Places I like: Huangshan, Anhui Province, China

From the heights of Huangshan, the stuff of Chinese mythology is made. Rising a mile above the fertile terraced rice paddies of Anhui Province, the mountains of Huangshan greet the morning with a scene depicted thousands of times in in Chinese paintings and tens of thousands of times in the Middle Kingdom’s poems.

The clouds roll in like a tide at sea, with only the tops of the peaks’ granite spires poking through. It’s a morning scene played out regularly here, the “Sea of Clouds” reality that reaches back into the soul of China’s reverence for one of its most beautiful places.

Huangshan’s verticality is what makes it distinct from many of the other great ranges of the world. What it lacks in elevation it makes up for in its visual extremes. The combination of geologic uplift and glacial carving give the land its unique architecture.

In the valleys, it’s typically warm. A combination of broadleaf, pine and bamboo forests carpet the lower reaches of the mountains. The swaths of bamboo are easy to spot – lighter green patches contrasting with the darker greens of the other vegetation.  Higher up the slopes, the pines take over until the beige of bare rock juts alone into the skies.

The temperature changes higher up, too. Summer in Anhui can be downright oppressive, but cool breezes on the upper slopes provide a welcome break.

That relief, in addition to the scenery and the deep cultural resonance, make Huangshan a must-visit place for the Chinese. It’s also earned it World Heritage Site status from UNESCO. So it’s not surprising to see hundreds or even thousands of people walking Huangshan’s steep staircased paths on any given day.

If those visitors can catch Huangshan on those cloudy mornings, they get a chance to see something rare in much of the world – a natural scene that has inspired artists and poets for centuries.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088