China is one of the world’s earliest civilisations and her history long and complicated. Although I am Chinese I still find it mysterious and fascinating. In the past I have often associated China’s greatness with man-made structures such as the Great Wall, Terracotta Army, Forbidden City etc. Her natural wonders had been much neglected. As a child in Chongqing I have memories of climbing mountains every year to reach the ‘temple’ at the peak to burn incense for our family and ancestors. And faint recollections of swimming in the sea in Dalian one summer. Perhaps the constant crowd of masses clouded my viewpoint, I never quite connected vast nature with China as I did when thinking about Lake District in England or the Alps in southern Germany. How naïve I was.
As Henning and I work our way through the world’s third largest country, we start to experience first-hand how it is one of the most diverse nations, both geographically and demographically, in the world. The shanshui, mountain and water, landscapes we witnessed in China deserve a mention on its own.
Huangshan – literally ‘yellow mountains’ (December 2018)
Climbing Huangshan and what we saw there remains one of the highlights of our overlanding trip so far. In the southern region of Anhui province, to the east of China, lies this cluster of natural phenomena. My first and only encounter of Huangshan was during my master’s studies of Chinese Art history in London. For a year I gazed into mystic depictions of lonesome travellers working their way up an impossible narrow path, that weaves its way through expressive vegetations and striking jagged peaks to finally reach a solitary hut at the top. Whether it was in the form of ink on paper, porcelain or lacquer I gawked at them with awe.
When we eventually started climbing Huangshan I could not help gawking also. As we ascended in the beginning of December we were greeted by a Huangshan under a blanket of snow. Burdened by their heavy frosty coats, every needle on a pine tree laboured to lift its head. At the top we were greeted by a breath-taking view of an ocean of mist extending endlessly into the horizon, not knowing where the sky starts or the mountain peaks end. It is no wonder the nature here has inspired poets and painters for centuries. I myself felt the urge to utter a few lines of poetry or make a few brushstrokes on a piece of paper but frustratingly words fell short and the ink dried up. Alas it is not a career for me.
Zhangjiajie (January 2019)
Just to get us psyched for Zhangjiajie we watched James Cameron’s Avatar again. Although the karst limestone formations are not hovering in mid-air like Floating Mountains of Pandora, it is nevertheless a majestic site to behold. However, this is an incredibly large area to cover, as anyone who has been would know, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is only one of four national parks in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, therefore you will need at least three to four days to cover just the main area within each site.
The combination of the lush greenery and the bareness of the rock formation makes for a magical arrangement. The allure of the tall, shapely rocks erected from a vast bed of jungle-liveliness, makes you envy those monkeys leaping from one branch to another and manoeuvre up and down with ease. How I wish to leap off the edge, to explore the jungle beneath or spring from one rock to another like Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, then go and eat the Peach of Immortality in Heaven. It had always sounded so delicious in my memory when I read the legendary tales of Xiyouji, Journey to the West.
Yangshuo (February 2019)
Printed on every 20RMB bank note, the beauty of the city of Yangshuo, in the south-western province of Guangxi, is no hidden secret. Just as the saying goes guilinshanshui jiatianxia, meaning the mountain and water scenery of Guilin has been called the finest under heaven, it is a must visit.
When we entered Yangshuo, it was already nightfall, but we knew we had arrived when we started to be surrounded by masses of shadowy giants unmoving in the dark. Witnessing the famous gumdrop mountains that look like a row of bad dental growth, and with the Li River flowing gently between them, is like being part of a painting. Instead of renting a bamboo-boat cruise, like romantic lovers would do, we opted for the more active option. Two adults on a tandem bike racing along the river might add a rather modern and comical touch to this traditional painting but oh what fun it is!
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