A gargantuan boulder engraved with grandiose mandarin characters marked the entrance to Qiyunshan township. The walk to the trailhead followed a river, passing street grocers and lion statues. I followed an elderly lady as she cycled along in front, occasionally stooping to sweep leaves and deposit them in the cart attached to the back of her pushbike. I was greeted by gentle smiles from the curious townsfolk as I navigated through the quiet streets.
Wooden pavilions frequented the steps up through cute woodland, providing welcome opportunities for rest. A small dog appeared from nowhere to chase me uphill. I passed another lady sweeping leaves. Traditional Chinese music filled the air, which was the perfect accompaniment as I passed through the tree-topped mountains and gorge.
Qiyunshan was claimed by Taoists over a thousand years ago and much of the area remains holy. There are clues in hidden ying-yang symbols and trickling waterfall shrines. Qiyunshan means As-High-As-The-Clouds-Mountain. This poetic name is apt. As you walk through a cavernous tunnel lined with 3m high tombstones, the reason Qiyunshan was chosen becomes apparent. A huge valley is a backdrop to rising cliff faces and staggered mountain peaks, which encircle a secluded pond and thin waterfall. It's an artfully composed canvas of nature. Huge Chinese characters are engraved in red upon the cliff face and an alter-like decoration of what seems to be pure gold is the centre point of it all. There is an endless charm, intrigue and mystery to Qiyun mountain. Across the valley, houses and temples perch precariously on the cliffs and an overhanging rock marks the spot where famous Taoist hermits once sequestered. This would have without a doubt been the perfect spot to escape from it all. I found myself drawing comparisons to the present day; with the overcrowding in China now, it seemed impossible that you could go unfound in a place like this for more than a few hours.
A Taoist monk garbed in a blue robe wandered along the path towards me. He nodded his box-like hat fervently in greeting. I (in poor Chinese) exclaimed 'good mountain!'. He nodded again, smiling. I later stumbled across the bewitching phenomenon of the Mysterious Long Corridor. A combination of water and gravity has eroded only the very bottom of this section of the soft rock so that the piece above protrudes as a jutting upper lip. Because of this, you can stoop to fit underneath. The Taoist monks of old were said to have chosen this spot for their meditation. I decided to join the ancient monks and close my eyes awhile. I listened to birdsong and the many drips of melting snow. It was the quietest spot I had found in China.
Feeling rejuvenated, I continued onward but walked only a few paces before a falling twin-leafed twig spinning in circles stopped me in my tracks. I had a sudden flashback to my preschool playground, trying to catch sycamore seeds from the air as they tumbled to the ground. I think that might be my earliest childhood memory. Rediscovering that moment was a magical feeling. I will cherish that simple, happy memory.
I completed the remaining peaks at a leisurely pace, calmed by the events of the day and started downhill. I was sad to be heading back to the city, but thankful I could carry the tranquillity of Qiyunshan with me.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2016
Take a bus (7元) from Tunxi Bus Station in Huangshan city (planes/trains and buses go to Huangshan city from all over the country) to Qiyunshan township (齐云山). Check return buses before leaving otherwise it's around 80-100元 for a taxi. Entry to the mountain is 55元.
Return trip (if you don't take the cablecar back down from Qiyunshan):