Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chasing Yellow Mountain

Thanks to the fog, it's a blessing in disguise, I think, that the beauty of Yellow Mountain is thus brought to sight. And the results are exactly the way the Chinese landscape paintings should look. In fact, it should be the other way round, which Chinese landscape paintings found inspirations from.

Without the fog, the mountains would be fully in sight, and that would be relatively boring to the beholder than when they are partly hidden. It's all about the art of "looming", being able to see part of the whole picture visually, leaving the rest of the picture to the minds of the beholders to construct, bringing about infinite possibilities. And that itself is exciting!

Yellow Mountain refers to a range of granite peaks in Anhui province, a poor agricultural province 7 hours bus ride from Shanghai. The granite formation of the peaks created peaculiar-looking contour lines and precipitous cliffs. You get lots of jutted peaks and cliffs that are stacked on one boulder on top of the other like lego. Although not of high altitude--the peaks are only about 1600m-1800m high, the precariously-looking cliffs, pavements and pavillions sticking out of the granite edge, are definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Yellow Mountain has been a magnet of attraction throughout the history of China, in art and literature, and is still the most popular mountain to the Chinese as a tourist attraction. In the year 2007 alone, 15 million tourists, mainly Chinese, visited the area, and the crowds in summer, the peak season, are disastrous to the serenity and tranquility of the mountain range. Unless, of course, if you are able to rise above the nuisance of the crowds.

Names of the peaks and rocks formation
It is all visual and imagination. Names like "Lotus Peak", "Turtle Peak", "Lion Peak", "Bookcase Peak", "Pillow Peak" are simply representation of the shape of the peaks. "Mobile Rock" is a boulder in the shape of a mobile phone with an antenna, "A monkey gazing at the sea" is nothing but a gigantic boulder, shaped like the back of a monkey, resting on the peak.

It is a test on imagination and you can actually see more things if you go beyond the "officials ones." I like "Scholar drying shoes" especially, where a peculiar-shaped boulder, resembling an upside-down ancient Chinese shoes. And I still remember a spot where Guanyin, a goddess, is playing chess. Didn't see that this time round though.

Photo: A pine tree, adorned with icicles, growing from the granite, just like that.

Playing with Time

For three consecutive days, the mountain range have been shrouded completely in fog/mist/clouds. Luckily, there was time to bid for luck--that is, to wait at a scenic spot for the fog to clear or clouds to move away. It might be a futile attempt but when the luck shines, it is worth all the time waiting.

Chanced upon an area called "Collective Peaks Point", a side-track from the main route, thus void of any Chinese crowds. Only a white screen was presented at this "point". Loitered around. Staring ahead of a white screen of fog, when all existence is shielded from one's eyes, is quite philosophical. When the fog moved away, the peaks started to peer through the screen of fog, revealing peaks one by one, and that was when you realize there was so much to offer behind that blank screen!

There was indeed a WHOLE collection of peaks, as suggested by the name. Given the speed of the passing clouds, peaks unfolded promptly and faded into blankness swiftly, and thus, every second is a changing scenery. When the peaks surfaced above the clouds, which is termed "the sea of clouds" in Chinese, there was really a surreal look, as the altitude of the peaks are accentuated by the sinking clouds. The show of the peaks lasted for less than five minutes but it left such a beautiful impression.

And because of such a brief period of opening, whenever the clouds clear, I will scamper into action with camera, filters and chasing after the clouds before they swallow the peaks. Sometimes, you have to run after it literally; sometimes you are caught in a delimma of which part of the scenery to take in. On the second night, temperature dropped below zero, yet not enough to bring about snow. Instead, the day woke with a blanket of frost. The wind in the night left its trail on the pine needles in the form of icicles and from far, the pines looked like they have been decorated with a layer of icing.

Pine trees
Yellow Mountain cannot do without pine trees. And these trees is an embodiment of strength in the Chinese culture. Because they thrive in places which are impossible for growth, such as crevices of rocks and they survive the harshness of winters.

Pine trees add the scale of perspective to the peaks and soften the harsh lines of the granite. Some even took to the liking of growing diagonally from the cliffs.

LuckStill, snow did not dawn as desired. Instead, lots of rain. Each day, after the walk, all shoes, clothings and bags have to lay infront of the heater to dry. On top of that, most of the peaks were closed off in winter and a lot of the sights were missed due to the fog. Given that Yellow Mountain is hidden in fog/mist/clouds for a third of the year, and given that little amount seen during the few openings of the clouds this time, this is by far the best of Yellow Mountain that I have ever seen. Tonnes better than the last time I visited during summer when sky was clear.

So less is indeed more.