Miracle of Nature

Nicholas Quirke was speechless on 5 August 2020 when he reached the summit of Huangshi Mountain and surveyed in full the landscape that had been in his imagination for decades. It had required an early start but the night had been a disturbed one with the television suddenly bursting into life at 3am and waking him. This also signalled an air con failure, which meant calls to reception caused further disruption to his slumber. Consequently his mind was not focussed and when he inserted a memory card into his GoPro it went in incorrectly and damaged the mechanism. Breakfast was cancelled in the hotel due to the power failure in the night and though they were serving takeaway food there was nothing he could eat and so was given 3 apples! It was not enough and he was feeling sulky when they left for Wulingyuan Core Scenic Area and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. He got a congee and a Youtiao (Deep Fried Twisted Dough), which meant he did eat something before the trek ahead of them. It was an hour bus ride away on a beaten up bus, bumpy, no air con, randomly stopping to pick up locals or anyone who flagged it down. It felt authentic. Even outside the park area the colossal, towering peaks were visible and provided a breathtaking view but once they were wandering through the park, all initial expectations were surpassed. He was suprised to find a colony of monkeys in the parks patiently enjoying their habitat, picking fleas, feeding their babies and waiting for they humans to drop food or to be carrying plastic bags which must they had ascertained contain food. They were at Yellow rock Mountain and had decided to climb to the top and get the cable car down. As they started in the cool shade of the forest everything seemed easy and gentle but as the climb got steeper and the heat more intense, the sweat began to run like a river and Nicholas’s shirt was soaked making it feel very uncomfortable. They passed a few fellow travellers, but it was very few who chose the path they were on and each time they encountered people coming down the mountain they commented on how brave he was to be climbing, which as most Chinese seemed to think he was seventy; “You Westerners look so old” was a compliment. It was a massive effort, which he did feel a little shamed by when he read the ‘Sedan Termination’ sign and realised that people actually carried people part way up the mountain in sedan chairs, yet when he reached the top and the incredible vistas opened up to him he felt quite emotional and trying to record a video rendered him speechless. He found himself momentarily the centre of attention as took photos from the temple at the top of the mountain and several people asked to have their photo with him. Once rested they toured the Huangshi village and visited every viewing platform from which the incredible quartz sandstone structures, formed 300 million years ago, could be viewed, each with a unique name, ‘Star Gathering stage,‘Five Finger Peak‘, ’Golden Turtle in the Clouds’, etc and offering an alternative view of the majestic peaks. Every vantage point, every scenic stop was awe inspiring and when they finally took the cable car down the mountain past through the sandstone forest he was felling exhausted not only by the climbing and walking but also by the landscapes sheer beauty. When they reached the river, Golden whip stream, with its beautiful clear water it was a huge relief to bathe his feet in the cold crystal clear water. An old villager, scavenging for wild vegetables spoke with them and once they were refreshed, they set off on a walk along the river, encountering more monkeys, a spring named ‘Longevity’ from which they gulped plenty of the refreshing sweet liquid. They got a bus back to the city and found a restaurant to eat supper in which felt like a truly traditional eating house serving hot, spicy Hunan fare and which cost only £8.00 for both of them. Peng ordered some black sesame soup with glutinous rice balls for desert and the shattered pair finally retired for the night.

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