Day4: September 12, 2008
I had breakfast in the hotel and met April at 8:00 in the morning to go to Huangshan. I checked my large suitcase into the hotel because I didn't want to carry the giant thing all over the mountain.
The car drove us to the base of the mountain. We then took a bus up to one of Huangshan's cable car lines. Huangshan means "Yellow Mountain". It is named after the Yellow Emperor, who is believed to be the first Chinese and all Chinese are his descendents. He came to the mountain thousands of years ago and the mountain is named after him. Originally the mountain was covered with temples and monasteries. There are now none left. Most of them have been moved over the course of history. The cable car we took was brand new. It was put in last year. When we got out of the cable car, we started our two day hike around the mountain.
There is no way to describe the beauty in words, so I won't even try. I was mesmerized. I hope to someday come back and spend many more days there. I have been studying traditional Chinese paintings for many years, and found that the bizarre and twisted pines often seen in ancient paintings are still alive and well on the mountain. I took a large amount of photos of the trees and I have no doubt that my paintings will improve greatly when I get back. The first area we went to was Stalagmite Peak. We then climbed to Beginning to Believe Peak. I was quite impressed with how well the paths had been designed, and that they were very stable, safe and had nice railings. Actually, I really liked the railings. They are made of concrete and appear like logs, vines, and branches.
It sounds tacky, but they are beautifully built and look very real. We then headed to Brush pen peak, then to the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion, before heading to the West Sea Area. In the area we came across several famous ancient pine trees. One was named Black Tiger Pine and the other was Umbrella Pine. We then went to one of the hotels located on top of the mountain for lunch. We had a buffet lunch at the Shilin Hotel and it was wonderful! Every item on the menu has to be hiked up the mountain, making it taste that much better. We had a beautiful view of Lion Peak while eating our lunch. While climbing we passed many porters. These porters are the mainstay of the mountain. They haul everything needed up the mountain. I saw them carrying rice, bottled water, and meat.
I asked one man how much he hauls on each trip and he said he carries at least 75 kilos each time. I had enough trouble climbing around the mountain with just my backpack. Very impressive! After lunch we climbed up part of Lion Peak before going to Xihai Grand Canyon which April, my guide said was her favorite area. Sadly, as we got closer, the clouds came in and we couldn't see more than a meter in front of us. We sat down in a pavilion to rest for a while. We couldn't see a thing. We chatted for quite a while about the area and all of the sudden a mountain appeared in the clouds. I was excited and started taking a bunch of photos of it. It appeared to be floating in the clouds. April was looking at the mountain very confused. She said that the mountain we were looking at wasn't there.
I could see the rocks, trees, plants very clearly and said she must have gotten turned around in the cloud bank. She said no, that the mountain we were looking at was actually located several kilometers behind us and definitely not in front of us. I said that was impossible. I was looking at it. As soon as I said that a gust of wind came by and the clouds and the mountain we were looking at blew away and in front of me was an amazing view. The mountain just vanished and was replaced by another. What we were looking at must have been a mirage, but nothing like I have ever seen. It definitely was not the same mountain we were then looking at. It was unbelievable! April said she had been working on the mountain for years and had never seen anything like it.
We took photos as quickly as we could because we were afraid the clouds would come back in and the view would be gone. The clouds came back and visibility fell to about two meters again. What an amazing experience though. We then went to our hotel which was the Huangshan Xihai Hotel. We had dinner in the hotel. We hoped to be able to watch the sunset, but it couldn't be seen because of the clouds, so we chatted for a while before heading to bed. April said she really loves her job and is frequently surprised by the mountain. She is very passionate about it. She also loves taking photos of mushrooms, flowers, insects, and animals she finds on the mountain.
I suggested she make a book about it. I'm sure if it was written in English visitors would love to get a copy. One time while we were hiking I turned around and saw her pointing her camera straight at the wall. I couldn't figure out what she was doing. She had found a single drop of water that had gotten stuck in a spider web and was trying to get a photo of it. It was in a crevice in the mountain. I could barely see it. She has a great eye. Day5: September 13, 2008
In the morning we got up at 4:30 to watch the sunrise, but it was hidden by the clouds. I met some of April's coworkers and their guests and we chatted for quite a while about the mountain, their jobs, and the guests experience on their tours of the area. I learned a lot about the guide's jobs.
They really work hard, but they say that it is so worth it because of not only the views that they are rewarded with, but the expressions on their guest's faces when they turn each corner and are presented with a totally new view. We then all headed back to the hotel where we had breakfast together. After breakfast we all headed off in our own directions. April and I headed to the front side of the mountain. We first headed to Flying Rock. It was a 3 kilometer climb. We were tired and were going much slower than the day before. When we reached Flying Rock we realized that it was the mountain that we had seen the day before on the other side of the mountain.
It was the mirage we had seen. The clouds had largely been burned away when we arrived and the visibility was much better. I took a number of photos there. One of the things that make Huangshan so interesting is the different forms and shapes that the rocks on different parts of the mountain have. The Xihai Grand Canyon's rocks and mountains are very jagged and sharp, and the Flying Rock area is much more rounded. The Flying Rock is a huge rock is a giant boulder that looks like it is ready to fall over. According to legend, a goddess responsible for the creation of man was always making mistakes that angered the other gods.
They decided to cause floods to kill off the humans and the goddess dropped rocks from heaven to stop the flooding and save the humans she created. Flying Rock is one of the rocks she dropped to save humanity. After leaving Flying Rock, we headed to Brightness Apex. It is one of the highest peaks on the mountain. I could see Turtle Peak from it. Turtle Peak looks exactly like a turtle resting on the top of the mountain. Its shape is so perfect that it looks manmade. We then hiked over to Turtle Peak. I climbed all over the peak. We then took a rest for a while and just enjoyed the view. We then climbed down the back of Turtle Peak.
The stairways down the back are very narrow and steep, but the views from them are incredible! We then headed towards the Guest Welcoming Pine. It is the most famous tree in China. It can be found on the back of the Chinese 5rmb note. The tree has its own 24 hour caretakers who guard and take care of it. The tree is also under 24 hour video surveillance. On the way to visit the tree, we passed Lotus Peak. I was very surprised to learn that Lotus Peak had been closed to visitors for five years. Chinese officials closed the peak to allow nature to take control. They are afraid that too many visitors climbing around the peak will damage the plants and trees, so they are giving the area a break for five years.
I think it is a great plan. They will eventually do it to all of the peaks. April said they will close another peak once they reopen Lotus Peak. There was originally a Buddhist Temple in the area where the Guest Welcoming Pine is located. Long the area is a large rock formation known as The Jade Screen. This part of the mountain is packed with Chinese tourists trying to view the pine tree. The tree is very beautiful, but I think all of the ancient pines on the mountain are of equal beauty. I really was awed by them. They are ancient and twisted. An interesting aspect of all of the pines is that they each have branches only on one half.
The side of each pine that faces the mountain has no branches, which makes them strangely beautiful. We then headed to the cable car to go down the mountain. I was sorry to leave Huangshan Mountain and pledged to my guide that I would be back with my family and when I did, I would spend many more days to truly take my time on this amazing mountain. I would really like to visit in the winter when the mountain is covered in a blanket of snow. Normally when I travel, I like to visit historic sites and usually do not head to places of natural splendor. I think I am going to have to rethink my game plan next time. I was so bowled over by this mountain, that I really want to explore China's other natural sites. We then took the bus from the cable car to the base of the mountain where my driver was waiting with the car.
I loved the vehicles so far on my trip. They are all very comfortable vans and each has its own rear air conditioning controls so I can control my own temperature. April took us to lunch at a local restaurant. I enjoyed the restaurant very much. It was nicely designed and had a very cultural feel to it. The food was pure Chinese and fantastic. We sat at a black marble stone table. The Huangshan area is known for its pure black marble, which makes very impressive carvings, and furniture. After lunch we then went to the Hu Kaiwen Ink Stick Factory. It is the oldest ink stick factory in China. It was opened during Emperor Qianlong's reign.
The factory is a mix of ancient and modern buildings. Quality Chinese ink sticks have a very beautiful smell. Because animal glue is one of the main ingredients used in making good ink, it can cause the ink to rot. To counter this they add secret ingredients to not only keep the ink from rotting, but also to keep its color for centuries. These secret ingredients add a wonderful smell to the ink. Cheaper inks do not have a smell. The factory area smelled fantastic! I loved it! The process of manufacturing has changed very little since ancient times. Originally pine was burned under bowls and the soot collected in the bowls was scraped off and used as the ink's main ingredient. This process was used until the 1970's Pine wood is still used, but it is burned in machines instead of under bowls.
Oil is now also burned to create the soot. The ink made from pine is not as dark as the ink made from oil and is used for painting while the oil made ink is used for calligraphy. The soot is added to many secret ingredients and the ingredients are mixed together. The mixture is still not perfectly mixed and there are still many powder grains in the ink paste. The paste is then pounded on a block of wood with a solid metal hammer and kneaded this way until it is perfectly mixed. The paste is then put into wooden molds made of nanmu wood. Nanmu wood is very old and resistant to the oils that are in the ink paste. Since nanmu wood is now very rare in China, the factory has it imported from Japan.
The molds are compressed and the ink stick is taken out of it. If the ink stick is not perfect, it is thrown out. It is said that the ink has many medicinal qualities, and China's oldest medicine company buys the ink that doesn't make the cut to use in its medicines. Once the ink comes out of the mold it is then put in a room where it is dried for up to a year. When the ink is fully dried, its designs are painted. I watched a girl painting the beautiful accents on the ink sticks. In another room I saw a woman carving the molds used to make ink. Her skill was unbelievable. After the ink is painted, it is boxed, and sold. After seeing the ink manufacturing process, we headed to the factory's shop.
I was really impressed with the large variety of inks that they made. I bought a pine and an oil base sticks of ink. I can't wait to try it while painting the trees I saw on Huangshan. After visiting the factory, I was taken back to the Huangshan International Hotel before heading to Tunxi's Tea Market. My suitcase was waiting for me when I arrived. I loved the Tunxi Tea Market. The tea market consisted of street after street of tea shops. I was very excited to visit the tea market. I love tea, and had a blast walking through the market trying different types of green teas. One woman we found was so much fun and kept brewing tea for us that I couldn't help buying a lot of tea.
Huangshan is famous for its Huangshan Maofeng Tea, so of course I had to have some of that. I can buy it in Guilin, but it is more fun to buy it at its source. After visiting the tea market we went to Tunxi's Ancient Street for dinner and shopping. The restaurant we went to for dinner was named Mei Shi Ren Jia. It was absolutely beautiful and the food was fantastic! It was a xiaochi "small eats" restaurant. You get a piece of paper and you walk around looking at the food available. When you see something you like you write it down. When you have made all of your choices you give it to the waitress and the food starts coming to your table. Huangshan food tends to be a little sweet. Their local chili sauce is fantastic and fits the food's taste extremely well. The restaurant is filled with Chinese touches. There is a fountain on the lower floor and the staircases are made of marble and the banisters are solid marble with large lions on the ends. The lights are traditional Chinese palace lanterns and the furnishings are all traditional Chinese. When we finished we decided to stroll down the Tunxi Ancient Street. The street was an ancient commercial district in Huangshan. A large majority of the buildings along the street are originally from the Qing Dynasty, and the remainders are faithful reproductions of the original ones. The street was wonderful, and terrible. It was wonderful because of the beautiful things it had to offer, and terrible because I couldn't afford too much. Not that the prices were high, it was just that I still have a lot of destinations to go to on my trip. Huangshan is very famous for what is called "The Four Treasures of the Study". They are ink, paper, ink stone, and paint brushes. Some of the best produced in all of China can be found here. Since I am an artist, I wanted them all. The ink stones are spectacular. The stone they are made from is extremely beautiful and because of its beauty, the ink stones are often very simple in design to not take away from the beauty of the stones. After shopping I went back to the hotel to write this. Tomorrow I am going to visit two beautiful ancient villages. I am extremely psyched to see them.
When I arrived in the airport my guide April was already waiting for me and she took me to the car and I was driven to the Huangshan International Hotel. I checked into the hotel after 9:00pm and so the surrounding shops were all closed, so I explored the hotel for a while before sitting down to write this.