Mt. Huangshan is named after the legend that Chief Huang, who is said to be the first king in Chinese history, once made elixirs here and went up to heaven after taking those elixirs. Mt. Huangshan is indeed the "king" over all the mountains with its incomparable natural beauty,. Being proud of its 72 famous peaks, the 3 highest ones of "Lotus Flower", "Bright Summit" and "Celestial Capital" are wound by seas of clouds and fog all the year round. The grandness of Mt. Taishan, the clouds and mist of Mt. Hengshan, the flying waterfalls of Mt. Lushan, the elegance of Mt. Emei and the steepness of Mt. Huashan have all been embraced in Mt. Huangshan, which also holds four Ultimate Beauties, namely, the grotesque pines, the odd shaped rocks, the sea of clouds and the hot springs. In 1990, Mt. Huangshan was listed by UNESCO in the Catalog of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, thus becoming a treasure of the mankind.
At the foot of Mt. Huangshan exists Huangshan City (originally called Huizhou Prefecture) which boasts of well known scenic spots such as the tender Taiping Lake, the Taoist Mt. Qiyun and Guniujiang Natural Reserve, etc. Its magnificent landscape gives birth to a splendid civilization, which is characterized by Huizhou Painting, Huizhou Carvings, Huixzhou Opera, Huizhou Medicine and Huizhou Architecture. Those are vividly depicted in such historical and cultural relics as the "Old Street" in Tunxi District, "Ancient Village Houses" in Yi County and the "Tangyue Archways" in She County, etc.
Each year, Huangshan China International Travel Service receives thousands upon thousands of foreign tourists, who have enjoyed our quality service and excellent reputation.
Thousands upon thousands of foreign tourists, so the brochure goes. At least the only part in English does. The English speaking Chinese guide who met me at Huangshan airport, (and with a stretch of the imagination, one really could envision it as an airport, I mean, the plane did land there), gave it to me, as it had a little map of the entire Huangshan mountain region on it. All in Chinese, of course. But, that really wasn't a problem. I needed the map, because he was going to leave me in the capable hands of his non-English speaking driver, who was going to take me up into the mountains for my first stop, the Hot Springs Hotel (and with another stretch of the imagination, one could envision this as a hotel). But before we dropped him off in downtown Huangshan, on the way up into the mountains, he showed me what I was supposed to do the next two days.
"Tomorrow, from the hotel, you walk up this trail (one of many on the map), and go to the top of the mountain, where you will stay at the Bai Hei guesthouse". Fine, I thought, no problem. "Are the signs on the trails in English?", I asked. "No, all in Chinese. Look at map". I thought this was going to be quite the experience, as on the small map, I could barely make out anything that resembled visible Chinese characters. I figured that I would just make the best of it, and just keep walking until I found the hotel. What a great way to spend a birthday. And, as I had experienced a few years ago, climbing another of China's famous or holy mountains, I told him that "and the driver will drive up with my bags." I thought, this should be fun. I walk, and my bags meet me there.
"No, you carry bags. No cars to top of mountain". Oh. Eighty five pounds of bags, and he wants me to carry them. Well, I figured, it would be good exercise.
How long does it take to get to the top?
"If you walk fast, six to eight hours".
And with that, he got out of the car on a corner, in a "downtown" that I kind of missed, of a city that I didn't really see. Walk fast, six to eight hours I thought. How long if you get lost?
In five minutes we were in the mountains, on a narrow road, with no side rails. Shame I couldn't see more, as it got dark out fairly soon after that. I had gotten the impression that we were in a real pretty area. I tried to make sure that I would look for downtown Huangshan on the way back out.
He had told me one other pearl before he disappeared in "bustling downtown" Huangshan. He said that over the years, he has very rarely seen an American here. "Most foreigners don't come here. No one knows about Huangshan". I was wondering why people at the airport were looking at me funny. You would think that I would have gotten my first clue, when the Boeing 737 we were on only had about 25 passengers. Pretty atypical for a Chinese flight. You're usually packed in pretty tight. If you think that American airlines put the seats close together in an attempt to erode the tips of your knees off, try sitting in a Chinese flight. And for some strange reason, I always get some really smelly Chinese man with absolutely horrible stale cigarette and god knows what else breath, sitting next to me. And of course, for some reason, I'm always given a window seat. And, of course, this absolutely stinky Chinese man had probably never been in an airplane before, so he's always trying to lean over me to look out the window. I wouldn't even think of changing seats with him, because then I'd be between two stinky breath Chinese men, who would probably be talking to each other the entire flight. No, your typical Chinese flight was not what I had between Guilin and Huangshan. It should have made me suspicious.
I stopped him before he disappeared, and asked him if he had any travel documents for me. For some strange reason, all I could think of was trudging up thousands and thousands of steps, getting to the Bei Hai guesthouse, and finding some poor little Chinese girl at the front desk who had no idea who I was or why I was there. Thoughts of climbing this huge mountain, and then sleeping outside, quickly entered my head.
He said, "They wait for an American. And maybe, you leave your bags at Hot Springs Hotel". And with that, he was gone. Disappeared, into a downtown that I'm going to have to look for on the way back out.
Thoughts of climbing the mountain all damn day, getting there at night, and finding that some other American took my already paid for room, started entering my head. For some strange reason, I didn't have a good feeling about this at all. The people up at the Bei Hai didn't even have my name. I guess the guide, who really wasn't guiding me, was right. They just don't get Americans here. "Thousands upon thousands of foreign tourists...." Who the hell were they talking about?
An hour and a half later, deep within a mountain range, was the Hot Springs Hotel. The driver dumped me off and left. No problem, I figured, I'll just change money here (as I had spent all my Yuan with the exception of about 14 Yuan- almost two bucks), get into a nice room, and spend the evening, what's left of it, in a hot spring. I started thinking of what I was going to try to leave here, and what I was going to backpack up with me in the morning. Tomorrow was my birthday, and I was going to spend part of it soaking in a hot spring before attempting the monster climb to the top.
The girl at the front desk had no idea who I was or why I was there. And she didn't speak English. Actually, none of them did. All they did was just stand there and kind of look at me funny. Apparently, the travel agent who took care of this didn't book me. I was at the right place, but there had been a communications breakdown. Fine, I figured, I'll just pay the three hundred Yuan for the night, and I'll deal with this issue with my travel agent. I asked if I could change a hundred dollar bill into Yuan. One thing that I've learned when traveling China, is that you always, always, carry a few American hundred dollar bills with you. The Chinese love American money, so if you're ever in a "predicament" where there is no communications, all you have to do is whip one out, and your problems instantly disappear.
Apparently, they had not seen an American hundred dollar bill before. Nor had they seen Traveler's Cheques. Couldn't change money. I had fourteen Yuan on me. Couldn't communicate. And I had no room. And worse, the hot springs were closed.
Welcome to a typical experience traveling in China. This was going to be an adventure.
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