The pity of air travel is that it makes appreciating your destination much harder, and much more like the last place you visited. The bulk of the distance between Sichuan’s wondrous Jiuzhaigou and Hangzhou’s West Lake can be spanned in less time than it takes to sit through Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Now, were you a Taiyuan trader laboring over the dusty central plains, you’d truly appreciate arriving at the moist, craggy splendor of Mt. Yuntai, one of China’s best-kept secrets, with a mere 60,000 tourists per day. Those waiting for spring to finally conquer north China would appreciate it now, too, as this Henan park’s temperature is currently in the balmy high teens to low twenties.
Xiandi, the Han emperor, built a resort here, so it should be good enough for a couple of your vacation days. On a less royal, but more Chinese reed-flute-note, the seven Forest Sages used to gad about Mt. Yuntai, nodding wisely, and father of TCM San Simiao used to go a-plant-picking here. Naturally a poet or two had to get in on the act, most famously Tang poet Wang Wei, who opined in verse on Mt. Yuntai’s peak, “One misses ones family most during the holidays.”
One may wonder why he climbed a mountain to get away from his family in the first place, then, but the astounding scenery of Yuntai Park tends to banish such petty lines of reasoning. Cave and canyon, limpid rivers drifting to falls, and antique limestone everywhere soothe restless spirits, while playing “escape the squawking tour group” drains the strength to argue, a pleasantly enervating combination.
Red Stone Canyon is as good a place as any to start off your Yuntai sojourn. Don’t bother getting up early to avoid the conga line down to the bottom; you’ve got to be half-rooster to beat a retired Chinese tourist out of bed. The trick is to traverse Yuntai’s well-trafficked corridors at the noon hour, when the will of heaven mandates all civilized humans to drop whatever they’re doing and scurry off to eat.
Once at the bottom, you may need to pinch yourself a time or two, just to make sure all this sculpted stone and water is nature’s work, and not the expensive fakery of the entrance to a fancy seafood palace. Sometimes, nature imitates restauranteurs imitating nature.
Who lent a hand to finish such masonry projects, begun by the gods themselves? Ming slaves? Counter-revolutionaries in rehab? It’s got to be a good story, because the Henan Board of Tourism ain’t talking.
Very pretty, the Red Stone Canyon-bottom, but that’s an awfully high spectator/falls ratio, and there are so many other rare sights.
Off you go, on the stone-ledge path edging the turquoise Zifang River, to Quanpu Gorge.
Fairly open and sunny, for a gorge. Even so, those giant stone fingers poking the sky make energetic souls long for the heights.
Back on the Diecai stone road to the peak. Goodness, you’d think they were showing Avatar at the end of that line.
You can always go up the new-fangled way, taking in the dizzying heights, and all the folks on the way down who find big noses more comment-worthy than the scenery. (“Huhloo?” “Hollow!” )
See? Water and the lazy always seek the lowest level. Here at Zhuyu peak you are rewarded with the freshest air in Henan province, and the scent of dogwood, to make up for the fact that the freshest air in Henan province is as boast-worthy as the prettiest girl in Albania.
Unless you’re a European architect, or completely new to China, this view of the Zhuyu temple is more interesting than actually traipsing in to ogle the flaking red paint and dragon-detail work.
Take the way back down through Baijia Crag, to get a gander at some truly impressive falls. “Those falls? Meh. Kind of a poor man’s Jiuzhaigou.”
No, those falls, dropping from over 1,000 feet, the Silver Dragon of North China (somebody call marketing). Words don’t do this kind of grandeur justice, anyway, pictures hardly more so.
We leave you with an admonition: stay well clear of the so-called “Rhesus Monkey Valley”, where miserable enslaved macaques cavort in military uniforms to the prodding of long sticks. Is it so necessary to be reminded that we’re the primates evolution smiled on?