Grotesque rocks, waterfalls, lush primeval forest, seas of cloud and mist, and legends about Chinese native Taoism, Mt. Sanqing in northeast Jiangxi Province has been in my dreams for more than 20 years. I set foot in the fairyland last weekend.
It was a cloudy day with rain predicted for the afternoon. Due to the pre-arranged schedule, I had to abandon my plan of hiking. Instead three of us were put on a 38-minute slow ride in a cable car along the Tiyun Ridge up to a hotel area, a place with stunning views of the distant mountains in cloud and mist and scenic spots such as Taoist Priest Worshipping the Moon, Peaks in the Gate to Heaven and Guanyin Listening to Music in sight. It was also an ideal base to reach other scenic spots.
The West Coast scenic area was not easily accessible to tourists years ago until several student explorers were lost in the area. The first words after they were rescued were that they would not regret dying in such a beautiful place. Stories about the picturesque West Coast were also confirmed by local medicinal herb collectors.
The local government built a 4 km plank footpath along the cliffs in a period of only five months. It is an easy walk now even for children and elders.
Looking far to the west, the primeval forest is said to be home for hundreds of animals such as black bears, clouded leopards and rhesus monkeys. Lush forests of Douglas firs, Sanqing pine trees and Chinese yew once provided a haven for the Taiping Rebellion in the mid 1800s and communist guerrillas during the 1930s.
The two-hour leisure walk along the plank footpath leads you to breathtaking views such as Flying Celestial Valley, West Sea Dragon Palace and Monkey King's Fruit Mountain.
Again, numerous grotesque rocks and the sea of cloud and mist that engulfs the views in front of you from time to time remind you of all the beautiful Chinese ink paintings.
At 1,817 metres, Yujing is the highest peak and also at the centre of Mt. Sanqing. It was a two-hour hike from our base along the zig-zag path to the top.
Mt. Sanqing is a Taoist holy land and the Yujing Peak, along with the neighbouring Yuxu and Yuhua peaks, are named because they are considered to resemble three fairy lands in Taoism.
A stone carved chess board at the top of the Yujing Peak is said to be the place where the very high lord and other celestials play chess.
Standing at the top, you feel incredibly close to the sky. And looking down, rugged cliffs on the east, south and west sides might make your head dizzy.
If you are lucky to meet the floating cloud and mist, you feel you can grab a handful of them.
Our guide told us that if we get up early enough, we might see a splendid sunrise.
Here, you would marvel at the greatness of Mother Nature, feel the insignificance of human being and think about the true meaning of life. You have already left the stress of your work way behind.
The Sanqing Temple, about 1,530 metres above sea level, is located in a valley basin. From Yujing Peak, it is only 30 minutes down the mountains.
Hundreds of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) architectures, pagodas, pools and stone carvings are still there, though many are in need of urgent protection or repair.
Weird pine trees over 1,000 years old in the area dwarf even the landmark Greeting Pine Tree at the Yellow Mountains.
Designs of the Sanqing Temple area reflects the harmony between heaven, earth and human being, the thinking of Taoism which is much neglected by today's near-sighted urban planners.
Mt. Sanqing has long been considered a Taoist holy land because Ge Hong, a famous Taoist during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420), stayed here to cultivate vital energy in his body and to make pills of immortality about 1,600 years ago. Famous Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi spent 19 years lecturing in the mountain between 1175-94. Ming Dynasty traveller Xu Xiake and Song Dynasty (960-1279) politician and reformer Wang Anshi also left their footprints in Sanqing.
The Goddess Peak, about 90-minute walk from our hotel, is considered a place not to miss in Mt. Sanqing. Located in the south of the mountain facing the Yujing Peak, it is 86-metre tall.
From every angle, it looks like a pretty and plump woman, with cherry mouth, straight nose, round chin and shoulder-length hair.
It was said that she was the only daughter of a medicinal herb collector. To protect the people, she revealed the secret of the Jade Emperor who wanted to turn Mt. Sanqing into an ocean and people into fish. She was punished by the Emperor and was turned into the peak.
Something not suitable for minors. On the way to the Goddess Peak, you would also be greeted by the Lady with Open Arms - rocks that look like the breast of Mother Nature.
Travel Tips: The period from late May to early June is a good time to visit Mt. Sanqing because of the blooming azalea all over the mountains. Visitors are encouraged to stay as long as a week to explore the many other scenic areas and enjoy the serenity of the mountain.
From Shanghai, visitors can drive there in about six hours or take the overnight train to Yushan or Shangrao (about eight hours) and transfer for buses to Mt. Sanqing (about 90 minutes).
Hotels from 30 yuan to 400 yuan a room are usually available, but reservations are needed for May Day and National Day holidays. The only three-star hotel, Tianmen Villa at the Upper Cableway Station, can be reached at (0793)2189-089.
Golden Tea (huangjin cha) and natural crystal make good souvenirs from the area.
(Shanghai Star March 20, 2003)