Tim's around the world trip travel blog











After the beautiful scenery and friendly folks in Yangshuo I took my second overnight train to the city of Nanchang on my way to the historical mountain town of Lushan. Lushan has a lot of things: over 2000 years of history, scenic temples by the score, lakes and waterfalls, cool pine forests and mist-filled valleys. In the summer it also has a lot of camera toting Chinese tourists-ok alot is a gross understatement, in the summer, the way I hear it, the serenity of nature is drowned out by the chatter of enthusiastic tourists, the quiet town becomes a chaotic mess, trails start to look like lines for popular rides in American amusement parks, the hawkers appear everywhere, and there is little of the spiritual ambience that led intellectuals like Mao Zedong and hundreds of Chinas most prominent religious, artistic and literary figures to find a muse in these small mountains. Luckily, I was there in the winter, and the number of tourists on the mountain at the same time was certainly under fifty, maybe even fewer. Part of the reason I was so excited to make it to Lushan was the possibility for snow. In Nanchang a steady cool rain was falling, and Lushan had about 4000 feet of elevation on it. Now you all know that I become a little obsessive when faced with the possibility of snow, and this was no exception. As the minibus wound up the mountain my eyes were focused on the windshield, looking for the telltale signs that signify the change from rain to snow. Unfortunately there were none, at least not the first day, the temperature was a balmy 42 degrees and my hopes for snow were dashed-for a time, anyway. The sky undulated between dense fog and a wispy sea of clouds, playing with the tops of the rocky notches and spilling like a moon tide back and forth into and from the lush valleys below. Upon arrival I fell victim to a very common trick. I was dropped off at one of Lushans more expensive hotels. I was tired, the weather was wet, and the bus driver through my backpack off the bus and sped away. I went in to see how out of control this place was- about 40 dollars a night, way out of my budget. The friendly manager assured me that, in the dead of winter, all other hotels were shut down. I was dubious-this was a classic ploy. I asked her if she would let me use the phone to call a couple of cheaper options, after ten minutes of argument she agreed. The first place I called was indeed not closed down, and as they started to respond to my querie in good english the manager snapped the phone out of my hand. Ahh, she said-they don't speak english. After a minute she hung up the phone and said- "their cheapest room start at 45 dollars." Now, this I found shocking, in high season the guide book listed the rooms at about 11 dollars a night, and this was a far cry from high season. But it was wet outside, and I was tired, so I bargained her down to 20 dollars and enjoyed my cold(the "heat" was merely a heated blanket), overpriced, perfectly nice room. In the evening I took part in another edition of "point and pray" the method employed by so many travelers in China when presented with a menu only in Chinese. I had learned to say "I don't eat dog, liver, kidney or feet, so I felt pretty confident that I would be misunderstood and unknowingly eat one of these things. The food was incredible. In fact, for all the horror stories I had heard about the nasty things one must eat in China, I found the food to be an absolute delight, an unexpected highlight of the trip. It is in Lushan that I discover the heinous inadequacies of the glossary of my guidebook. Sure it has useless chatter like "Hello", "how are you" and "where is the bathroom". But the really important stuff-absent. Like, for example, the ever useful "Excuse me but I have left my key somewhere in town and while I think I know where it is it would take at least 30 minutes to retrieve it and since we only get hot water for an hour a day-half of which has past already, and I need the key to operate the light box so I can see what I am doing, could I please borrow another key, which I will return with the original quite soon." I scoured the pages of my guidebook but could find this commonly used phrase nowhere. Or how about the indespensible "I am terribly sorry but there has been some kind of mistake and I just don't think I am comfortable eating this." Nowhere, ommited. The folks at "Lets Go" should be ashamed of themselves- Ashamed! The next day the weather was colder, about 39, snow was possible the next day, I was psyched. In the morning I took a walk through the intermittent mist and fog, along the side of the kind of valley that makes you wish you had the powers of an eagle, past pagodas, and a cave said to have been inhabited by the immortals(although I saw zero immortals, and they wouldn't be dead would they, I mean the whole point is that they are immortal, so where did they go? tahiti maybe? Or possibly since they are immortal they are off doing things off limits to us mortals like surfing 50 foot waves, or jumping off Niagra falls. I will tell you where they are not however: in their cave posing for photographs, that's where.) I have borrowed an umbrella and forgot my rain pants at home, so about 11 AM I arrive back at my cold hotel soaked. Aha! time to employ the age old blow drier technique of drying clothes. It takes an hour but now my clothes are nice and toasty. After a lengthy lunch and short nap, I figure it is time to do something stupid, so at 2 o'clock I head off, without telling anybody mind you, for the famed three tiered falls. Now, even though the mountain was not busy, these falls were a major attraction, so while part of my stupidity was due to impulse, part of it was also due to the fact that I was sure there would be other people making the short 7km or so trek to the falls- there were not. As I got out of the Taxi, I realized furthermore that I had no cell phone(stolen a couple of days earlier), no watch (lost a couple of days earlier), and only a vague map that smacked of innacuracy to lead me to the falls then back an alternate path back to town. Add that I was doing this starting at 2 oclock which meant I had 4 hours of daylight left-max, that the path was made up of stones that were exceedingly slippery from the wet conditions, and the fact that it was steadily getting colder, and you have a recipe for one of the stupidest things I have ever done. It was one of those deals where there was just never a clear obstacle. The base of the trip was deserted but it was open to foot traffic. In the summer there would have been vendors all along the trail, all that remained were closed up wooden stalls. In the summer there was a cable car, now it sat deserted inside the terminal-also deserted. In the summer there were bookstores, information centers, restaurants and tons of people-now there was just me. But the trail was in good shape, the river it followed clear and ferocious, and the cab had sped away already, so with caution I plodded down the trail. The hike was wonderful. All downhill until the trail turned to gain a ridge where lay the terminus of the cable car and the way down to the falls, iot had that hushed sensibility that befalls a forest soaked from rains and waiting for snow. As I gain the ridge I realize, that there are no signs. My map is falling apart but I choose the way I think I should go and head off, up up and over the ridge then steeply down on narrow steps. Up to this point I have not seen a single other person or evidence of their existence, My only company a few birds and squirrels. I have passed by countless small wooden structures- vestiges of the summer season. I am getting nervous, I have passed a couple of forks and still no sign of the viewing pagoda- and there have been no signs-period. I am walking past one of the ubiquitous wooden shacks when I here "Hey! not free, ticket." I look through the bars of what I now see as a small ticket window and see two smiling old men, looking like I am one of hundreds of tourists they have seen that day, taking my money for entrance to the deserted falls. The steps are steeper now, descending into a narrow gorge. According to my map I am not going toward the falls anymore, and I am beginning to become discouraged when I see a group of structures huddled on the side of the cliff and another ticket window. I pay more money, get another ticket and fail miserably at trying to ask where I am, and where the trail to town is. It is getting later now, probably about 4:30, but the men look unconcerned and smile while directing me down to the bottom of the gorge. Once I get down I am instantly overpowered. Looking up I see the thundering falls. Three tiers carrying the water with a deafening roar to the pool below. To my left a side valley, encased in wet rock that descends way down below. I am soaked, I am tired, I am cold, I am overjoyed. No picture could do these falls justice and the sheer silence that I found among the aquatic chaos was deeply satisfying. I started back up, back to my ticket booth where I was once again unsuccessful at finding the way back to town. As I walked back up in elevation the trees went from wet to icy, and by the time I had gotten back to where I had started they were encased in shimmering casings, my camera was not cooperating, so I have no pictures but it imbued upon the landscape a stillness that I will never forget. Back at the deserted parking lot I found my taxi driver asleep, waiting for me. He didn't speak English but he said with his eyes "I knew you'd be back here, foolish American idiot." That night I sleep like a zombie and wake the next morning to an icy wonderland. It is now 28 degrees and the precipitation is freezing rain. As we descend out of the ice forests I am ready for my next adventure-Wuhan, and then Beijing.

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