Weekend in Wuyi

Written by Jan 20, 2006 00:01
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The mercury nudged 40°C. I wondered how my companions would cope. There was nothing to do for it except to open umbrellas and enjoy the scenery. Summer temperatures had been unseasonably high in Xiamen situated on the coast, making it difficult for me to coax them out of the comfort of their air-conditioned home on sightseeing trips with me. Mount Wuyi, offered the promise of some relief from weeks of persistent humidity and high temperatures but its location close to the Tropic of Cancer ensures a sub-tropical, humid monsoon climate. There was no relief – in fact it was hotter that the southern coastal weather.

The Wuyi Shan scenic area lies along Fujian's northernmost border with Jiangxi Province and consists of 36 peaks, most of which are less than 600 metres high nestled in the many bends of the Nine Twist River. The name of the mountains derive from the story of a legendary figure Qian Keng who lived during the Shang Dynasty (16th -11th century B.C.), and was believed to be the eighth generation descendant of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. As a result of Qian Keng's significant achievements, King Yao bestowed upon him the title of Lord Peng Cheng and his descendants referred to him as Peng Zu or ‘Ancestor Peng’. To escape from wars raging at that time, Peng Zu took his two sons, Peng Wu and Peng Yi, to the mountain area in northern Fujian where they settled and worked the land as farmers and so the area became known as WuYi, a combination of the son’s names.

We arrived by overnight sleeper train, a comfortable air-conditioned tourist train direct to the mountain. Our weekend party consisted of me, three couples and their four children. I was the only one in our six berth cubicle to have my berth to myself that night. On Saturday morning we were met by our guide and taken to our hotel for a quick breakfast before hitting some of the many sights on offer. Wuyi Shan reserve is some 10kms from the city proper with many hotels and other facilities available nearby. Most of these are located along the Chongyang Stream and on the way to the park entrance.

My first attempt to visit Wuyi Shan almost a month earlier on the way to Xiamen had been thwarted by a sleeper coach breakdown, so my hosts had graciously promised to take me there one weekend. For me this was an all expenses paid outing so I took very little notice of the cost. So with umbrellas in hand we walked the short distance from the car park to the entrance, all the time longing to take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear stream beside the road. All around us the famous peaks of Wuyi kept our heads turning. Was this what caused a bus, now lying on its side - indicators still flashing - halfway down the six meter bank to the waters edge to roll off the narrow winding road? There was no sign of driver or passengers by the time we walked by.

From each new angle the peaks presented us a stunning view. Many can be climbed by way of stairs snaking up the rock faces to small lookouts and pavilions if you have the inclination and the energy. Once off the road we got some relief from the sun under shady trees as we climbed some stairs and scrambled along the narrow paths until we came upon a huge cavern. Sections of the hewn stone paved paths were under repair and we occasionally needed to stand aside to allow men carrying one huge stone between them in a wire sling from one shoulder pole to pass along the path.

Behind the cavern a large but narrow crevice opened between the rocks just enough to allow the single file passage of people up the steep steps from one end to the other, daylight visible some fifty meters overhead. Now a popular abode for bats, the evidence of their residence is all over the floor and walls of the crevice and hanging in the air. Outside again in the grassy open space surrounded by sheer rock walls we observed a number of cavities carved in the rock faces. One of the mysteries of these mountains is the ‘boat shaped’ coffins of the Shang (16th -11th century B.C.) and Western Zhou (11th - 7th century B.C.) Dynasties that were once placed in these cavities high above the ground. It’s also possible to see the remnants of the more of these while you’re rafting on the fourth bend of the river.

It was then a short walk to the main entrance of this area where a variety of souvenirs, trinkets and other goods are available. A quick lunch followed at a busy restaurant in a small local village. This was the usual fast food meal and despite the heat there was little in the way of refreshing cold drinks. From here we were bussed back to the park, this time to the area where the rafting would begin.

The rafts are actually two long narrow rafts made from lashed bamboo with upturned bows. The bamboo is heated – as evidenced by the scorched black marks – to bend the ends up thus making the bow. Two of these are then lashed together with six bamboo chairs tied down to the deck. Each boat has a crew of two, each with a long bamboo pole which is used to manoeuvre and pole the raft downstream. While there appeared to be sufficient rafts, there was already a sizeable crowd queuing for a turn on the river. Since few of our group were taking the cruise we did not have to wait too long. My friend and I were quickly ushered down to the landing to make up the numbers on another raft.

The ‘Nine Twist River’ as it is poetically known is a pretty little stream with many more bends or twists than its name implies. It meanders slowly through the impressive, precipitous peaks of Wuyi, reflecting the crags, cliffs, trees and sky. In typical fashion, most of the features have been eloquently named by some very creative minds and imaginations. You might be lucky enough to spot some of these or even name your own: the ‘bow of the Titanic’, a turtle, a lion or an elephant.

Shallow rocky shoals and shaded banks, deep water holes and sheer rock faces, crystal clear water and a skilled crew contribute to the relaxing atmosphere of drifting for over and hour to the final landing. The bamboo raft sits low and is constantly awash with cool clear water. An umbrella is a valued accessory on this cruise during the early afternoon in summer when the sun is very high overhead. At the end of the trip the raft is dismantled, loaded onto trucks and transported back upstream for yet another peaceful journey through these majestic mountains.

Walking away from the river, stone paths and pavilions are tunnelled beneath the broad canopies of ageless trees towering overhead. This is one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Wuyi and delivered a welcome cool respite from the heat. Nearby the shallow waters of the Chongyang Stream offer a clean and safe way to cool off. Small bright orange two man rubber rafts are available for hire and rafting a few kilometres through the shallows is a fun way to stay cool and have some good healthy fun.

Our first day was far from finished. We had several more treat in store. One cannot experience China without experiencing the unique ‘Tea Culture’ throughout the country. Wuyi is famous for its tea, grown for centuries in the harsh, often inaccessible but pristine environment of Wuyi’s pinnacles and for centuries Wuyi’s tea had been the choice of Emperors. This was my first taste of China’s ancient ‘Tea Culture’.

A well versed hostess in traditional costume expertly prepares and pours a variety of teas to tempt the taste buds of novice or connoisseur alike. Each tea is unique and each is prepared a little differently. A tea ceremony usually consists of the tasting of five or six varieties savouring the flavour and fragrance of each. This is tactfully followed by a sales pitch offering some very enticing discounts. It was hard to refuse.

Our dinner that evening was at a beautiful garden restaurant out along the Chongyang Stream. We dined al fresco on fresh fish from the stream and flowers from the garden amongst the many local dishes. A stroll around the small village and the shops near our hotel was an interesting way to while away what remained of the evening. While my hosts encouraged me, I bargained hard for a good deal on my very first teapot – small, cute and delicate. Paper cuts are another beautiful and historic folk art of the mountains but the most interesting of Wuyi’s souvenirs is the snake – coiled and ‘pickled’ in alcohol and other condiments – for sale in large glass jars. I wondered if anyone still drank this unconventional ‘brew’?

The last surprise that evening was a fireworks display outside our hotel. I watched from a side window as the explosions reflected off the windows and walls of nearby buildings. I pondered all we had achieved in our long and action-packed day, grateful for this colourful finale. I also pondered our options for the morrow. A hike up Tianyou or ‘Tour of Heaven’ Peak would mean an early start to avoid the worst of the heat or as my hosts were inclined to do – absolutely nothing. I was for the hike and so were three of the kids. With that agreed, two of the dad’s volunteered to join us.

After a quick Chinese breakfast around 6.00 am we arrived at the car park only to find ourselves in the midst of a swelling crowd of like minded tourists who had begun much earlier than we had. A thirty minute walk later found us at the gate near the base of the peak we planned to ‘bag’ this day. The temperature was already high and our saving grace that morning was that our climb would be up the shaded western slope. Any chance of a quick trip to the top was quickly dashed with one glance at the stairs – now an unbroken chain of people from top to bottom. This proved to be a good thing. A most strenuous little climb at best, all of us needed to take regular breaks to catch our breaths and enjoy the view after just ten or twelve steps. With drifting rafts on the ‘Nine Twist River’ directly below and Wuyi’s peculiar peaks fading into the distance it was not difficult to stop often and take in the valley’s vistas.

Arriving at the peak two hours later, hot and sweaty we took time out for a cup of tea and snacks and a browse in the small pavilion with a ‘ballroom’ on the top floor said to have been built for Chiang Kai Shek’s wife Soong Mei Ling. Today it houses some souvenir stalls and artists who skilfully imbed the characters or letters of your name into a charcoal sketch of the mountains and streams. This is a great personalized souvenir for a very reasonable Y20. The trip down the backside of the mountain is also quite steep and wonderfully shady. Sedan chairs are also available for hire for those who have run out of steam or are fainting in the heat.

With most of us feeling pretty drained, two of the kids hired a sedan for the remainder of the walk out of the park. Following a lunch at the hotel we made one last foray into the small village that had grown up around the hotels. The rest of our group amused themselves playing cards or simply lounged in the hotel lobby. Today we were to part company with four of our group but a last minute change of plans had us rushing to pick them up from the roadside and make it to the station for our train back to Xiamen. There was just one small problem now. They had no tickets for the train and it was fully booked. On the train our tickets would be exchanged for metal chips which we would then exchange again just before we arrived at our destination. Many stations also like to see your ticket as you leave the station. No worries……

I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Again I was the only one to have a bunk to
myself. The next morning as we left the station, we mysteriously split into small groups and left separately. I was being used as a decoy and of course knew nothing about the lack of tickets until we were well clear of the station.

It was a wonderful weekend in Wuyi.

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Comments (1)


Sep 5, 2014 23:27 Reply

Mr.P from Australia said:

I just read this review. I will go to Fujian tomorrw, it was interesting to hear about the scorched raft wood details :)

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