Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

I’m not sure if anyone is still following this since our family returned from China (is anyone out there?)  But since Dave continues to travel to China, there are always new things to share.

On my most recent trip in late September, I had planned to visit a potential customer in Taiwan, including a weekend day.  That trip was cancelled but I may write a post in the future.  I have been to Taiwan a few times but always short trips of one or two nights.  Taiwan is a unique part of China with a shared history, but is very different from the mainland and I’d like to share some of it.

With my Taiwan visit cancelled, and everyone off work for China’s mid-Autumn Festival and National Days (which recognizes the founding of the People’s Republic of China), I had 2 days to fill at the end of my trip.  

When I knew that we would live in China, I made a list of places to visit.  We checked off every destination on our family list but I was left with 2 more- down to 1 after my trip to Yellow Mountain, or Mount Huangshan.  Mt. Huangshan, southwest of Shanghai in Anhui Province, is China’s most famous natural site and is a frequent subject of artwork, often shrouded in mist and clouds.  It is the first place that my colleagues recommended we visit, not the Great Wall or other more famous places (to Westerners), and somewhere all of them had been themselves.

With the holidays starting, all trains were booked, leaving me with one choice- take a bus or not go.  Although buses are far and away my least favorite form of transportation- slow and no facilities being my biggest complaints- I’m always up to trying something once.  But give me a train any day.  I headed off for what I expected to be a 6-7 hour bus ride from Shanghai.  But free tolls for the holidays on the Chinese freeways caused some of the worst traffic I have ever seen.  The tolls are prohibitive (taking into account income differences, a 500 mile drive costs the typical family the equivalent of $300 just in tolls). 

The bus ride lasted over 10 hours, simply due to constant stop and go traffic.  I was the only Westerner on the bus, and sat next to a young guy traveling with who appeared to be his wife and mother-in-law.  I never assume that Chinese speak any English and we barely spoke on the trip (and he obviously did not know whether I spoke English, French, German, or some other language).

Due to the late arrival, I skipped other sightseeing I had planned for the afternoon.  I arranged a taxi and left my hotel before 5am the next morning.  Arriving at Mt. Huangshan around 6, I quickly realized that I should have started at least an hour earlier.  It was mobbed and I had difficulty finding where to get a ticket among crowds like you would see at a concert or sporting event.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my arm, it was the same guy I had sat next to on the bus from Shanghai!    He his family all laughed at the coincidence, and I discovered speak decent English.  They immediately helped me find where to get a ticket, then waved me over to join them in line.

Sam and family

On a hair-raising shuttle bus ride (flying around hairpin curves) up to the cable car that would take us partway up the mountain, we chatted, and I learned his “English name” is Sam.  I could not remember or repeat his actual Chinese name.  At the cable car, we parted ways as I got my entrance ticket.  Then I got to wait in line for 2 hours to get on.  How quickly I forget that waiting in line is simply part of life in China, especially at tourist sites, and especially on holidays.

Riding the Yupin cable car up Mt. Huangshan

But the traffic and crowd delays were worth it. A beautiful, sunny autumn day enchanced the gorgeous scenery.  I climbed the highest peak in the park, Lotus Peak, where quite literally I was grabbing the steps in front of me to climb up.  If you are afraid of heights- and I most certainly am- this is not the place to be.  But I overcame my heart pounding terror and climbed to the top for an incredible view of the mountains.

Looking up at the stairs to Lotus Peak- the tallest peak on Mt. Huangshan

notice the narrow walkway on the side of the mountain

Although there were none of the clouds or mist that Mt. Huangshan is famous for, it was still an unbelievable visit.  The thousands of visitors certainly hampered things a bit, but people were extremely friendly as I tried to interpret maps and confusing- or missing- directional signs.  The pictures below simply do not do justice to this place.  The higher peaks make you feel like you are on top of the world, looking out at the surrounding mountains.  In mist and clouds, it must be surreal.

Thousands of people climbing the stairs and paths on Mt. Huangshan; I hiked to the meteorological observatory in the background

The top of Mt. Huangshan felt like the top of the world (click on the photo for a better view of the panoramic)

As if the earlier coincidence was not enough, after a couple hours of hiking, I came up behind a young couple that I recognized as Sam and his family.  “We meet again” I said, and they turned around and of course burst out smiling and laughing.  We hiked together for a while and I think it was one of the better personal connections that I have made in China!

Lotus Peak- look closely to see people standing on top

one of many interesting rock formations

a lonely pine tree on top of a rock formation

Even with the awesome scenery, making personal connections was the theme of this trip. Partway through the day, I saw a young western couple studying a map. We briefly traded thoughts, I took their picture, and again we headed off our separate ways. A half hour later, I found myself hiking behind them. Déjà vu! We ended up spending the next hour or so going down Mount Huangshan together and even shared a taxi back to the city of Tunxi, where they were staying and I had to catch my bus back to Shanghai. Jeff and Laura are both Americans who teach 6th grade at one of the international schools in Shanghai, and were enjoyable to share a small bit of the visit to Mount Huangshan. They had stayed in a hotel on top of the mountain- there are several- which provide the opportunity to see the sunset and sunrise- and that is certainly a reason to return.

back breaking loads carried by porters- the only way to get supplies up the mountain

more peaks and one of the hotels on top of the mountain

Although I only spent about 6 hours hiking on Mount Huangshan, it definitely goes down with the likes of Yellowstone, Mount Blanc and the Alps, and Chimney Rock Park on my list of most exhilarating mountains visited.

Old Street in Tunxi- which had a European feel with shops and outdoor cafes

If you’re wondering about the last entry on my China “must see” places, it is Tibet. But Tibet’s remote western location would require a week to visit and a significantly larger budget, so time will tell if I ever make it there. And if go to Tibet, Nepal and the Himalayas are practically in the neighborhood, so how could I possibly skip the world’s tallest mountain range, a bucket list item if there ever was one. . .

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