It was the best of China; it was the worst of China

After Hongcun we went to Tangkou, the small town just outside of Huangshan, a Chinese national park. The travel people we worked with (a professor Melissa taught last semester) had booked our hotel and everything should have been fine. However, when we arrived, the hotel told us they were not licensed to accommodate foreigners.

This started the avalanche that just about broke the camel herd’s backs, us being the camels. Eventually, after a couple of hours, several calls to the professor and his people, and discussions with other hotels, we were told it would work out and we took our stuff to the rooms.

As we went out to find food, we got a call from the hotel, telling us to come back, get our stuff and go somewhere else. I guess the police told them directly that they couldn’t take us in. Not only was this annoying and a rather stupid policy, but it meant more money than budgeted for beds that night. We ended up going to the other end of town to a pretty nice hotel with the most comfy bed I’ve slept on in China, which ended up being a blessing and the calm before the storm.

We figured that the next day would make up for any inconveniences with the hotels. We woke up early, but not as early as I had encouraged, to start out for the mountain. Outside our hotel we saw the mountain and had a good feeling about the day. This quickly went away and frustration, anger and a yearning for home (I started singing America the Beautiful to myself at one point) quickly built up  inside after we reached the front gate of Huangshan.

At 7:00 a.m. there was already a swarm of people and tour groups at the entrance. It wasn’t the typical horde you find in China, but this was the worst experience I’ve had here and one of the worst experiences of my life. I’m actually getting angry again as I write this.

After getting our tickets, we moved into the bazillion people heading for the bus terminal to go into the park. The number of people wasn’t the problem, but the way the number of people moved and had absolutely no concern for anybody else around them. There was no order, no crowd control and no respect!

After thinking about how to describe it, I thought that it was like being in a bag of gummy bears left in the car on a hot summer day when they all stick together and it is impossible to separate them and eat them as individuals.

It was so bad that I wasn’t moving of my own accord but being pushed and pulled as something adrift in the ocean. The pressure being pushed on each of us from every direction was insane and I hope I never experience anything like that ever again. Unfortunately, that was just the first two hours of our day.

Aaron and I made it through the crowd first, but waited a while as the others eventually squeezed through. We took the bus from there to the Mercy Light Cable Car Station, the shorter line at the bus depot. At the cable car station it didn’t look so bad to get our tickets or wait for the gondola, but once again we were wrong.

The line didn’t extend to the sign saying the station was 200 meters upstream so we thought it wouldn’t be that bad. How mistaken we were can’t be described with mere words. This line was just as bad as the other except it was going up stairs and people were constantly trying to cut. However, saying this was a line isn’t that accurate. It was more of a mass of people funneled into a space only 10 feet across going the same direction.

This line took us four hours to get through. After waiting in it, I would have preferred hiking up the mountain and being sore, tired and bruised from the millions of stairs than waiting in that mosh pit. Eventually, we got in the cable car and whisked up the mountain in a matter of minutes surrounded by some amazing scenery.

On the mountain there were tons of people. It wasn’t like visiting a national park in any other place I’ve done it. I was actually waiting in lines while hiking. It was insane. The scenery did make up a bit for that. It was amazing!

If you’ve ever seen a traditional Chinese painting, it was probably of Huangshan or at least it included mountains like it or the ancient pines that cling to the sheer cliff faces.

The first destination on the mountain was the Welcoming Guest Pine. This is probably the most famous individual tree in the world. Why? Because it supposedly looks like a hand welcoming visitors.

After this we made our way to Lotus Peak, the highest point in the area and I think in the province. It was a good hike up stairs carved out of the mountain and bridges spanning crevasses between rock formations. It reminded me a bit of the upper part of the hike for Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.

From the top you could see for miles around. You could see the park and its amazing mountains and the layers of mountains and hills disappearing into the haze on the horizon. If only there had been less people on top then it would have been in the top five of my favorite moments in China, but alas there were entire tour groups trailing up the stairs and congregating on top.

Also at the top are locks put there by couples to symbolize their love. They take a lock engraved with their names and put it on a chain that weaves around the railing on the peak. Oh, and if you forgot, there is a vendor up there you can buy one from who also has the means to engrave it on the spot. He also does gold medals that you can buy for yourself because you made it up, seems just a little narcissistic if you ask me (the medal thing).

The original plan was to do a lot of hiking and eventually hike down, but because of our six hours in lines that morning, we didn’t have enough daylight or energy to continue. Instead, we went back to the tree where amazingly there were only a couple dozen people as opposed to the thousands earlier. We decided on the cable car down because of the time more than anything and ended up waiting another three hours in line to go down.

I will always remember that day and not fondly. As wonderful and amazing as the natural surroundings are, I’m still not convinced they were worth the rise in blood pressure, the wasted time and the further disillusionment with the Chinese way of doing things.

Someday I hope to go back, when I have more money (it is the most expensive tourist site in the country), more time and on a day that isn’t associated with any kind of holiday. Then I will stay on the mountain and have time to hike all of the trails and stairs through the wonderland of granite, contorted pines and clouds.

7 responses to “It was the best of China; it was the worst of China

  1. Brings back memories! My hotel was a mess. We nicknamed it the Wet Dog Inn because that’s what it smelled like. Thankfully, we didn’t have the massive crowds and lines you experienced, but still got the wow factor the peaks there offer. I thought the bamboo forests were pretty incredible, too.

    • Aren’t the bamboo forests amazing? I’m trying to figure out how to visit the bamboo sea when I go to Chengdu. I love the way each stalk seems to bend a different way. It almost looks like they were painted on the hills.

  2. It sounds and looks like you had just about the same experience that we did on the mountain in terms of “solitude.” I was hoping for better for you. Great picture of the horde outside of the bus terminal funnel. I may have to steal yours. 🙂

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