulder, taking one step at a time as the wide-load hangs on either end just inches from the next step, seemingly unaffected by the ignorant tourists who idly squeeze past him – one knock and he would tumble. Every porter that passed gave a warm smile and a friendly “Nehao” – a humble occurrence, much preferred to the staring and the furtive photographs.
As the sun set, the rolling mountains turned almost black and white against the mist.
In the same spot at sunrise, the piercing golden hue soon warmed the crisp air, lifting the thick fog from the valley.
It’s easy to see why legions of poets and painters have drawn such inspiration from Huangshan’s iconic beauty – a perfect antidote to the brashness of China’s sensory-crushing cities.
For those of you wishing to embark on a trip to Huangshan, you can expect to pay 20RMB (one way) for the buses mentioned, but the third one is free. The cable car to the top is 100RMB and entrance in to the Heritage park is 230RMB. I stayed in the Baiyun Hotel and paid 150RMB for one night in a 6 bed dorm, very close to the well-known sunrise platform. If you choose to spend half a day descending the West Sea Canyon, there is an option to take the cable car back to the top for an additional 80RMB. Restuarants and small trail-side shops over shockingly overpriced compared to in the valley, so bring plenty of snacks and water with you!
Any other questions? Please comment below 🙂