Visiting Yellow Mountain ( Huangshan 黄山)
August 30 2001
HuangShan 黄山: The Slow train to Hefei was indeed slow. We left had Chengdu on the 28th of August some 47 hours earlier.
Hefei station was modern but had a sleazy feel to it at night. We immediately got hassled by a guy about taxis and hotels. Adam decided to enquire about tickets first – the hassle guy followed – I was watching him / and Adam’s money belt like a hawk. Next thing you know, Adam has bought 2 hard – sleeper tickets on a night train to Tunxi – now renamed Huangshan City: our third consecutive night on a train without a proper wash or a change of clothes! A record.
A friendly young man who studies in Chengdu helps us find our waiting room: there are several beggars and peasants who really stare at us and make comments. This is the first time it has happened on this trip.
We seem to have the only 2 free berths on this packed train which is going all the way to Xiamen. They are uppers unfortunately, it’s quite a long steep climb up and Adam barely fits in. The train is actually cleaner and better, the little mattresses and white sheets are back. Anyway, I’m off to sleep immediately.
Jiǔhuá Shān and the Smiling Monk: For a few magic minutes time stood still. A full moon illuminated the pond where a gaggle of Buddhist nuns were lighting candles and carefully balancing them upon enormous, floating lotus leaves. Overhanging red lanterns left their reflections suspended in the water. Occasionally, a well- fed golden carp broke the silky smooth surface and then, with a swish of its tail and a plop, disappeared into the murky depths again. This is the China we imagine when we close our eyes.
The China we see on ancient scroll paintings
The China we see on ancient scroll paintings, the China that we hope to find, but so seldom do. Was I dreaming? Well, not exactly. This was Jiǔhuá Shān in late September 2001, serene and so peaceful after the mayhem of Huang Shān. We remained transfixed by the moment, for how long? I don’t know. And then, out of the night came the shrill sound of laughter, and in the distance the local guitar- playing and folk-singing busker started up again. The nuns slipped out of sight through the temple gate, a cloud crossed the moon and the light from the candles paled. In short, the spell broke and we found ourselves again in 21st Century China.
A bit of history: Jiǔhuá Shān is one of the four sacred mountains for Chinese Buddhists, together with Eméi Shān, Pǔtuó Shān and Wǔtái Shān. Set in a beautiful area of southern Anhui province, Jiǔhuá Shān offers the traveller some rare moments of rural bliss and the chance to witness the Chinese at their most spiritual, as well as the many Japanese and Korean pilgrims.