5 Huang Shan
We have all seen Chinese paintings of misty mountains with trees and
temples hanging in space. It is a very old style and I used to think of it
as pure fantasy. Then I went to China and was surprised to discover
how close it comes to real life.
My plane descended towards Shanghai and suddenly the clouds looked
very Chinese. They were the puffy sort you see in Chinese paintings. All that
was lacking was a few mountains and the odd dragon.
I got a further surprise when we visited the Huang Shan Mountains . They
are perpetually bathed in mist. It swirls about granite pinnacles and forms
seas in deep valleys. You rarely get more than a glimpse of anything before
the mist returns. Trees cling to rocks and shrines poke up on ledges. They
are there one moment and gone the next.
I tried to photograph the scene and was always frustrated. Like the
rainforest, the mountain is all around you. Individual elements are impressive
because you know they are there. Getting them together to form a picture
requires skill. The artists of antiquity developed a style that captures the spirit
of the mountains. Photographers rarely achieve the same result without a lot
of photoshopping (mucking around with the digital image).
Today, you can get on a train in Shanghai and be at the foot of the Huang
Shan in a few hours. Cable cars speed you to the top. It was very different
when I first went there twenty years ago. You had to trudge up a pilgrim path.
The mountain is now equipped with tourist hotels . Twenty years ago, there
was just one place to stay unless you found a monk or nun who was prepared
to put you up at their place.
Going back was a bit of a disappointment but don't let me put you off . The
Huang Shan are one of the great natural wonders of the world. You can put
up with the crowds and the commercialisation. The scenery makes the whole
I returned last year with my wife . We took the precaution of avoiding
Chinese public holidays but forgot about Korean holidays. The place was
overrun with South Koreans. Over two thousand had descended on the cable
car station. To add to the problem, the Chinese bureaucracy was insisting on
seeing everyone's passport. The excuse was security and the alleged danger
was suicide bombers. God/Buddha/Confucius knows how seeing a passport
will stop people blowing themselves up. We would have waited hours if a