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Huangshan: In the High Land of Poets
 

When you live in Shanghai you tend to forget there is a world outside the city, where you can look and see just greenery in the distance, no taxis or scooters honking enthusiastically and no skyscrapers racing each other into the clouds. Yellow Mountain or Huangshan is one such place.

Just a short one-hour flight (and an additional hour car journey) from Shanghai is Yellow Mountain national reserve and what is thought to be one of the most beautiful and breathtaking parts of China.

Even if the name is not instantly familiar, most people will have seen the iconic images of umbrella trees and sheer rock faces portrayed in Chinese paintings, for which the Yellow Mountain's spirit is the muse.

In return, painters and poets bestowed names on the dramatic peaks such as Nine Dragons, Taoist Priest and Fairy Capital.

However, with over a 1,200-year history as a tourist attraction, the majority of what were once artists and travelers with pen and paper, have now been replaced by tourists besieging the mountains with cameras.

Located in east China's Anhui Province, the group of mountains has 72 peaks, many of them unexplored and not reachable by regular travelers.

Regardless, what is accessible will etch an unforgettable and dramatic image in your memory.

In clear weather, the rugged mountains jut out of fluffy white clouds that settle as a halo around the peaks. Trees and shrubs grow from impossible crevices and little streams and brooks carve their paths through the rocky surface.

Even on a misty day (which is the one you are more likely to witness) when vapor obscures the views, the eerie smoke that seems to swirl around the trees and mountains adds an enchanting air of mystery and magic.

The best time to visit the mountain range is early in the morning, and many people camp out among the peaks to be sure to witness the sunrise. Other luckier travelers will have secured one of the sought-after rooms in one of the hotels at the top of the range.

For those who are not such early risers and who are not staying at the top of the mountains, cable cars are available in certain areas. Just be warned if you go around mid-day you will be sure to have quite a wait.

titleernatively, there is always the option for the more energetic tourists to climb the steps.

Most of the cable car ports have an additional pathway for those who choose to walk. However, through a rough calculation there are 30,000 almost vertical steps to the top, an endeavor in itself even on the way down.

While you huff and puff your way along the five-kilometer trek nimble porters trot up and down the mountain carrying their loads on bamboo sticks balanced over their shoulders with practiced ease.

Their mountain goat agility and energy will make you feel guilty for a moment before you look either up or down (whichever way you may be going) and see a seemingly never-ending pathway of even more steps.

If it all gets too much, there are even porters ready to crate tiring tourists the rest of the way, however, with the steep incline this would be the far more petrifying option.

Once at the top, you can idle your time away along the craggy paths, take in the breathtaking scenery and even have a few romantic moments.

People come here to "tie the knot" except that the Chinese use a padlock instead.

Small booths are set up intermittently where people can buy their lock and have their name and the name of their love engraved forever within the metal. Then they can choose the prettiest view from where they will hang it.

It's said that if you want a divorce, you have to come back and remove your lock. However, that turns out to be nearly impossible because they get so many locks that the park employees remove thousands to make room for more people to add theirs.

Either way, a divorce is the last reason to bring people back to this magnificent area, even if you stayed weeks you would not be able to see all its beauty.

But with a brief trip to the Yellow Mountains at least, you will be able to share an understanding with those ancient artists who in their time were so inspired by the vision of Huangshan, perhaps in turn inspiring those who now visit.

(Shanghai Daily by Jenny Hammond August 10, 2007)

 
 
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