Some people enjoyed the hour long trek in the bamboo forest to get to the tiny village of Mukeng. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I think it was the movie set for a scene in the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The entrance fee was 20 yuan. You can either take a long walk up the road(30-40 mins) or a taxi from Hongcun village. I took the blue box motorbike and that was a mistake because it was noisy and dangerous(the operator kept straying to the middle of the road even when rounding the bend ....yikes!).
Visitors used to have to get a special permit to visit these Huizhou villages, but now you just need to pay an entrance fee to go inside these villages, notably Hongcun and Xidi, in the Yixing county.
Entrance fee for Hongcun village is 80 yuan. This well-preserved centuries old village is unique. What's so special about Hongcun is that the village was designed by a feng shui master to resemble a cow. The tour guide will explain which part of the village is the anatomical equivalent to the cow and you will need some imagination to link the two. For example, the two old trees at the entrance to the village represent the horns, the four bridges the legs, the bodies of water the stomach, etc., etc.
This rock is famous of its shape like a Chinese writing bristle. Its name is 'Meng Bi Sheng Hua' ('Dreamed Pen of Fine Essays'). The name came from a Chinese story: a young man traveled to the capitol for the 'official exam' (Court official selection system), he dreamed that he had such a magic pen enables him to write all fancy essays at the exam and he beated all his rivals.
The peaks in Huangshan area are actually pinicles. The hiking paths are built in a way that you have to get up and down all the time (thousands of steps!) for an 8-hour hike as we did. If you want to go to peak C from A, and B is in between, you have to walk up to top of B and down then up to C. There is no way you can bypass B, the paths were not built that way, and there was no room to build such a path either. Not every peak is climbable such as this 'Sword Peak'. You can only see it from afar.
Pine trees growing out of peer rocks, does not seem there is any soil around them. Many pine trees are of various shapes, some look like a fan, some of the truncks look like 'dragon'. Chinese are good at imagination naming the mountain scenes. So they name those pine trees 'Fan' or 'Dragon'. There are so many fairy tales about each peak (the most famous here, 72 peaks).
Many times, some people would find themselves on a scary stairways like this.
This particular one is about 50 degrees steep, the first one we ran into. Much steeper ones are ahead. This place is called 'one string sky', means you can see only a thin line width of sky when look up. Be very careful, use the hand railing if you are afraid.
The most dangerous thing is not the steepness, but when other people rushing down recklessly. The local people of course are not afraid of anything, they run down very swiftly. If you are afraid, watch your steps, do not look down far in the valley.
It is relatively easy to hike in Huangshan area, as long you are physically fit. Not safe for young children unless you tie your children up onto you.
Steps were either carved out of the rocks or built up with cement (carried up by local people - cheap labor). The hike is straneous, sometimes very dangerous by at least by USA safety codes. The rule is: when observe do not move, and vice versa. Especially in heavy foggy days when the beautiful clouds surrond you and make you feel like in a fairyland, induldge yourself, but be careful.
This photo shows the width of the now newly built main paths compare to the 1-foot wide path made of loose rocks used before on the right. The rock steps on the mountain can be very slippery when wet. The steps somehow was carved inclining outwards instead of inwards, so extra attention is needed.
There were 3 cable routes which can save some time and effort, we took two of the major ones. Of course what you see from a cablecar might be very different from what you see hike from below - either way has its merits.
The Cloud Valley Hotel (Yun Gu Shan Zhuang). We did not stay in this hotel. We wished we had. While we were waiting to the cable ride to go up, we walked around in this hotel. This is a very good architecture design incorporating the traditional Chinese architecture philosophy, the local Hui style, and modern comfort. It is located at the beginning of the Yun Gu Cable station. So it is a good starting point. If you need detail information, Lonely Planet tourbook has it, or write to me, I will find out for you. We do not know the quality of service though.
The last difficult part to get to the Celestial Capital Peak: the Carp Back Rock. It is a very narrow 1-2 feet wide piece of rock, standing high above, with 1,800m valley on either side. Everyone warned you how scary it was, so you all psyched up for a scary thing. Your legs turn jello, your heart beaps, you are almost fainted when your hands reach the nylon cables. You wish you could just close your eyes and walk very carefully on top of it. But then you want to see how scary it is anyway, you look, not that bad, if there is none else pushing you. Sure after you even walked back onto it to have your 'heroic' photo taken, you are not afraid of it at all any more! Some people even stand on its railing poles making all kinds of 'cool' postures!
Now you crossed this. You still have to think that you are lucky to WALK across this Carp Back Rock, if you know the railing/cable was only built recently: many previous travelers had to sit on it and slide forward. After this, there is only a very short and easy hike to the top of the Celestial Capital Peak, 1,841 meters elevation. Only a small bare rock area to hold however many hikers. That's why you have to start early. On our way down, those tour groups just started to hike up.
Well, now you have a closer look of the 'easier' path you need to go. Again, coming down could be a real problem for those tall people. As first the steps are not deep enough for your long feet to have a firm step on those could be slipery steps; secondly, the railing/cables you need to hold are set so low, that you even have to bend over to reach them. Sometimes, there is nothing you can hold but grabing some little concave 'kinks' carved ont the rocks along the path. In that position, you are almost about to roll over down to the valley. We saw many people walking down backwards. If you are afraid of height, do not look down! As I said before, this path is easier than the new path on the other side of the peak, with some of its steepest parts of 85 degrees! We took the same easy path up and down. You would have to pay $1+ 'admission fee' to start your hike to the peak (even though you have already paid about $9 for the admission at the park entance, about another $9 for the one-way cable ride etc). Don't even think that you would not need any cash hiking in the moutain area, yes you do indeed, you need to pay a toll to get onto any major peak there.
Path to the Celestial Capital Peak (Tian Du Feng). The vertical thin line at the middle is your path. There are two ways to get to the top. The photo shows the easier way, the steepest path on this side could be of at least 75 degrees! There are cables or chains as your life line for you to hold. Going up should be no problem. But there is no landing for you to rest on its continuous stairway. You would just have to sit on the steps letting others passing by while you enjoy the true BreathLess view.
Love Pavillion in Emeral Valley. We saw a few park rangers setting fire to warm themselves up, regardless of 'no fire' signs' in the park. Guess that's why an ancient Chinese say 'An govenor is allowed for arsen, but common folks are not allowed to even light up their oil lamps'.
'Fairy Islands of Peng Lai'namde after its shape. In Chinese legend, there are few islands in the east China sea where some fairy people lived. This is the first thing you see after you leave the Greeting Pine. We left around 7:00 in the morning. Remember you have to be ahead of everyone else especially those tour group people. The steepness of hike is nothing comparing to when people push you around: very dangerous!
According to Lonely Planet tourbook, we thought this hotel (high above, end of the path), Jade Screen Hotel (Yu Ping Lou Bin Guan) on the Jade Screen Peak (Yu Ping Peak), would be a good place to see the sunrise.
We stayed there for one night. I would not recommend for anyone to stay there, as it is not cheap, $100/night (nowadays you can get it much cheaper if book online) for a double room with a very stinky bathroom with a sink like the one you see on an airplane. We spent a bit more to stay in its best room with a nice bathroom.
The linens are always damp due to humidity and there is no dryer there I guess. The toilets are always sanitized. The shower curtains seemed never cleaned. The TV might not work, so do not even dream of using it to view your video tapes recorded from a whole day's hike.
Its own merit is its location: We had no other choice but this as we want to have a good sleep after an 8-hour hike to relax our sore muscles, and get ready to hike to the highest peak (The Celestial Capital Peak - 'Capitol of Heaven) across where the hotel locates, next EARLY morning. For this reason, the hotel would be a good and even only choice.
We also found out next morning, we were not able to see the sunrise: there is a very narrow 'slot' from which you can see the sunrise between two peaks. But at the end of May, there is no way you can see the sun from that angle. :(
It was such a treat when the hotel staff were kind enough to let us leave our backpacks at the hotel, till we took a hot shower after we came back from the Celestial Capital Peak and check out at noon. This is the path to our hotel, one more hour's hike to get there!