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China hiking trip: the Huangshan mountain is one of the most beautiful

In the Chinese province of Anhui there is a Unesco world natural heritage site that is so uniquely beautiful that it served as the backdrop for "Avatar": the Huangshan Mountains have been venerated by ancient Chinese poets, painters and monks for centuries. The Huangshan is one of the five sacred mountains in China - here you feel very close to heaven. The summit is surrounded by a mysterious beauty that many vacationers want to discover while hiking to the viewing platforms. You are almost never completely alone on the hiking trails. See the impressive Huangshan Mountains in China in our photo show.

Hike up the Huangshan - or have it carried in a litter

With quick triple steps, a few men push their way past the China travelers who enjoy the spectacular view on the narrow path in the middle of the Huangshan Mountains. They haul fully packed baskets that hang from long bamboo poles and are heavy with their load on their shoulders. While the hikers only have eyes for the high mountains, the human pack mules keep making their way through the crowds. It gets even tighter when suddenly two porters drag past a kind of sedan chair on which a heavy tourist is sitting. A picture that inevitably reminds you of long-forgotten pen work.

This type of transport has a long tradition in the Middle Kingdom. Since time immemorial and to this day, goods have been transported in the countryside with muscle power on rocking bamboo poles. Everything that the tourists need in the hotels on the mountains is dragged in this way. And everything that accumulates upstairs in the form of waste takes the same route back.

"There is no mountain as beautiful as Huangshan"

The Huangshan Mountains are a good 150 square kilometers and are located in the south of Anhui Province, an hour's flight southwest of Shanghai. China has five so-called sacred mountains, which are considered the pillars of the firmament. Huangshan Mountain is one of them. The fact that he likes to wrap himself in clouds or fog 200 days a year increases his reputation as a mysterious beauty. If you believe ancient Chinese poets and painters, the region is one of the most beautiful mountain worlds in China. For example, the scholar Xu Xiake, famous in the Ming Dynasty, wrote after his hike through the mountains: "There is no mountain as beautiful as Huangshan. After climbing it, I don't want to see anyone else."

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Mountains were the backdrop for the "Avatar"

The mountains have served Chinese painters as a template for centuries, inspiring them to create long scroll paintings and ink drawings. Time and again, Taoist and Buddhist monks came here to meditate and to be very close to heaven. Even the present has made use of the picturesque mountain backdrop and recently incorporated it into the science fiction film "Avatar" as the "Hallelujah Mountains" of the planet Pandora.

While the gondola of the Austrian cable car floats up, the Huangshan actually presents itself as a peaceful natural paradise. It goes almost silently past steep granite walls, over deep valleys and through billowing banks of clouds. The peaks, there should be 70, are often only vaguely to be guessed between the fog. Ancient pine trees have clung to high cliffs and deep gorges. Birds of prey let themselves be carried through the air by updrafts. Apart from the quiet hum of the cable car, nothing disturbs the silence between the mountains, which are up to 1900 meters high.

On standard hiking routes uphill and downhill

However, the heavenly peace will soon be over. As soon as the visitor has stepped out of the gondola at a height of around 1,300 meters at the mountain station, he finds himself among many others. After all, in China you are never alone for long, not even in Huangshan. Tour guides hold large groups of Chinese tourists together using megaphones. Chinese mountain guides explain the prospect of bizarre rock formations and ancient trees to hikers. And the long noses quickly notice that they are clearly in the minority here.

Around 15 million visitors come to Huangshan every year. Many only stay for one day, but most of them stay for a few nights in one of the mostly large hotels with dining rooms and large terraces. The houses are the fulcrum for the vacationers, starting point for their small and large hiking tours. From there it goes uphill and downhill on standard paths into nature.

Fascinating views in the Unesco world natural heritage

Most of the paths and stairs are secured with railings, neatly paved, swept clean and signposted with both Chinese and English signage. Time and again, terraces at the most spectacular vantage points invite you to photograph the magnificent landscape. Sometimes there are rocks that look like praying monks, lion heads, monkeys on the lookout or lying giants. Sometimes there are valleys in which clouds often gather in such a way that they look like white lakes, from which the mountains look like islands. Sometimes you can marvel at centuries-old gnarled trees that cling to bare granite and have names like welcome pine or umbrella pine.

The mountains have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. A landscape of granite rocks, pine forests and bamboo groves, hot springs and waterfalls. Habitat for birds of prey, monkeys and squirrels. Magnolias and azaleas are in full bloom in spring. Swallows fly through the air in summer. In winter, trees, bushes and rocks lie under thick snow.

Unfortunately, you don't enjoy the unique sunrise alone

This unique mountain world looks particularly attractive at sunrise and sunset. So it's no wonder that nobody wants to miss this spectacle. Therefore, in the corridors of the hotels, you can hear eager patter and palaver early in the morning when the general departure to Sunrise Hill begins. In the evening it is enough, for example, to simply sit comfortably on the terrace of the "Bei Hai Hotel" and watch the spectacle of the setting sun pass by. Fortunately, down jackets are available in the rooms for the excursion in the morning or evening twilight hour. However, the romantic mood suddenly evaporates when a group of Chinese tourists clearly stand nearby.

Unesco World Heritage cities of Hongcun and Xidi

There are two villages in the region, which have also been part of the Unesco World Heritage since 2000. Xidi and Hongcun are prime examples of traditional settlements as they were founded over 1000 years ago. Surrounded by rice fields and bamboo forests, there are still many well-preserved, ancient houses, temples and gardens in both places.

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Two rivers flow through Xidi, which give the streets coolness even in warm summer. Many houses are whitewashed, and all have rich stone and wood carvings on door and window frames, fences, beams and pillars. A good 140 of the buildings in Xidi are said to be several hundred years old.

In Hongcun, a few more ancient houses have survived. Some of them can be visited as small museums, while the residents are happy to give the curious a quick look at others. But the best thing about Hongcun is a stream. Even when it was founded, it was managed and dammed in such a way that it flows past every house, forms a lake in the center of the village and can be regulated at any time through a sluice. A clever, centuries-old and yet very modern way of water supply and climate regulation. The heavenly calm in the alleys is only interrupted by the chattering of the ducks in the reservoir or the neighbors chatting on bamboo stools in front of the house - or by a crowd of Chinese vacationers who stop here on their way to or from the Huangshan Mountains.

A piece of historical China in the county town of Huangshan

Just over an hour's drive away, a piece of historic China has survived in the county town of Huangshan. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is relatively small by Chinese standards, but anyone who wants to go to the Huangshan Mountains cannot ignore it. It is an important station for planes, trains and buses. And while you are here, you should definitely stroll through the one and a half kilometer long alley that has been winding through the center for centuries, still bears typical old Chinese features and somehow seems to have fallen out of time just as the villages at the foot of the Huangshan Mountains .

Its well-restored town houses and temples date from the Ming to Qing times (1368-1911). Almost every house has a shop selling brushes, ink stones, carvings made of jade, bamboo and wood, paintings on silk and paper, but also Chinese medicine. There are also traditional scroll paintings with motifs of bizarre rocks, pines and clouds à la Huangshan, as they have been painted since ancient times.

Further information: Huangshan Mountains in the Chinese province of Anhui

getting there: Arrival by flight via Shanghai to Huangshan City. There are also bus and train connections between Shanghai and Huangshan (around 500 kilometers). The airport is around an hour's drive from the Huangshan Mountains.

climate: The best travel time is spring and autumn, the short rainy season begins in June.

entry: For entry you need a valid passport and a visa from the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, Märkisches Ufer 54, 10179 Berlin (Tel .: 030/27 58 80). An application form is also available online at www.visaforchina.org

information: Tourist Office of the PR China, Ilkenhansstraße 6, 60433 Frankfurt (Tel .: 069/52 01 35, E-Mail: [email protected])