Rearing over southern Anhui, Huang Shan (黄山, húangshān）– the Yellow Mountains – is among eastern China’s greatest sights. It’s said that once you’ve ascended these peaks you will never want to climb another mountain, and certainly the experience is staggeringly scenic, with pinnacles emerging from thick bamboo forests, above which rock faces dotted with ancient, contorted pine trees disappear into the swirling mists. Huang Shan’s landscape has left an indelible impression on Chinese art, with painters a common sight on the paths, huddled in padded jackets and sheltering their work from the drizzle beneath umbrellas – the more serious of them spend months at a time up here.
As a pilgrimage site trodden by emperors and Communist leaders alike, Huang Shan is regarded as sacred in China, and it’s the ambition of every Chinese to conquer it at least once in their lifetime. Consequently, don’t expect to climb alone: noisy multitudes swarm along the neatly paved paths, or crowd out the three cable-car connections to the top. All this can make the experience depressingly like visiting an amusement park, but then you’ll turn a corner and come face to face with a huge, smooth monolith topped by a single tree, or be confronted with views of a remote square of forest growing isolated on a rocky platform. Nature is never far away from reasserting itself here.