黄山 Yellow Mountains
This past weekend me and group of friends 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, 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. As we wandered along the paths we encountered a local tribe of people that live in the bamboo forests and now worked as part of the reserve to do a local dance and perform for tourists, as luck would have it, we ended up having quite the experience. At first, two men refused to us enter the area, and it wasn’t clear why. I couldn’t really understand them and their mandarin was not the best. Quite baffled, we were about to turn back when suddenly one of the men spotted a small tear in my jacket and seemed to get very excited, showing me the tear on his jacket. Using facial expressions to communicate he enthusiastically led us in. Once we entered we found a group of 20 people all very excited by our presence, and even more excited that I was from India- yup, they’ve seen Bollywood movies. 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, after which we sat around a fire together (see picture) before saying our fairwells. 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 as got better with our gradual ascent. After about 4 hours of climbing, legs destroyed, 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 they were shrouded in mist (see picture). Yet, as amazing as the views were, the experience climbing the mountain turned out to be a buzz kill. 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, Mt. Huangshan was tourist haven, and there were points when I was surrounded in chaos by hundreds of people, feeling like I was in a train station than high up on a mountain. Normally climbing a mountain is a sure fire way of escaping the people and chaos. Lesson duly learnt. On speaking to 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. Most Chinese, in their lifetime, have never had the opportunity, due to monetary reasons, to travel across the country to climb Mt. Huangshan. Times have changed, and I so on this level, I understood.
Besides the mountains, traveling through Anhui province was an amazing experience. Out of my group of friends I spoke the most Chinese so I enjoyed taking 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. Anhui is one of the poorer provinces in East China and is the home to many of the migrant workers in Shanghai, and here I could get the feel to 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. I know I’ve written this before, but the more I am able to speak the more i’ve found Chinese people to be very kind and intelligent people. Given the recent Bo Xilia scandal (a high ranking party member who was recently sacked, covering a very deep power struggle within the power) I took the opportunity to ask many people what they thought of him, to which I got a resoundingly positive feeling from all those whom I asked; evidence of Bo Xilia’s popularity. Since you are reading this on Inchin Closer, you should 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, and was very disapproving of the current status quo and attitude between the two governments. We could use more people like him in the world.
The Huanghan 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.