Tuesday, December 6, 2011

8. Tianmen Mountain

It’s nearly 2 when we start up the long, long lift to Tianmen Mountain (just Tianmen, not Tiananmen). The day is smoggy, as I suspect most days are around here, and the humidity has burned off as much as it’s going to. Sam was marveling at the good weather earlier, certain that the lack of clouds meant we’d have a spectacular aerial view. But no, visibility isn’t more than a mile or so, and the city is soon lost in the haze.

Down below we can see small farms, one after the other. As an American, it’s funny to see all these small, personal farms - where’s the industrial-scale agriculture? The miles and miles of monoculture? Coming soon, probably, but for today it seems that most of the food around here comes from these smallholdings.

At the top, there are two areas to see. One is the highest peak in the region, at the end of the 2-part lift, and the other is the keyhole formation, for which we’ll go back to the intermediate cable car station and take a bus to.

At the high peak, they’ve constructed a walkway around the cliff, a sort of single-lane tourist highway. It’s a nice view, with lesser peaks marching off into the bluish haze and the city a tan smudge in the distance. Red flags are tied to many of the overhanging trees, carrying wishes and prayers, giving the whole place a festive yet reflective air. The path goes on around the contours of the peak, weaving in and out of the gorges. As you go around the light changes, making each new corner rounded a new perspective.

Sam, however, finds this all pretty much the same. We’ve been here 20 minutes already: I’ve seen it, haven’t I?

Well, no, not if the light keeps changing! What’s around the other side? I want to keep going around the entire loop, but he tells me we have wonderful things to see at the other site. He says this like we’ll miss something is we don’t hurry away, in spite of our both noticing several times already that with only one person to usher around the tour has been going lickety-split. I don’t require a lot of explanation. But he’s the one who knows what’s yet to be seen, so I give up on poking around one last corner and follow him back down.

It’s a slow bus ride to the next destination. This keyhole that the Chinese are so excited about is a rock that fell off of one peak and got wedged between that peak and its neighbor, making a little keyhole at the pass between them. There’s some mystical explanation I don’t retain that makes it so popular. On our way up the switchbacks in the bus, he tells me all about how they’re building a giant new 5-star hotel at the base (yep, nice construction site they’ve got going - really adds to the panorama), as well as an elevator to whisk people up from there to the top. Ah, so that’s the construction stuff that’s marring the view through the hole.

He’ll wait for me here if I desire to climb the 990 steps to the top.

Of course I’m climbing to the top. I didn’t give up on my views from the high peak just to stop at the parking lot/souvenir gallery/construction site and turn around.

From the bottom the stairs look quite easy, and the bottom section is. The steps are deep enough to set a size 8 foot on. But soon the rise is too steep to maintain that, and the steps are only about 6 inches deep. For these steep sections there are extra guardrails to hold on to, as much to keep you from succumbing to vertigo as to help against the inevitable collisions with other tourists when everybody’s looking at their feet. Every so often there’s a rest area off to the side.

Aw, come on. 990 steps is not that many.

At the top there’s a shop that will sell you a red prayer ribbon or a padlock or a photo of yourself holding the keyhole open. Then there’s a little shrine to tie your prayer to, and put a lock on love. The fountain has been drained because of all the construction going on for the elevator. In fact, half the surface up here is given over to this construction, which is quite a distraction from any remaining natural beauty.

Down the other side is not the verdant gateway to the mountainous hinterland so much as another stairway under construction and a dim view through the smog of further peaks.

What I like the most about this place is the huge accumulation of prayer flags and joss sticks at the Buddhist shrine at the bottom of the stairs.

And that’s it. We’re done with the tour, and we have hours to kill before my flight back to Guangzhou.

Why, oh why, then, did you rush me through the parts I was actually interested in spending more time at!

Well, let’s see a bit of the city.

What’s there to see?

Er, not much. Anything you want to shop for?

Nothing in particular.

So we spend some time wandering around the city center until dark and it’s “time” for dinner. I dislike eating so early, but it’s on the schedule to eat now, so fine. We have a reservation for traditional hot pot. Which is very nice, once you get used to just setting aside the parts of chicken not usually considered food.

Though of course once we’re done we still have time to kill but now the lively market has packed up (why not linger longer in the market and eat later???). So we go back to where we had lunch, a place owned by Sam’s friends and where we stashed the luggage for the afternoon, and hang around sipping tea and chatting before it’s reasonable to head for the airport.

1 comment:

Bagman and Butler said...

It sounds like you are having a wonderful time and I really appreciate the travelogue and photos. I guess you had no trouble accessing Blogger there?