With its majestic peaks and lush vegetation, Huangshan (黄山) is a vast mountain range situated in the Anhui province of China. Its spectacular scenery has inspired paintings, literature, and photography for centuries. Without a doubt, Huangshan is a natural wonder, and it’s no surprise that it has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site for many tourists to visit, averaging about three million visitors each year.
My family and I only had one night in Huangshan, and it was quite packed with activities to keep us busy. Much of it was spent hiking the mountains, but we also had some time exploring two settlements, one being Huangshan City (aka the capital of the eponymous region) and Hongcun, a picturesque village. This post will touch on those places visited, with the second part recapping our hike in the mountains.
Following our one night in Hangzhou, we packed up our belongings and soon were off to Huangshan. The journey time took close to four hours for the 213-kilometre distance– normally, it would’ve taken closer to three hours to reach the region, but our driver got lost navigating which highways to take. At some point, he made a wrong turn, and it wasn’t until he stopped to ask a passerby for rerouting directions that he corrected himself, and we soon enough were heading on the right path. Oh, the adventures to be had while on the road!
We soon enough arrived into the Huizhou region of the Anhui province. This particular district is about 28 kilometres north of Huangshan City proper, and it’s home to several clusters of historic and scenic villages, with some of the most-popular including Hongcun, Nanping, and Xidi. Such villages date back easily over 900 years ago, and these small settlements are breathtakingly beautiful reminders of quiet, civilian life amidst dynasties and emperors who ruled them in the past.
It was a ride through the countryside before we reached our first stop of the day, at the village of Hongcun (宏村). Paired with the village of Xidi located just 18 kilometres south, Hongcun has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, and it’s no wonder how it came to make the list. The village is absolutely stunning, as well as being refreshingly tranquil compared to the big-city visits we had prior to arrival.
With a population of about 1500 residents, Hongcun is a gorgeous reverence to its natural surroundings. Its 160 or so houses frame the ever-clear Moon Pond, which marks the center of the village. Many of these homes were built in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), and they were constructed from white stone and cedar wood. Their architecture provides a striking contrast with the lake and hills in the distance, and it almost feels as if you’ve stepped into a landscape painting, or even backwards in time.
It’s said that the layout of Hongcun resembles an ox. In fact, the place is nicknamed “Ox-Shaped Village” for its very likeness to the tough, four-legged animal. The nearby Leigang Hill represents the head, with the tall trees symbolizing horns. In the village itself, the houses outline the body, with Moon Pond as the stomach and the four bridges as legs. I found the imagery to be quite vivid, and I admired the villager’s creativity for showcasing the beauty of their hometown.
Because of its picturesque look, Hongcun was the filming location for the popular 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee. The movie is a classic not just for modern Chinese cinema, but also for the rest of the world; many of the aerial, sword-fighting scenes were filmed on the village’s Moon Pond, and it was really fascinating to imagine being present during its shooting several years prior.
We only had a few hour’s stay in the village, as we merely strolled by the water and popped into a few of the historic houses for a peek inside. Hongcun is really small, and most people who visit only come for a day trip from Huangshan, just 20 kilometres away. While it would’ve been great to visit other pretty villages like Xidi, we didn’t have the time to do so, but I’d love to return to check them out on my own!
In any case, we spent the rest of the afternoon making our way up into Huangshan, where we spent the time hiking and staying overnight in the mountains. It was the following day that we completed a three-hour hike that we left the mountains and returned to base, this time for a stop in Huangshan City. Originally called “Tunxi” (which now refers to a district within the city, or 屯溪區), this is a reasonably-large municipality with a population of 1.4 million, and it’s often used as the base for access to the mountains and villages in the surrounding area.
Our time in Huangshan City was very short, as we only went through the Old Gate and a brief jaunt along Tunxi Ancient Street (a narrow alleyway with an atmosphere reminiscent of centuries ago) before our tour guide brought us to a massage parlor, where we were treated to a foot massage after an extensive two days of hiking. We left Huangshan shortly afterwards, as means of continuing to our next point in China.
Second part of my time in Huangshan will be up soon. Stay tuned!