Finally, the time of procrastination is at an end… Back in China, almost settled into my new apartment, and knees as operational as they will get: time to don the hiking boots and explore the great outdoors of Hangzhou and beyond!!
Over the past twelve months, I have been on a fair few trips in China, mainly with organisations that cater well for the expat community… Cash-rich (relatively speaking) and time-poor, weekend trips are often the only option for us, with longer trips reserved for Chinese national holidays or the long summer break when everyone hankers after an opportunity to escape China’s pollution and insanity, as well as Hangzhou’s oppressive heat.
Recently, a new travel group has burst onto the scene, this time based in Hangzhou itself. Capitalising on a gap in the market for low-cost trips for eager low-budget travellers such as students and English teachers, they offer day trips for the adventurous and hike-loving, all within easy reach of Hangzhou… give or take a few hours of sitting in a coach… So my last few weekends have been fairly action-packed on a quest for the hidden gems and thrills of Zhejiang Province.
After an early start and a tedious drive battling with holiday traffic in China, we reached the ancient noodle village of Panzhoujia… If we had expected to take part in the noodle making ceremony, we had arrived in the wrong season. Tea leaf picking was the more urgent, and clearly more profitable business rather than entertaining hapless tourists with draping over-long noodles over the extended chain of arms… Of course, we – all twenty of us – had a little go and carefully stretched one noodle between us before having the pleasure – and it was a pleasure – of eating the famed noodle soup trying to fish out the meters-long noodles…
The 3-D Village
Chinese people have a knack of spotting business opportunities where we might see none… Derelict and remote buildings nestled against a hillside would hardly attract our attention, but how better to entice the masses than by decorating walls with 3D paintings and calling it the ‘3D Village’… And when a visit to this place coincides with the spring extravaganza of rapeseed flowers on the hillside terraces, you can be guaranteed of an influx of visitors and a healthy supply of traffic jams..
Real adventure can definitely be found in and around Hangzhou with the Hash Harriers – the running/hiking group with a ‘drinking problem’. Admittedly, I have so far stuck to hiking the trails rather than running, but a slower speed means more chance to take in the often spectacular scenery. A recent night hike revealed Hangzhou’s West Lake in its nocturnal glory, a blaze of colour reflected in the water. And of course, there is more fun to be found off the beaten track, clambering over rocks and sliding down muddy slopes, experiencing some of the few remaining authentic nature areas that escaped a Chinese makeover… Nothing beats a bit of a ‘Tarzan and Jane’ exploit!!
Tianmen Mountain challenge… walking the glass plank…
And then there was the challenge of the ‘Coiled Dragon Cliff Walkway’, built along the edges of Tianmen Mountain’s summits, clinging to the sheer vertical cliffs. Part of the cliff-hugging walkway had a makeover last summer and those who dare can now brave a walk over the 100m long tract of crystal clear glass looking all the way down to the bottom of the cliff… It is not for the faint-hearted and requires a bit of stamina as the walkway is only reached after climbing 999 steeps steps. Not a mean feat on warmer days, but the views of the valley and the surrounding nineteen peaks are awesome and certainly worth the effort. And the scary looking bridge suspended between two peaks??? Luckily, it looked more flimsy from a distance; it was clearly well-maintained and in good condition to make sure that visitors do not come to a sticky end… At the end of the climb, we found a delightful little pool, fed by fresh water streaming downhill… How could anyone resist the temptation of dipping their feet in???