Friday, January 22, 2010

Yangtze 2 - Through the heart to Shanghai

Day 4 - Wuhan.
The transition to the lower Yangtze is abrupt. Hills and mountains end at the dam's lock. Water runs slower, crops grow to the river's edges. If you've opted for the shorter cruise, this is where you disembark.
                                                             Yellow Crane Tower

Today's itinerary lists only the Hubei Provincial Museum. Too bad because the Yellow Crane Tower is quite pretty.

Tip: If you get to Yellow Crane Tower, take the elevator to the top instead of climbing.

You will be spared the road of 400 bends up to Lushan, "House Mountain," but  the next day, weather and roads permitting, will take you to ....

Day 5 - Huangshan, Yellow Mountain. This is the China you've seen in films like  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It will take three hours by bus to reach the mountain but don't miss it.

En route you'll pass roadside stands of bonsai that echoes in miniature the mountain's wind-gnarled greenery, rice paddies, fish and pearl farms and structures with the picturesque upturned eaves and gables Westerners associate with China.

After two hours the hills steepen, the roadside streams broaden and beehives, tea bushes and dark pines laced with new bamboo proliferate. The river becomes Tai Ping Lake, famous for its pearl culture, and yes, you will stop to shop.

Eventually, you will reach the queue for the stand-up ride in the largest, longest cable car in China. It climbs steeply over plunging chasms and through dramatically thrusting thumbs and fingers of granite, lurching to a stop at each section.

This is Chinese landscape painting personified. The 72 peaks have descriptive names - Lotus Peak, Heavenly Capital, Peak of Brightness. Pines and rocks are named as well - Greeting the Guests, Lying Dragon, Monkey Gazing at the Sea, Squirrel Leaping Up from the Peak, Rock Flown from Afar.

Look quick because they appear and disappear through the thick waves of Huangshan's "Sea of Clouds".

Tip: Paths, many with series of rock stairs, lace to and by various scenic outlooks. You can quickly tell if it is too much for you, but be prepared to see Chinese visitors, some looking as old as the mountain, stoically trudging along every one. Never mind. You know your limitations so take advantage of the many resting places and turn back if it gets too strenuous.

Huangshan is rugged, remarkable, mystical and unforgettable. Not surprisingly, the area at its flanks is known for its production of fine papers, paintbrushes, ink sticks and stones. On the ride back to the ship you may find yourself sketching what you've seen or composing bad Chinese poetry about it.

In case of bad weather or road conditions, the company now substitutes Jiuhuanshan, Mountain of the Nine Lotuses, which sounds intriguing, too.

Day 6 - Nanjing, the Southern Capital. Once the capital city for eight dynasties between the third and 14th centuries, Nanjing is now an industrial, mid-sized city of 6 million. The first walled, Forbidden City was here and you can still see remnants of the wall.

You will be shown the Ming Tombs - we missed them because a committee from UNESCO was considering it for International Heritage site status - and the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum. 

Tip: There are 392 steps up to the mausoleum. Don't bother. Visit, instead, the lovely park that surrounds it. The shops are good and the people watching is great.

You'll like Fu Zi Miao, the Qing Dynasty-style bazaar clustered about a rebuilt Confucius Temple from the Song Dynasty. Prices are good and can get better if you haggle a bit and it's fun to watch the Nanjing teens clustering around McDonald's and the younger kids drawn to the bird, reptile and pet market. Try not to think about that puppy maybe becoming a delicacy instead of a pampered member of the family.

And do consider the caveat our guide shared, "Buy cheap shirt, wash once, give to your children."


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