Graze with the cattle or dine with the pandas?

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May 5th 2014
Published: May 5th 2014
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“Why are you going there? What will you do?” Confused faces with a hint of actual concern seemed to be surrounding me as I told my coworkers I was going to Anji. “Well, there's the mountains, and the bamboo forest, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was filmed there, ya know!” I responded confidently only to get more puzzled looks...

I've come to realize that the majority of Shanghainese locals I meet tend to travel for the status, and are far more interested in following the herds of people to whichever destination is most "popular." I use that term loosely because I've learned that what's most popular isn't necessarily what's the most beautiful or most interesting.

Three hours by bus from downtown Shanghai. Three. That's it! You could do this place in a single day, that is if you got up early enough and actually wanted to leave so soon. God knows I hate getting up before 9, so I decided to sleep in and go for a couple days instead…

The bus spits us out in a little dusty town bus station with a dozen or so food vendors leading the way to a queue of taxis. Another thirty minutes by taxi and here we are, miraculously displaced from all that is urban. The countryside. The air pollution from the city nonexistent as we enter the valley. The bamboo covered mountains encasing us in this little green oasis.

I knew places like this existed in China but I was surprised how close this one was to the big city, and how few people are here. Seriously empty. Stunning scenery though; Our hotel has actual real tea terraces stacked up the mountain behind it, and epic views of the bamboo forests from all the room windows. A couple people are tending to the tea plants, another woman is stacking bundles of bamboo to dry in elegant rows creating an alluring criss-crossing pattern. Various dog breeds have established their own little community and roam about town. Bamboo rustling. Some small chatter from a terrace. A trickling creek. Tranquility at last! But, where are the tourists?

I went to Qingdao two years ago which comes highly recommended by Chinese locals, and I get the appeal, really I do. I mean, it's a seaside city with beaches and supposedly, "the best seafood in China." Unfortunately my trip there was a bit lackluster. It was busy and had a lot of stereotypical monuments and tourist spots, but, overall it was just another city in China with a lot of tourists and nothing of real depth or beauty to experience. That's my opinion of course so if you went to Qingdao perhaps and you LOVED it and you want to take your mother next year, that's great for you! To each, their own!

Anji is just marvelous though. I'm a little bias because I'm a nature freak. We hike into the mountains and find our way into a small canyon with waterfalls spilling into mini lagoons; perfect for swimming. Transparent pools. Sculpted rock from the rushing water. Not a soul in sight. If you've been to China you know how infrequent you find yourself alone in this HIGHLY over-populated country. The seclusion baffles me and delights me all at the same time. Splash! I jump in a turquoise pool. “Ahhhh!” I scream because it's flippin' freezing! This giant rock that drops right into a pool had become smooth over time from the falls and created a natural water slide, so naturally we take turns climbing up and squealing all the way down until plunging into the icy bath below. Who needs amusement parks, right? The best part is we didn't pay any entrance fees or follow any signs. We created our own adventure by relying on wandering and spontaneity.

Incredibly resourceful, these people of Anji. Bamboo it abundant and they make sure to use it for just about anything they can. Well, of course they export it, but they also build furniture, decks, houses, and tools (among other things) with it. They EAT it. Hey, if the pandas live off this stuff why can't we? I'm proud to say I'm a new-found lover of the stuff.

The second day picks up a little bit which was expected because it was Chinese Labor Day. Surprisingly still not terribly busy though, and we've yet to see another Westerner. I'm certainly not complaining. It's so nice to go somewhere you feel hasn't been "discovered" yet. So often people will search the internet using phrases like "off the beaten path" or "hidden gems." Sometimes we need to get away from the herds. This trip did just that.

I had half a mind to not write about Anji (or to at least not post anything online about it) because I wanted to keep it as much of a secret as possible. But where's the camaraderie in that? There are lots of places near Shanghai worth a day trip: Suzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou; to name a few. These places are fantastic but may leave you feeling like another bessie mooing in the herd as you're pushed through the touristy rounds. I say take a break from the masses and hop the three-hour bus to Anji and do the leisure thing for a day. Do as the pandas do:

Eat some bamboo.

Enjoy the space.

Splash around in a secluded waterfall.

Repeat as needed.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


6th May 2014

This is really helpful for all tourists like me who are looking for places to visit. This article is so informative and I think it contains all questions I have in my mind. By the way you describe this place it sounds so interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the place!
6th May 2014

Thanks a ton.
Very nice comment. Glad you found it helpful.
6th May 2014

how infrequent you find yourself alone in this HIGHLY populated country
Anji...where they filmed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon...thought that was filmed in Anhui...maybe both! Great to hear Anji is a place where you can be alone in China. Amazes me how many places this can happen in China...not necessarily for that long I guess but amazes me anyway. Hope you find many more.
6th May 2014

I've seen some of your entries. You've been to so many places in China! Well done. Yeah, you're right indeed, CTHD had various filming locations including Anhui province and Anji's bamboo forest. Parts of it were also filmed in Beijing and Hubei province.
7th May 2014

Puzzled looks become familiar
As always your photography jumps off the page to capture us and take us with you around the globe. Plenty of us nature freaks out there with you. Thanks for sharing Anji with us.
7th May 2014

So kind.
Thanks for the kind words, my friend. I've been approaching my photography a bit different lately and trying to find interesting angles and such, so this comment is really encouraging. Thanks!
10th January 2015

OK, now that is adorable.
10th January 2015

Loved re-reading this blog again. This is a great photo.
18th March 2015

Thanks so much! It's such a lovely place. I was just thinking the other day how much I'd love to go back! Cheers!
6th April 2015

You're very kind, thank you.

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