Beijing Getaways: Huang Shan Yellow Mountain
The Peak Attraction: Huang Shan offers tourists some heavenly views
Huang Shan (meaning Yellow Mountain in Chinese) is actually a series of 77 mountain peaks in eastern China's Anhui Province. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990, Huang Shan is generally regarded as China's most picturesque mountainous area, and it has captivated and inspired artists for hundreds of years. Huang Shan's panoramic clouds views, strangely-shaped rocks, distinctive pine trees, and bubbling hot springs now draw tourists from all over the world, eager to view the "loveliest mountain in China".
The Huang Shan mountains were formed in the Mesozoic era, about 100 million years ago, when an ancient sea disappeared. Later, in the Quaternary, the landscape was molded by glacial action. Although the mountains are not that high (the highest peak is 1873m / 6143ft), the peaks are often enshrouded in mist and fog, and covered in snow during winter months. Because the mountain tops are often above cloud level, they offer spectacular views of the clouds from above and glorious lighting, and Huang Shan is renowned as a photographer's paradise.
Huang Shan can be reached by overnight train from Beijing, or a short flight, and visitors should allow 2 days to see the mountain, plus another couple of days to check out other local attractions. Huang Shan's myriad trails are usually packed with hikers from May to October, especially in holiday periods (which should definitely be avoided). March and April are good months to visit, and if you wrap up warm, the scenery during winter can also be breathtakingly beautiful.
Due to its extensive size (Huang Shan covers 250 square kilometers), getting around and accessing the various sites can take a bit of planning. The nearest town serving the mountain is Tangkou, from where the two main mountain trails - the Eastern Steps and the Western Steps - can both be reached, either on foot, by minibus or by taxi. If you are staying in a hotel in Tangkou they will help you organize getting around, and there are also numerous travel agencies that will only be too glad to offer their services.
The 7.5km-long Eastern Steps Trail (a 3 to 4 hour hike) is compact and steep, and is far less strenuous than the 15km-long Western Steps Trail (a 4 to 6 hour hike) the latter is regarded as having the better views though. For the ultra-fit it's possible to climb the mountain in the morning (leave early) and return to Tangkou by late afternoon (total hike about 10 hours). However, many people opt for an overnight stay on the mountain in one of the summit hotels, which allows for a more relaxed walking pace and the opportunity to witness a spectacular sunrise over the rolling cloud seas if the weather is good.
If you're not up for hiking then luckily there are cable cars up both the Eastern and Western Steps. the Eastern Trail's Yungu Si cable car, which takes about 5 minutes to ascend/descend, can have queues that last up to 2 hours, so it is best to arrive early. The Western Trail's Yuping cable car runs from the Mercy Light Temple (Ciguang Ge) to Yuping Lou, which is just over halfway up the western slope.
Tickets for both cable cars cost 66RMB in peak season (March-November) and 55 RMB in off-peak season (November-March). Park entrance itself costs a hefty 200 RMB peak / 120 RMB off-peak). The weather on Huang Shan is very changeable, and even in summer it can get cold very quickly. Visitors should carry extra clothing, including rainwear. Although there are restaurants and snack vendors on the mountain these are unsurprisingly overpriced, and if you don't mind carrying the extra weight it is worth taking a picnic, or at least several bottles of water. It is also possible to hire porters to carry your belongings, but make sure you agree a price (for everything, per day) before you set off, and the bags have been carefully weighed.
There are a variety of hotels on the summit of Huang Shan, all are overpriced although some are better value than others. However, it is worth putting up with the extortion for one night for the chance to see the fabulous sunset and sunrise views. The two main viewing areas are the Beihai (North Sea) and Xihai (West Sea) scenic areas, which are both fairly close to each other.
In the Beihai area, turning left from the Behai Hotel, pass the Unicorn Pine and you will arrive at the "Refreshing Terrace" (Qingliang Tai) and Lion Peak. Reaching out from the cliff and facing the valley in three directions, the terrace is a superb viewing point (although you almost certainly won't be alone). Alternatively, the "Cloud Dispelling Pavilion" (Paiyun Ting) near the Xihai Hotel is another place to catch equally pretty sunrises and sunsets. Another popular vantage point is the "Beginning to Believe Peak" (Shixin Feng) between the Beihai Hotel and the Yungu Si cable car terminus.
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