The craggy rock faces, hanging mists and clustered pines of Huang Shan (Huáng Shān, 黄山), the "Yellow Mountains," create a lovely and distinctly Chinese landscape, one instantly recognizable from countless images on silk, paper and porcelain. The mountain range, consisting of some 70 peaks over 1,000 m (3,300 ft), spills across the southern province of Anhui in an exquisite jumble of scenic highlights—twisted lone pines clinging to stony spires, seas of clouds filling rugged valleys and crystalline, mountain spring-fed pools.
Depending on your stamina and tolerance for crowds, there are several ways to tackle Huang Shan. Three cable car lines connect peaks also linked by well maintained trails. It can take a lot of walking to escape the throngs of tourists, but it can be done. Regardless, Huang Shan's natural scenery, punctuated by classical temples and pavilions, is virtually guaranteed to be a major high point of any tour of China.
Although strenuous, hiking is not a backwoods experience by any stretch: Foot paths along are generally paved with stone steps, all hand-laid over the centuries. In the more trafficked areas, the trails are often lined with vendors selling water, ice cream and souvenirs; you'll also find plenty of shaded areas to stop and rest. Take the hike slowly (the humidity combined with altitude can sneak up on the hardiest hiker) and remember to drink lots of water.
Hikers have two basic choices of paths: Eastern and Western Steps. The former is the easier of the two; the latter the more scenic and rugged. The area in the north of the mountain range is connected to the two paths by a Peak Circuit trail (often the area is referred to as the "Summit," although it is comprised of a number of peaks) which affords glorious views of the "cloud seas" and even offers a measure of privacy as one gets further from the cable car terminals.
Regardless of which path you find yourself on, you'll come across scores of whimsically named rocks, trees and scenic outlooks. They're usually named after some creature or figure they resemble ("Magpie in a Plum Tree", "Embroidering Goddess," "Immortal Drying His Boot," "Monkey Transfixed by the Sea" and the like). One notable example is Welcoming Pine (Yíngkè Sōng, 迎客松), a lone tree near the Jade Screen Pavilion (Yùpíng Lóu, 玉屏楼) reputed to be some 800 years old. The pine stands by the Western Steps with branches outspread like arms, greeting all comers. Perhaps the most famous tree in China, its likeness has graced everything from cigarette packages to the five yuan note.
You'll also notice a lot of stone inscriptions. These carved characters, often dating back many centuries, hold special meaning for the Chinese, often having to do with famous literary figures, poems and legends. One inscription, for example, is found on the "intoxicated rock." The two characters refer to a story about Li Bai (701-762), the great Tang poet. Apparently, Li Bai was so enraptured by the Huang Shan scenery (not to mention full of his beloved wine) that he seranaded the lucky stone and, naturally enough, it joined in and got drunk as well.
Although we do not recommend you either drink to excess on the trail or carve your inspiration into the mountainside, no matter how overcome by Huang Shan's beauty you may be (you're not Li Bai and grafitti is punishable by law), we do recommend you join the masses in viewing the sunrise from one of the peaks—the area overlooking Beihai (Běihǎi, 北海) is especially lovely. It's well worth braving the morning chill.
Note that admission to Huang Shan is RMB 130 and that one-way cable car tickets are RMB 65 (RMB 55 in the off season).
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