Huangshan aka Yellow Mountains

The Chinese last year started a competition to give Chinese names to places in the UK.  And almost all of them have literal meanings eg Hadrian’s Wall – Wall of Eternity and the Royal Mile – A beautiful street with long history and profound culture.  So where the Yellow Mountains going to be yellow?

Well, we don’t actually know.  

With my parents being here and then travelling to Hong Kong, we didn’t actually research this trip as well as we/I could have done.  Infact, we asked friends where they stayed, got the answer, looked at trains, booked them and then pretty much did nothing else.  Fail.  In fact it wasn’t until we got to the hotel, that we really figured out where we were.  Our train ticket said Huangshan, but many of the city signs said Tunxi, even the weather app on my phone didn’t recognise Huangshan.  We now realise that Huangshan and Tunxi are one in the same.  But Huangshan isn’t really at the foot of the said mountains – it is still 70km away.  We needed to have travelled on to Tangkou.  Will we go back – you bet!

The couple of days we did spend in the area, were not wasted and we did go and see a mountain.  

Having arrived on Thursday 9th April early in the morning, we were sceptical that the hotel would allow us to check in so early.  We were staying at a Crowne Plaza and to be fair to them, they did allow us to check in.  We didn’t have much sleep on the sleeper, so we got refreshed and headed out into the City to explore.  This city did feel smaller compared with many other cities in China – here we could actually see blue sky and some mountains.    The concierge gave us a map and offered 2 suggestions for lunch.  The suggestions she wrote in Chinese and circled a road on the map as to where to find them.  The road, Laojie was easy to find, the restaurant we hoped would be obvious.   

 The concierge had told us the first restaurant was probably better but smaller portions, the second one was near the first, it was similar but bigger portions.  As we had come to Huangshan with friends we chose the second restaurant.  

Martin got us to roughly where he thought it was.  And I dutifully, in Chinese, asked where the restaurant was.  I asked about 5 people, and only one (a man) didn’t know where it was.  All the others kept pointing us in the same direction.  After about 30 minutes we arrived at the street and started matching characters.  We entered the restaurant which was lovely, chose our dishes and waited for them to arrive.  

After lunch we then wandered down the narrow, cobbled winding street with shops on both sides.  Shops ranged from calligraphy shops to silk shops, men making combs.  We found some large carved stones, which we could never fit in a) shipping or b) the garden. 

   We eventually got to the end of the street, which had followed the contour of the river and decided that the kids would rebel loudly if we were going to walk back.  As we approached the main road, we saw Tuk tuks.  Zoe and Adrian and their son got a taxi back and the Croziers decided we would venture back by pedal power – someone else’s pedal power!  We negotiated the price of 20RMB (compared to the taxi journey of 8RMB this was expensive), and the man starts to pedal.  We get to the main square that we recognise and the man stops.  There are other tuk tuks at this stage and as we approach them, the man is talking to them.  Another man appears and we are gestured to get out of the orginal bike and onto the next one as the man’s legs are tired.  We had clearly walked a lot further than we reckoned.  Finally we got back to the hotel paying only 20RMB – a bargain when we had 2 tuk tuks and it had taken us (well I mean the cyclists) well over 30 minutes. We anticpate the money was divvied up at the end of the day.

The motion of the journey had sent Eleanor to sleep, but I had become increasingly queasy.  I put it down to tiredness given we had had a hectic few days, Wedding, Shanghai, Hong Kong, sleeper…. so Martin and Eleanor went swimming whilst I lay on the sofa, not very well at all. 

Everyone else felt fine, despite having eaten what I ate.  Whether it was a dodgy prawn or exhaustion or delayed heat stroke from Tuesday I have no idea but I missed dinner and was sound asleep by about 6.30pm.  

Martin and Eleanor meanwhile were having their own adventure at the swimming pool.  Eleanor had got changed into her swimming costume in the hotel room and wore a rather oversized bathrobe to the hotel pool.  She had walked into the male changing room with Martin, our friend Adrian and his son.  No one batted an eyelid.  However, coming out of the pool (in which there had been people spitting – and yes we did complain), Eleanor followed Martin back into the changing room, whereupon she was lifted up by a member of staff and taken out of the room back to the pool.  Chinese was spoken, and Eleanor understood enough to say “bu mama” meaning no mother.  The staff at this point think that Eleanor has no mother at all, but offer no solution to the problem of Eleanor not being allowed in the men’s changing area.  So, I am called, and from my sick bed, I go and get Eleanor, bring her back and await for Martin.  

Friday morning, and I am feeling better – a little bit.  By this time it has been researched enough to know that the bus to the Mountains left at 6.30am and no one fancied waking me up to suggest that as an option.  The plan for today was to go and see some Grottos.  

Huashan Mystery Grottos are manmade.  Manmade approximately 1700 years ago, but no-one knows why or how, or even what happned the excavated rock.  Discovered in 1992, 6 out of the 36 caves are now open to the public since 2000. 12 kms from Tunxi we arrived by taxi, we had arranged that the drivers would wait for us, and it became clear that had we not done so, we wouldn’t have got back to the hotel.  As we were driving through COUNTRYSIDE both Martin and I remarked that we could have been driving in France or anywhere really with relatively straight good roads with luscious grass growing and the odd small village. Blue sky, warmth, sun shining –  a perfect day for exploring caves! 

To get the caves though, you need to go over a wooden swaying bridge that has seen better days… Spanning over the Xin’an River it is 130m long, and 1.8m wide. It had a beautiful entrance , typical of Huizhou architecture. 

 Whilst it was just the 6 of us going over it was fine, but on the way back, many Chinese people wanted to make it sway…

We did 4 caves that day.  To get to cave 24, we had to take two boat trips,  The first boat over a small lake was comfortable, and was a wooden motor boat.  

  The second was paddle power, with the rudder being manned by a member of staff.  What was noticeable that they kind of took health and safety seriously…we had to wear life jackets.  How effective they would have been I have no idea and I didn’t like to dwell on it.   We navigated our boat into a cave, 


 

   again it was displaying the chisel marks that we had seen in the first cave (Cave number 2). There were areas of low ceilings and Adrian and I thought it best if we avoided those areas, not least because Adrian and Zoe are taller than us, and we didn’t fancy taking anyone’s head off.  But the man at the back had other ideas and so we went under, making sure we were bent double, anyone raising their head too early would have had a serious headache. We had the area to ourselves, but on the way back to the first boat there must have been a bus tour as there were hoardes of people heading to the water cave.  

All the caves were spectacular, but we had saved the best one til last.  Cave 35 has 26 columns, is 558 feet deep, 59 feet tall, is over 12,600 square meters. Known as the Underground Palace, it is crazy to think that this was made by hand with no mechanical diggers  The caves are the largest remains of Ancient man made caves in China, and like the warriors, no one knew they existed until fairly recently.  

 

Back over the bridge, it was lunchtime.  It had been lunchtime for some time, but we had staved off hunger with snacks and doughnuts sneaked away from breakfast (well – not sneaked, the Crowne Plaza saw our stash and gave us brown paper bags!) Given that we were essentially in the middle of nowhere, lunch was corn on a stick bought from a lady on the otherside of the bridge.   

 

Back at the hotel for dinner, everyone had buffet, I had a carbonara, which the previous day had been made with tomatoes for Martin.  When it came to me, it was most definitely a carbonara sauce.

Saturday came and I didn’t want to come away from the Yellow Mountain region without having been to a mountain.  The Concierge therefore recommended a local mountain, 33 kms west of the city.  Again we got taxis and after 40 or so minutes we arrived.  We had followed the river in the other direction, and whilst it had taken more time to get out of the city, it was still countryside for a large part of the journey.

Mount Qiyun meaning Cloud High Mountain was reached by cable car.  It is known as one of the  4 Sacred Mountains of Taoism, and once up, the mountain was then navigated by steps.  We saw temples, touched a Chinese Character which now apparently means we will live for 100 years 

  and climbed up to a Tasoist Village.   

 Whilst the scenery was stunning (with a bit of a haze), it was far from peaceful. Though this guy was finding peace and sanctuary… 

  

Guides are issued with microphones and no matter what the size of the group, the guides speak into these headsets which then amplifies them to a degree that is really annoying and grating.  By the end of the day, we were coming up with plans to cut the cords, turn them off or to invest in devices that would interfere with the signal.  We were also the only westerners on this hill, and with two “cute kids” became magnets for photos.  I understand that we are in the minority, and for some people who have never seen white people we are a fascination. I don’t mind (and neither does Eleanor/Martin) if people are taking photos when we are taking photos, but when they come up to Eleanor and remove her hat to see the colour of her eyes, then that is when we mind.  Eleanor is also getting fed up of having her picture taken with random people who manhandle her into position.  So by the end of the day, she was asking for money to have her picture taken.  It didn’t work. She made no money.   Even in the queue waiting for the cable car down, all 4 of us formed a wall around the kids in order that no photos were taken.  

A lovely time was had.  China is beautiful once you get out into the countryside.  The sky really is blue above the dome.  And we will definitely be back, once we have undertaken more research.  We will also look to stay on the mountain for a night to see the famed sunset and sunrise.   It is probably for the best though that we didn’t do the research and head off to see the mountains.  Having not felt well really until the Monday, I am not sure that I would have coped. 

We went back to the hotel to eat and collect our belongings before heading to the train station for the sleeper.  We are told that the fast train will go to Tunxi/Huangshan from July so maybe next Easter we will go…

  

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