Trekking Beyond China’s Big Cities

Adventure Travel, China — By on September 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Lost Girls Deputy Editor Meghann Foye discovers that secret views of Huangshan Mountains take time and faith to find.

They say your outer world reflects your inner world. If that’s the case, than my inner world is tired. Very tired. After climbing up and down hundreds of chiseled rock steps I still have a few hundred more to go before reaching the “West Sea,” the epic Grand Canyon of the Huangshan Mountain range in the interior of mainland China, just to the southeast of Beijing.

“What are you doing now?” says a Chinese boy, probably about 10 years old, who looks happy to practice his English on me, as I take out a pen, instead of a camera, to record my thoughts and catch my breath. I perch on an out-of-the-way step in the middle of the dense forest on top of the mountain. The smells of dewy pine are all around.

As I speak, I’m in the middle of one last revision of my book. And it’s seeming as about as daunting and Herculean as the road before me right now. But unlike my book, with these steps, I have no choice. Move forward, or I’ll miss the majestic views promised ahead.

In China, time seems to go a little sideways. Lunches and dinners that would be drawn out in New York or Paris, happen at warp speed. Food comes out as it’s done, plate by plate. Drinks are downed in one gulp. Plates of pork, slurped. Cell phone calls are taken as men hunch over their soup. But here, the “30-minute” hike has taken me one hour and fifteen minutes so far, and I’m only half-way done.

But still, step by step, I climb. Finally a mist shrouding the first peak kisses our sightline. I get a taste of what’s to come. The boy, still a few steps ahead of me, turns around and smiles back. Without a word, I know exactly what he’s thinking. Beauty. So I walk further. Another stone terrace peaks out and another glimpse of 8,000-kilometer-high sky makes itself visible.

Finally, I reach the gathering of people. The views of the high, jagged black peaks in the distance are veiled in ghostly fog engulphing the whole canyon of “West Sea.” Just a second and no sooner, the clouds part. Heaven shows itself. We’re here.

It’s more beautiful than I can imagine. Even with the yelling, and crowds, and drills etching locks to leave behind in the background. Like a birth, I finally see the epic stone cliffs. They look like gigantic statues of Greek gods watching the Earth below amid the green-blue skies.

If I hadn’t taken the steps there, I never would have seen it. Faith, action, angelic beauty.

Getting to Huanshan Mountains is easy. Take a two-hour flight to Tunxi Airport in Anhui Province from Beijing, or an hour-long flight from Shanghai (roundtrip starts at $150, airchina.com.) You can find inexpensive guided tours through the China National Tourist Office (CNTO, cnto.org), which includes transportation, some meals, visits to local rural villages and a mountain-top stay. Prices vary depending on season.)

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