Published: October 20th 2008October 15th 2008
Discovering the past
Intriguing alleyways in old Tunxi
Took the train from Xi'an to Hefei, this was to be our first experience of sharing a soft sleeper (four bunks), we have not built up the courage to take the hard sleeper as yet, not sure about sharing with the masses and their livestock. Pleased to report our first soft sleeper experience was a good one, we shared with a lady and her daughter about 5 years old, the mother spoke limited English; she must have thought we looked pretty trustworthy types as about five minutes into the journey she fell asleep and left us on baby sitting duties for about 2 hours; in which time we became experts in drawing and making animal noises, this became more difficult when we started to draw spiders. The little girl must have thought we were ok because she treated us to a friendship dance and we were taught how to count to ten in Chinese by the youngest teacher in the world.
Arrived in Hefei feeling like aliens from another planet, or that was what the locals must have thought as they were staring and pointing at us. We were unsure if we were going to stay in Hefei or go
this time from Toad well which the locals still use in Doushan Jie
straight onto Tunxi, the guidebook described Hefei as "a pleasant and friendly city", this did not seem to ring true as a women attacked a man like a screaming banshee and a crowd gathered watching the fracas, the police turned up in their toy town buggy and the masses scattered like giggling school children. Tunxi here we come!
After entering the ticket hall we joined one of 20 massive queues, each one looking like they sold tickets for particular destinations, our only fear being that we would eventually get to queue 19 before finding out we were in the right one. We stood in line which we chose by the technical method of eeny meeny miny moe and does the face behind the booth look sympathetic to two tourists. The staring, pointing and giggling continued and it felt that our miming performance at the booth was being laid on for the masses, luckily stage fright did not kick in and we hit the jackpot as we were issued with two tickets to Tunxi, the train leaving in three hours. Tooting
Arrived in Tunxi and were bombarded by people offering taxi's, tuk tuks, restaurants and "cheap cheap" hotel rooms,
Typical Huizhou wood carving
we dodged our way over the road and checked into a hotel room 16 floors up, why then could we hear a horrendous amount of vehicle horning? Expecting to see a huge traffic jam but alas there was no jam in fact there was hardly any traffic; then why was everyone horning? Research has been completed and we can report our findings as follows:
• Someone is crossing the road; that may not seem unreasonable but usually the person is 2km's away
• Riding a bike/motorbike in the correct lane keeping to the side; you figure
• Oncoming traffic in the wrong lane
• The bigger the vehicle the more tooting, no reason needed
• Making up for lost time; one of our bus driver's took a call and then preceded to toot like he had never tooted before once he had hung up
• While overtaking; more tooting is required if you are overtaking an already overtaking vehicle making a single lane three vehicles wide
• Or if none of the above, just for the hell of it, after all it comes free with the car
The good thing is obviously not the noise but the fact that all this tooting is done in
Last house standing
one of the remaining Huizhou style houses in Tunxi, built in the Ming Dynasty
good nature and not aggressively.
The province of Anhui doesn't have the Great Wall, warriors made of terracotta or
a royal past with its grand palaces, summer or otherwise, but what it lacks in grand stature it makes up for in abundance with its warm friendly people and natural beauty. The historic villages have a charm and beauty to them, even with all the art students and tourists you are still able to find moments of tranquility in the picturesque lanes that still function as working villages. One of the most outstanding memories of Anhui was the visit to Qiyun Shan, a mountain venerated by Taoists where we experienced lush scenery, people on pilgrimages and a working village perched on the side of a mountain. This was only topped by Huang Shan a mountain that the guide describes as one of China's top 10 sights, could it live up to the hype? Huang Shan & the talented Mr Cheng
The bus arrived at the town at the base of Huang Shan where a man appeared claiming to be the famous Mr Cheng, as everyone else on the bus was local this announcement could only have been for
our benefit, before we knew it the bus had emptied and we were being chauffeur driven to Mr Cheng's restaurant. At this point Mr Cheng's fame should be explained, he is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook as an English speaking restaurant owner with an impressive accent (a cross between Cliff Richard impersonating an Australian, not what the guidebook said but our own conclusion) who is a useful source of information. He found out our requirements which were to stay overnight at the top of the mountain in a dorm room to fit in with the budget. Mr Cheng had other ideas and offered us a twin room at a "knock down price" (the cost of 3/4 nights at our Tunxi hotel), not that he wanted to put us off the dorm idea but apparently they were single sex rooms so we would not be together, being the understanding man he is and the dilemma we were in he shoved a menu under our noses and suggest we made a decision over lunch; Mr Cheng and shrewd businessman go together as well as noodles in soup, in case you have not eaten this combination it goes particularly well. After much
Decorative roof tiles
Ming dynasty merchant house
deliberating and cogitating we decided on the hotel, Mr Cheng or Simon as we now knew him seemed pleased with our choose at "rock bottom price" we gave him the money and the deal was done, (he was self taught English and must have watched lots of episodes of Neighbours and the film Summer Holiday as some other classics included "do you want to know the damage" regarding payment and "American Champagne (Coke)"). Mr Cheng arranged a taxi and escorted us to our drop off, where we were sent on our way. It was 1pm and stiflingly hot, we donned sun cream, sun hats and overnight rucksack and started our ascent, seeing the challenge of the mountain ahead of us looked a bit daunting.
Sun hats off to Mr Cheng who is the knowledge, he told us the first part of the walk would be quiet and interesting and he was not wrong, we saw a handful of people and unexpectedly bumped into some monkey's that were huge. When the lead male shook his tree in an aggressive way I knew it was time to back away, Rob stood his ground for the sake of prosperity and capturing the
You'll never guess...
... who I had in the back of my cab the other day!
moment on camera although Rob may have been the problem, with the ever increasing hair and beard growth I think the male thought Rob was trying to muscle in on his harem. We followed the ancient steps through bamboo forests, red/orange autumnal leaves and all sorts of wildlife. We had made it half way in 2.5 hours the legs were experiencing some burning and wobbly feelings which were not conducive with climbing for another 2.5hours, the time had come to make the decision, do we continue to walk to the top or do we take the cable car. Two factors affected this decision 1) would we feel like we had cheated ourselves if we didn't walk 2) the decision to go for the hotel meant the financial means to get up had gone - walking it was!
As we started our final ascent to the top the old legs were already feeling like jelly but our spirits lifted us and we continued on our way, at first it seemed pretty straight forward a few steps and then a flat bit, a few more steps and then a flat bit, then it all changed, steep steps followed by more steep
steps followed by more steep steps, when you looked up all you could see was a steep flight of stairs going into infinity! It was getting late in the day which was a bonus as fewer people were around, the only guys were those carrying down the rubbish at the end of the day in huge bags attached either side of a piece of bamboo; if people ever moan about hard graft then let us tell you this is the true meaning.
We finally made the top arriving in the dark after a total of 5.5 hours feeling absolutely shattered but with a huge sense of achievement and having witnessed some of the most amazing scenery topped off by an incredible sunset, we felt more than lucky! The only thing left to do was navigate our way to the hotel and find out if Mr Cheng had come up trumps, it was a long walk back down the mountain if not. The voucher was handed to the reception staff who looked at us in a knowing if slightly disapproving way, as someone might if they had just kissed their cousin in front of the whole family, we were quickly
The old alleys of Yuliang
Life hasn't changed much in this port village
ushered away with a room key of the metal variety, everyone else had flashy swipe cards, this was beginning to feel a little dodgy. We were led through a door with no room numbers displayed, up a narrow spiral staircase passing a storage area in the corridor that housed old TV's and chairs, it looked like we may be heading for the broom cupboard! To our relief the room had two beds and an en suite with a piping hot shower, this was worth the cost of the hotel room on its own. We pretty much fell into bed with exhaustion but not after Rob had accidentally deleted all the photos from our ascent!!!! NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo! You will just have to believe us that the monkey's were huge.
The premium rate rooms on top of the mountain are for all those wanting to experience a Huang Shan sunrise described as "a highlight for the lucky few seeing the sunrise and the luminous spectacle of a sea of clouds". We were not holding out much hope as our days in China have been spent in hazy smog and the driver of our bus who tried to sell us a room (probably
Master craftsman at work
Fisherman fixing his net
his Uncle's) in the village below stated that you only see a sunset less than 60 days in a year; oh well we could see it go from dark grey to light grey. The alarm went off at 5am and we headed out looking the height of fashion in our hotel provided padded jackets - tasteful! We gathered at one of the viewing points with several other people and picked our spot, we had arrived in the nick of time, as soon the masses appeared, we stood fast and kept our space.
It is at this point that we could gush on about being the luckiest people in the world when we realised in the darkness that the sky was clear and as it got lighter we could see the "sea of clouds" amongst the huge valleys of granite and enormous rock formations, that Kirstin had tears in her eyes as she felt so lucky to be experiencing something so special; if there is a Buddha out there he has done an exceptional job with this place! And then literally two seconds after the sun appeared the masses disappeared so we had the peaks to ourselves with several others;
so anyway we won't gush on but let the photos do the talking.
After eventually dragging ourselves away for breakfast we headed off for our planned route down the mountain; it is at this point the reality of going from having the peaks to ourselves to sharing it with all those ascending by cable car became a reality, we cut our losses and headed down by cable car to the half way point and continued down the path we had used the day before. The disadvantage of descending on the non tourist path became apparent at the bottom, there were no taxis and we were pushed for time to get the last bus back to Tunxi. After a quick call to Mr Cheng we were sorted, quite pleased with ourselves we waited for our cab but Mr Cheng turned up on his motorbike; he offered to ferry us one at a time into town, neither of us thought this was the best idea, see Tooting
above for most the reasons! As luck should have it a bus came along, we said our farewells as we headed off to the bus station but Mr Cheng had other ideas, as the
River boat view
Yuliang - ye olde fishing port
bus pulled up outside his restaurant we were told to get off or rather shown the door. Mr Cheng was looking out for our best interests and insisted we could not leave for the long journey on an empty stomach, concern was expressed at the limited time we had but we were told "the bus passes my door", with our concerns alleviated we tucked into one of Mr Cheng's house specialties, a banana pancake with cinnamon and peanut butter - delicious. No sooner had we put the last spoonful in our mouth a bus pulled up outside and out got the conductor to come and get us whilst keeping the bus full of locals waiting! This time it really was farewell Mr Cheng, as he waved us off for the last time we could not help thinking he might be there to greet us at the other end with more "rock bottom deals".
The trip to Huang Shan had been truly monumentous!
From the truly monumentous to the not so!
The English drink tea with milk and are pompous, the Chinese drink tea without and spit, that's the way it is!!
We have seen different degrees of
spitting from the subtle to the bring it up from your boots. Its an art like Kung Fu the Chinese have mastered! You have the Sleeping Tiger style where the master is sleeping only to wake, spit then back to sleep, you have the Roaring Dragon Fist which seems to save up over a period of time only to unleash all at once and how can you forget the Drunken Monkey Pointing to the Moon which should only be attempted by true spittle Masters and believe us we have seen and heard a few, this is when you try and suck your own brains out before displaying for all. Of all the art forms we have seen Phlegm Fu is one that will not be missed!
Last China stop takes Kiro to the bright lights of the BIG city that's Shanghai. DISCLAIMER
No colours have been modified, changed or added in these pictures, our jackets were really that colour!
There are more photos below