China’s yellow mountain (Huang Shan – 黄山), situated in Anhui province, is one of China’s most celebrated mountains. Its fame was sparkled in 747 AD, when, by an imperial decree, it was renamed from what it was previously known, Yi Shan, to Huang Shan, in honor of the semi-mythical Yellow Emperor (Huang Di), after the initiation of a legend stating that he was ascended to the heavens from this mountain.
It has ever since been the ground of a great bulk of human activity. Countless generations of people have been swarming to the mountain seeking religious grace, exalted inspiration or, more recently, a break from their office-to-home dull lives. There is a large number of temples and shrines built or carved into the rocks, and an extensive complex of stepped paths crossing the mountain all over. Also, nowadays, there are several starred hotels and restaurants all around and up the mountain, and the necessary cable-cars to give a lift to their well-off clients. Very notably, it has also given a broad contribution to arts, with more than 20.000 (!) known poems having been written in its favor, and innumerable paintings and photographs having had it for their subject.
In order to get there from Shanghai, we took an overnight train to the homonymous to the mountain, Huang Shan city – recently so renamed as a tactic to boost the important for the local community’s economy tourism in the mountain. And it does, indeed, the tourism, play a very prominent role in the locals’ lives, we found out when, after some 12 hours on board, we arrived by early morning in that city’s train station and got assaulted by a vulture-like throng of not so polite touts and sellers aspiring to draw a piece of their living out of us by any way possible.
Neglecting and repelling them by any means appropriate, we were soon boarded onto a bus bound for Tongou village. Upon arriving there, we were compelled to confront yet another smaller throng of zealous touts, and soon after, we had taken a second bus to the southeast gate of the mountain. There, a fee of 230 RMB is supposed to be paid in order to proceed up the mountain – though, if one wishes so, the gate may very easily be detoured through the surrounding forest.
Having passed the gate, we took the paved trail leading straight northwest. The weather was quite ideal, with a layer of high clouds masking the vehement sun, yet not betraying any imminent intension of releasing their loads upon the mountain. Furthermore, I found the trail to be much more quiet than I could expect, having heard of the mountain’s popularity. It was actually quiet enough to enjoy that magnificent forest of mixed bamboos and conifers we were hiking through, as well as taking in peace a refrigerant bath in that little crystal-clear pond we encounter by the trail.
After a while, the trail became much steeper, thus a bit tiresome, till we reached, after a couple of hours, the “White Goose Ridge” on the upper level of Huang Shan. There we needed to take a cover inside a shop from a brief-lasting shower, and then we continued towards the east endings of the mountain. Having reached the upper level, where the cable cars offer access to literally anybody, all the paths were now full of people coming from every corner of this vast country, as well as a few from other countries, screaming and taking selfies all over the place.
We had made it to the east endings by late afternoon, at which time we had the chance to marvel in one of the best possible colorations at the fantastic views unfolding themselves after the perpendicular precipices with those grotesquely formed, peculiar pines (Pinus Hwangshanensis) balancing themselves perilously out the edges of the cliffs, and towards the immense, cotton-white cloud-sea expanding to and beyond eyereach, with those pillar-like peaks raising themselves like biblical towers above it here and there.
After we wondered at these and those for some imperceptible length of time, darkness had started to braid its veil upon the Yellow Mountain. It would soon be bedtime. We left the trails and the babbling of the crowds behind and walked into a buxom, hushed, deciduous forest, where we soon spotted a nice camping spot and made it to a refuge for this night.
Next morning was an enchanted morning… The rain drops let us know of its advent, by composing that so placid symphony they always do when bumping upon a tent’s fabric. That was the only thing you could hear. The birds were apparently perching cozily into their nests daunted by the rain and the thick fog pervading the forest. While the rain was holding steady, it was a perfect time for a hot cup of coffee and a rich, instant-noodle breakfast. The rain, fortunately, stopped soon, so we packed everything up and set off to continue our exploration on that amazing mountain.
The rain subsided, the fog, however, was not to go anywhere for all the rest of the day, thus depriving us of any chance to see some good views. Our first destination that day was the north canyon. We didn’t really get to see much of it, as it was dipped in the clouds, though it was the only relatively calm part of the mountain we were to visit until camping for the night. After we left the canyon and headed towards the highest peaks, where the most popular sights are located, we saw pretty much nothing but people… lots of people.
It was utterly ridiculous… irritatingly ridiculous. I have never ever before seen nearly as many folks up a mountain. The various cable cars ascending the slopes of this mountain seem to be making a very profitable business for their operator, carrying up there literally any sort of people one may imagine. You could see, for instance, old people and handicaps utilizing the trails with the aid of their sticks and crutches… Families with little children unwilling to be there being pushed to keep walking while crying of exhaustion… Young mademoiselles having confused the destination their sweethearts brought them for an opera hall or a nightclub, so ambulating agonizingly along the paths on their elegant red dresses and stumbling painfully on their high-heels… and, what was most ridiculous, some perfectly able-bodied sadists paying – who knows how much – those poor guys to carry them up there on their shoulders sitting in a chair fixed upon a pair of bamboo poles. Using a similar kind of artifice but with one pole set upon their necks and two big sacks hanging from either end of it, you could also see those other poor guys carrying up provisions for the hotels. If it’s cheaper for the hotels to pay hand labor than the cable-car, I may assume those porters’ wages must be next to nothing. However they are keen enough to make their extras taking advantage of the hotels’ merchandise, willing to sell some portion of it to by-passers.
After a lot of meandering among the crowds, we reached the “Bright Peak”, second highest peak of Huang Shan. As for the fog, there was nothing to see there but people and more people. Then, our plan was to go for the 1st and 3rd highest peaks, “Lotus” and “Celestial” peaks, however, to my great astonishment and exasperation, we found the paths to both the peaks – I have no idea for what reason – being blocked by heavy metallic fences complemented with barbed tape in military camp fashion. Even so, the truth is that those obstructions were actually easily penetrable, but after contemplating a possible trespassing for a while, I gave up the idea daunted by the cameras placed by the sides of the fences and the numerous able-to-implement-any-sort-of-bizarre-Chinese-laws, uniformed, peaked-capped guys stationing all over the mountain.
Compromising with the disappointment those restrictions begot into my mood and having no other business up there, we just headed straight down towards the south gate in search of a shelter for that upcoming night. It was late afternoon when, having descended a good deal, we heard the enticing burbling of water streaming somewhere on our left side. That should definitely be the place, and it was indeed. We darted down the gentle slope off the trail and soon had encountered the burbling’s perpetrator. It was an exemplarily tranquil, little brook running down through a green-sided glen pointing to some astonishing views towards both its upper and lower ends.
That’s where we spent the rest of the day and the subsequent night without any redundant encounter – except one instance… When I set to go upstreams in a short reconnoitering expedition, and, at some point, I grabbed a cranny with both my hands while climbing up a crag… Those malicious, wicked, giant ants which inhabited that cranny did not like that… Nor did I like the result of their retribution… having, still, while writing this story, about a week later, to make frequent pauses drawing off my hands to scratch them thoroughly as appropriate.
Notwithstanding that minor misfortune, that night was a thrilling one. We got the chance to have a refreshing bath in that transparent as the nothingness little pond nearby. Wonder at the mirthful games the speedy clouds were playing bypassing round the peaks before sunset. Soon after sunset, a glorious full moon rose above the gloomy canopy of the conifers at the east wall of the glen pouring its affluent silver light upon the running water and mingling with the passionate red our fire was emitting through the air… magic!