Xinchang Peaks - Our First Adventure in Rural China

Xinchang Peaks - Our First Adventure in Rural China

The mist hung low over the twisting river at the bottom of the narrow gorge.  Birds were gleefully announcing the new day, with songs long forgotten by man.  A sense of harmony seemed to fill the air and drift through the streets as the small village started to animate.  In the distance, you could see the Xinchang peaks jutting through the mist like bony fingers reaching for the clouds.  At a glance, the weary city dweller might have mistaken them for a collection of strange skyscrapers.  Delightedly, this was not the case.  In this part of the country, the city is all but left behind.  The city dweller can rest easy, knowing that he will not be disturbed by the city’s restlessness.

My attempt to catch a glimpse of the sunrise was foiled by the lingering rain clouds from the day before.  So, after soaking up the scenery for a few minutes and taking a photo or two, I dreamily stumbled back to bed.  It was just after five in the morning and so I decided to go back to sleep.  Feeling quite pleased with the fact that I had awoken to the chattering of birds and not the bustling of traffic.

Our trip to the Xinchang Peaks was our first venture into the rural heart of China.  It was an absolute treat to get out of the city and enjoy the simple spoils of small town life.  We revelled in the opportunity to walk amongst the trees and mountains, instead of the grey buildings of the city.  We explored a whole new side of China and had an awesome adventure.

Our Escape to the Xinchang Peaks

We started our journey with a five-hour bus ride from Shanghai.  The driver, a particularly impatient individual, started the drive with a curse and an unprovoked honk of his horn.  He aggressively weaved through traffic, constantly sounding his horn to inform other drivers of his presence.  I had hoped that he would calm down after leaving the busy streets of the inner city, but the absence of other cars didn’t seem to affect his behaviour at all.  Even after we started our way up the mountain, on the small backroads, he continued to drive as though the devil was breathing down his neck.  Believing that I still had a life to live, I was quite comfortable considering our driver’s unique road etiquette.  The same could not be said for some of my co-passengers, who were all too glad when we finally reached our destination.

After unpacking and enjoying a proper Chinese lunch we set out on an afternoon hike.  The trek started down some ancient steps that wound through the tea terraces and down into the gorge.  The green scenery, the sound of rushing water and the occasional sign of non-human life were absolutely exhilarating and I could hardly contain my excitement.  It had been several months since we were out-and-about and I was truly feeling alive.  My curiosity was the only thing driving me and I was completely living in the “now”.  With no worries and some long-awaited fresh air, we hiked further and further into the gorge.

The hike was only supposed to be a leisurely afternoon walkabout, but it turned into a seven-hour hike.  This caught many in our group by surprise and they were left with sore legs for the rest of the weekend.  We were lucky enough to avoid the stiffness altogether.  All things considered, it was a great start to a great weekend.

We were unable to fully appreciate the picturesque landscape with a camera lens.  Sometimes the true wonder of a place can only be captured by the human eye.  So you might be able to appreciate some of our pictures, but just know that they will never compare to the real thing.

The following morning, after having a traditional Chinese breakfast, we got back on the bus with our wacky driver behind the wheel.  We rushed up and down the winding mountain roads.  After about twenty minutes we came to a stop at a seemingly arbitrary bend in the road.   On the side of the road stood a white pickup truck.  As we got out, we were greeted by a man, presumably our abseiling guide.  He grabbed some rope from the back of the pickup and signalled us to follow.  We each grabbed a piece of climbing gear and followed him over the rail, at the side of the road, and into the bush.  We walked until we reached a very narrow gorge protected on either side by 25-meter high rock faces.

The unlikely abseiling guide quickly secured one rope around a small sapling and started rappelling down the rock face.  We watched in disbelief as the guide abseiled down into the chasm.  The sapling hardly seemed strong enough to support the guide’s weight.  Many in our group had never abseiled before and this was playing heavily on their nerves.  We started to imagine different scenarios and how badly they could end.  In response, some proclaimed outright that they would not participate in the obviously dangerous activity.  Although it might sound grim, the conversation quickly changed into a joke and it kept us busy while we waited to see what would happen next.  At the end, we were quite relieved to see that the guide was actually just setting up the zip line.  This did not, however, diminish the dodginess of the setup as a whole.

After everyone had had their turn on the shifty do-it-yourself zip line, it was finally time to start abseiling down into the gorge.  This was not our first time abseiling, but it was definitely one of the highest abseils we’ve done.  The rock face was about 25 meters high.  Although the guide was very meticulous in setting up the abseiling rope, he wasn’t bothered to enforce the usual safety rules at all.  I didn’t wear a helmet during my decent and he made no mention of it.  Then again, he didn’t speak any English, so I wouldn’t have known if he had said anything at all about the helmet.  We got some really awesome pictures thanks to the guide’s chilled attitude.  I just have to mention that at no point did I ever feel unsafe.

In the gorge, we came across two small temples built into the rock face.  We also learned about an interesting Chinese superstition.  While exploring the small temples we asked one of our Chinese friends if it would be okay to take pictures of the Buddhas in the temples.  She replied that it is almost always okay to take a picture of a Buddha, but that you should never take a picture with one.  The picture will, for some reason, come out looking weird or strange.

That night we had a bonfire.  It wasn’t much, but it was more than enough to get all the South Africans aflame.  We descended on the wood fire like flies on a turd.  For most of us, it was the most South African thing we had done since coming to China and we were absolutely ecstatic to be able to sit outside and converse around an open fire.  We even had marshmallows.

So, there we were, a bunch of South Africans roasting marshmallows somewhere in the middle of China.  It was something that many of us had taken for granted in South Africa and it was only when we experienced it again in rural China that we realised just how we had longed for it.

The following morning was the start of our last day and everyone was eager to make the most of it.  We went on another hike and this time we followed a small stream, as it rushed down the mountain.  We passed a number of beautiful waterfalls, where the water was still carving away at the rock, as it had been doing for hundreds and thousands of years.  As we wandered down the ravine, we were lost in another world.

We were entirely hidden from the rapid development that has engulfed the east coast of China.  The only signs of civilisation were the occasional tea terraces and these reflected a lifestyle that had not changed for many years.  It is truly amazing to see the contrast between Shanghai and rural China.  If I had to choose, though, my heart would forever lean towards the tranquillity and peace of the countryside.  I would undoubtedly trade the grey mountains of the city for the green skyscrapers of nature.

How to get there?

We stumbled upon this adventure through our school that arranged a trip for the teachers.  Normally I am not a huge fan of guided tours, but the school offered to pay half of the expenses.  That was more than enough to convince me to make an exception.  The trip was organised by Wanna Travel.  They are an independent company that offers tours to some of the more popular destinations in China.

So, to be honest, I have no idea how to get to the Xinchang Peaks on my own.   My best guess would be to take the train to the closest big city (Shengzhou, I think) and from there hire a taxi or take a bus.  Anyway, here are the links to Google Maps and Baidu Maps.

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