One of the things I’d hoped to do in China was climb one of the sacred peaks. Unfortunately, the ones near anyplace we would be were in the north. And since it was already snowing and in the 20’s in Beijing, we knew it would be freezing in the mountains – maybe even closed. But fortunately, there was Huang Shan, China’s most famous – and popular – mountain just southwest of Shanghai and on the same train line we were planning on taking to Guilin.
So we overnighted it to Tunxi, the small town near the mountain where the train stopped. The hostel was on the Old Street, a small cobblestone and car-free street. We checked in and spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out how the heater in the room worked. For some reason the hostel had all the doors and windows open so it was freezing. The heater was kinda pointless. It was mounted on the wall about four inches from the ceiling – so in our room we were warm down to our knees.
We went to a restaurant across the street recommended by the hostel staff. It was buffet with no English so we had to get some help from a hostess. The food was great but we ordered more food then we could both eat – which didn’t matter because the total bill was less then $4.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the neighborhood making an exciting trip to the grocery store for food to take up the mountain (since food up there is really, really expensive). In the States, when a store is under construction, they usually close it. This store just put more things on sale and dumped it all in grocery carts. Half the shelving was strewn across the store, there where piles of food everywhere and everything was covered in dust. And there must have been 50 people working. Total chaos.
That night we just got food from the hostel bar, but since it was so cold in the bar we asked them to deliver it to our room where the top 3/5ths was kinda warm. Then we packed our daypacks to take with us to the mountain, planning on leaving our luggage in storage at the hostel.
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The next morning we caught the bus at 6:30am to the mountain and started hiking. There is a eastern hiking route (7.5k) and an western hiking route (15k) – or cable cars if desired. The western is not only twice a long, but also twice as hard. The LP book, as well as other people we talked with who had gone up the mountain, suggested doing the eastern up and the western down. This turned out to be a good thing because we hiked about another 8k once we got to the top that afternoon.
You don’t really hike as much as walk up steps. All the trails on the mountain are cement or stone steps. And the main routes are used by porters taking sundries (sorry, that word is all over the place in the LP) up and down the mountains with short bamboo sticks with the stuff hanging of the two ends.
Everything at the top has been carried up by these porters: ceramic tiles, air conditioners, chairs, tables, windows, everything. On the way down we saw porters carrying up paneling, 20-foot sections of pipe, an old school big tv, and all kinds of veggies. People we talked to saw them carrying up a bed and some desks! So when you walk into a lavish hotel at the top, and realize some poor guy lugged this up the mountain, you feel kinda gross. But when you are lying there watching tv with the heat on, you’re like, thanks porter guy. You’re alright in my book.
But once the guilt creeps back in, you begin to understand how China has grown so quickly: human labor is ridiculously cheap. It’s cheaper to have people lug a hotel up to the top bit by bit then use a helicopter – or even the cable cars! – to transport things. Plus this keeps people employed (and living off $.50 noodles a day) so I guess it’s a win-win situation. Except for the guy carrying stuff.
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The mountain has a valley at the top and peaks all around. It’s kinda like Yosemite: the valley has hotels, banks, crowds and even a basketball court. But the peaks were quiet and solitary with amazing views.
The first place we went was Beginning To Believe Peak where we stopped and ate lunch. At this point, the only thing I was beginning to believe was that we should have taken the cable car. After lunch, we hiked up all the peaks we could – some were closed for maintenance which we attributed to it being the off season – and some were closed because of high winds.
Once it got near sunset, we started heading to our hotel. Now, I must point out here that the map our hostel gave us was the worst map ever. And trying to save weight I left the LP book back in my luggage (altho, checking the LP when I got back showed its map wasn’t much better). Turns out we had to go over two more peaks to get to the hotel which ended up taking more then an hour, getting us to the hotel a little after dusk.
When we checked in, the receptionist showed us to our dorm rooms. But she first took Tina to a women-only dorm that was packed with Chinese girls that Tina couldn’t talk with. We explained that we had paid for beds in a dorm, but we wanted to be in the same dorm. So after some huffing about, they gave us our own room with no one in it yet that was jammed with bunk beds. There where three bunk beds with a foot-wide walkway between two of them – the third was pushed up right next to the second.
Also there was no heat and when I asked about that, I was told that dorm rooms don’t come with heat. I explained that it was the middle of the winter, we were on top of the mountain, sleeping in the bottom of the hotel. The only response to my plea was a firm “No”. But that’s ok – there was a tv in the room that got a channel with movies in English.
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We woke up the next morning and hiked back up Brightness Top to watch the sunrise. There weren’t that many people up there so it was nice and quite. Then the moment the sun showed its top, the crowed went wild. And once the entire globe was showing, everyone quickly turned and walked away.