Extremely Wulong

Written by Dec 12, 2008 04:14
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Wu Jiang

The days crowd is gone and the last of the stall holders, local farmers, are packing the remains of their produce as the sun, a huge orange ball drops slowly from the clear blue sky. Assorted sacks of multi-coloured beans and seeds, dried mushrooms and wild medicinal weeds and smoked pork, rabbit and goat are arrayed along rough boards beneath crude shelters that keep off the sun and rain. A dark shiny blue kidney shaped bean that looks like a large pharmaceutical capsule catches my attention. I ask about its health benefits. An older woman in her sixties explains it is good for the kidneys and should be pulverized and infused as a tea. It’s a little expensive but I buy some to try.

The woman lives a two hour walk away and comes every weekend to do business with the hoards of visitors who flock here year round. Xian Nu Shan, 仙女山 Fairy Maiden Mountain is not the main attraction but the sheer beauty of the mountains, the plateau grasslands; the forests and a night sky filled with stars make it worth the trip. It’s four year since my first visit and I’m disappointed to see many of the surrounding villages reduced to construction sites, with dust and the noise of trucks and earth moving equipment filling the air, and ugly concrete blocks and scared earth marring the scenery. Dollars are flowing through the area but much of it straight into the pockets of outside developers.

Local tobacco farmers

The cooler climate, extraordinary scenery and a new expressway all make these mountains an attractive weekend retreat. All through the valley, resort style condominiums are springing up to cater for the growing numbers of urban dwellers with a disposable income and lifestyle to match. After weeks of sweltering summer temperatures that could almost melt our skin, the evenings up here are cold and mornings are fresh with a cool breeze blowing through the valleys. Tonight we’ve been invited to eat with this woman’s daughter. We’re her last customers - buying a variety of beans from her stall - and it’s a generous offer after such a long day.

Her daughter and her husband have two children and live on a small leased property above the village where we are staying. For twelve years they have lived on the mountain in their rough makeshift house, waiting for the government to give permission to build a permanent home. It’s already seven when we begin our leisurely walk up the gravel road to their farmhouse so dinner will be late.

Spit roast goat

During the summer they grow small crops of pumpkins, cabbages, beans and the largest white ‘carrots’ you could ever imagine. They keep chickens, cows and goats and horses. She’s the youngest of five daughters and he’s the fourth son in a family of nine children and only finished two years of schooling. On the weekends he spends all day leading horses across the grasslands for city slickers looking for a few trills as they ‘get back to nature’. Their two handsome looking children, a girl of twelve and a boy of four spend long hours home alone with some cats, watching TV via satellite.

The older woman and her daughter prepare the food but it is her husband who cooks it for us. I warm myself from the chill night air beside the open fire in the earthen floored kitchen. Spit roasted lamb or goat to be precise is the local specialty turned over a blazing fire out of doors. Our meal is simple, all vegetables but it is one of the tastiest I’ve ever eaten. They sit and chat while we eat, sharing a little of their life story with us. After paying what we think the meal is worth, we are shuttled back to our guesthouse on the back of the family motorbike over the bumpy gravel road. This is a first for my friend who giggles all the way as she thinks about what she is going to tell her husband.

Tian Kang  Deep Doline

Wulong 武隆 is a small town in the stunningly scenic Wu Jiang valley about an hour south of Fuling in one of China's National Geoparks that could easily rival the Three Gorges. The road hugs the rugged west bank of the river, passing through countless tunnels and overhanging rocks as the river flows north to join the Yangtze. A recently opened rail line also weaves in and out of tunnels along the east bank of the river improving access to the whole Geo Park area and southern Chongqing Municipality.

Hidden in the surrounding mountains, is Karst country and one of the premier attractions is a little known gorge called Shui Long Xia 水龙峡 which is the tail-end of the Tian Kang San Qiao 天抗三桥 the Three Natural Stone Bridges which is one of China's largest dolines or sink holes with underground streams, caves and waterfalls. Shui Long Xia is just a few kilometres off the road to Xian Nu Shan and being less popular it is a great escape from the heat and the crowds. Descent is steep via a tunnel and steps.

Access elevator at Shui Long Xia

After gazing into the depths of this pit and passing sweaty looking, wet tourist returning from the bottom, I wondered if I would live to regret our decision to hike this one. Ours fears were relieved as we emerged from a tunnel to find an elevator, but this took us only as deep as the lip of the waterfall, halfway down the opposite side of the valley. From there it was another steep descent to the stream, a delightful walk along a board walk through a narrow fissure, above the rapids and small falls, beneath several smaller natural stone bridges and wedged boulders until the gorge opened into a clearing and a large waterhole where we sat basking in the warmth of the sun as the cool breeze blew gently down the valley.

Back upstream the path takes a circuitous route past beautiful cascades glistening like silver curtains in the sun, and finally behind the waterfall we could see from the rim. It was here that we discovered why everyone looked hot and sweaty as great showers of spray blew in and around these falls all but drenching those who ventured by. The path then wound its way up into a deep dark fissure from which the stream flowed. This fissure averages between 2 and 5 meters wide and in places is 200 meter deep, with water cascading down its walls from numerous sources. The underground stream is more than nine kilometres in length originating in the major Geo Park area of Tian Kang San Qiao.

Tian Kang San Qiao

A visit to Tian Kang San Qiao is awe inspiring and the installation of elevators for the descent and ascent makes an otherwise extremely difficult and lengthy exploration enjoyable. On a previous visit an old cable car had been removed and the new one was not yet operable so I laboured up the path, trying hard not to count the steps to the rim, almost collapsing in the heat of the afternoon sun. At the same time competitors in an ‘Extreme Sports” competition ran through it making it all look so easy.

As the name implies it is a series of large sink holes, caves, natural stone bridges, waterfalls and undergrounds streams. There’s a great view form a small lookout and path along the rim beyond the second overflow car park. This is a small deviation simply for the view or an energetic hike into the valley bypassing the ticket gates. By following this well groomed path north along the rim you can glimpse two of the stone bridges and the remains of a ‘movie set’ on the floor of the gorge. A thirty minute walk along the path will bring you to a small group of farmhouses where you’re likely to find a meal and directions for following on foot the maze of old paths snaking down into the valley floor.

Furong Flying fox

Another of Wulong’s major attractions is Furong Dong on the Furong Jiang above Jiang Kou. Besides the spectacular cave which draws huge crowds, there’s an exciting round trip ‘flying fox’ across the livid green waters of the lake below. Cruise boats make up to three hour cruises further up the valley for a closer look at rural life. White water rafting, caving, rock climbing and hiking make this an adventurer’s playground or a simply passive sightseeing sojourn of spectacular beauty.

Getting there and away: By Bus or train from Chongqing and bus from most other nearby cities

Furong Dong Cave entrance fee Y70
Flying Fox Y50
Boat Cruise 3hr Y120 (includes cable car)
Boat Cruise 2hr Y100 (includes cable car)
Cable car Y35 (round trip)

Shui Long Xia Y50

Tian Kang San Qiao Y50

Xian Nu Shan Y50 per person
Y30 per vehicle
Accommodation: Wulong several small hotels between the round about at the Xian Nu Shan intersection and the bridge of the south side of town. Small guesthouse in Shui Long Xia and cheaper farmers guesthouse in and beyond the village in Xian Nu Shan Scenic Spot. A-frame cabins overlooking the grasslands are popular but not cheap @ Y300 per night on weekends.
Weekends are always busy so arrive early or book a room. Mid week prices are lower. There are some reasonably priced quality hotels for Y400 per night.

Activities in the area, especially at Xian Nv Shan include

Winter Skiing (beginners only)
Horse Riding
Golf Driving Range
Cart Track Racing
Campfire with spit roasted goat

White water rafting and caving

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