Anhui Province (6) : Tangyue arches, Yuliangba town and the Huangshan Mysterious Grottos

Dear readers,

After a wonderful time in Hongcun my trip to Anhui province is nearing its end. What a journey it has been so far!  We are heading towards Yuliangba in She County.  My last stop. The weather is great and there is time for a quick visit to another famous site : the Tangyue Arches.

Now, such arches are quite a common sight in China.  In most cities you can find them :  at the city entance, or near a tomb or temple, or at the beginning of a street.  The building of an archway was stricktly regulated and was only allowed by imperial decree.  They were erected to honour a person or to commemorate a great achievement of one’s ancestors.

It was certainly not easy to get one in your front lawn, let alone 2….  But what the Bao dynasty achieved made the site famous today in all of China.  Over the centuries they managed to build 7 … !

They were build between 1420 and 1820 and they each represent a different virtue.  Behind each archway there is a touching story.

The sight of the archways all alligned on a curved road that seems to lead right into the pastures fields of this rural part of Anhui, is an impressive sight.  The arches themselves are not the most richly decorated i have seen, but 7 of them is quite unique.

Between the first and the second arch lies the magnificent family hall.  An exquisite example of traditional local architecture.   From here it is only a short walk under the archways.  The sun is shining bright ; a perfect oportunity to take some pictures.

On the way back i am thinking they should build an eight one for the Bao family.  At least if there is any relation to the delicious filled steamed bread buns i love so much…. And yes I know you are supposed to have them in the morning…20160212_145259

You can also visit the family garden, but i decided to skip that.   After all I had visited the gardens of Suzhou before.

Soon after we arrive at our final destination : Yuliangba city.  Yuliangba is a typical small rural city in Shexian county.   It doesn’t have a large historical center, but it is a nice city build next to a large river and there is still a significant part of the old city wall standing.

Before I check-in, we stop first for a visit of a beautiful old residence of an old very rich merchant.

The residence is astonishing.  With exquisite wood carvings and fabulous funiture. The house is like a maze with secret passages and small corridors.

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The original owner could boast about having not 1 but 2 archways in his private courtyards, a large pond and a private theater…  Not bad !  20160810_170950

But its already afternoon so we need to get going and check in the luggage at the hotel.

20160810_170140The driver follows the road alongside the river and drops us at our hotel at the edge of the city.   The hotel was decent.  There was an exhibit of old carriages and farm machines and the hotel overlooked the river and the green hills and mountains accross.  The rooms were clean but very basic.  I don’t mind.  Its just for sleeping anyway.

The sun is setting so i venture out from the back of the hotel, where a small path next to the river leads directly into the oldest part of the city, although still a good walk towards the center.  The setting sun transforms the old white facades and gives the old streets a warm yellow glow, while the locals sit ouside talking to eachother amongs the free roaming chickens and ducks.

The tranquil path continues along the river as you walk past little parks.  I spot the far end of the city wall, and i decide to go behind it to walk towards the center.  I quickly find the old streets around the historic center, but they are empty as it is getting dark and late.  The tourists have long gone.

I spot the most charming little guesthouse.  It has a cosy and tastfully decorated small bar in the room just behind the counter.  The apparently famous house cat is sleeping in a couch, not caring at all about fame.  It’s the perfect spot for a break and a refreshment.  Or 2.

I still need to get dinner and all restaurants seem closed at this hour.  There is still a steakhouse open on main street that will serve me food.  Steak sounds fine to me.  And it tasted fine as well.  With some good old western french fries on the side.  The restaurant is totally empty and i took the corner table with windows on both sides.  I am enjoying a great desert, while all of a sudden fireworks erupt over the old city center and illuminates the empty streets and rooftops in colorfull light.  A perfect ending to a perfect day.20160212_213159

The next morning there is still time to walk back to quickly see the old center with its archway and citywalls.  Its gray and raining and I decide to walk the normal road instead of the pathway next to the river.  At least see the normal city life as a new day starts. It seems a lot further now than yesterday and the road is already busy on this early hour.   A little too early as the small streets are still empty and the shops closed.  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

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As i roam the little streets and discover the city archway and walls, i realize i still need breakfast.  I noticed a market outside the wall in a more busy district, and i figure that would be the best place to find some food.

There is a small corner restsurant that seems busy and has ‘al fresco’ facilities.  You should have street food sitting in a street.  They serve only 2 kinds of noodle soup today.  Spicy and another one.  Having a spicy noodle soup in the morning is like having strong coffee.  And it’s delicious and light and filling.

Untill I poor a spoonful of the hot soup into my airpipe and nearly choke. With a face as red as a chilly we leave for Huangshan train station.  I have no idea how long it takes to get to the station in Huangshan, so i am surprised when we stop what seems to be the middle of nowhere.  Apparently there is enough time left to visit one more Anhui attractions : Huangshan Mysterious Grottos.

The road takes me down to a river and a hanging bridge : the entrance to the park.  Horses are grazing in the open fields waiting for tourists.   So are some small rafts.  But there are only few visitors today.

The park itself is beautiful with several trails leading to several caves.  I decide to see the 2 biggest ones. The early rain has gone and the mist is slowly clearing.  It seems like smoke is coming out of the cave entrances, giving to the whole settings a ghostlike feeling.  They are no more than a hole in the side of the mountain.  No one would ever guess the mystery that lies beyond them.

The caves are very peculiar.  They are not natural caves, but man made thousands of years ago.  An incredible amount of rock has been chiseled out of the mountains leaving huge caves and supporting pillars.

There is no record to be found anywhere about who excavated the caves not why.  There is no trace left of the extracted rocks, only speculation of what it might have been used for.  No left over food or burn marks from fires have been found.

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Now they have become a tourist attraction and i admire the colorful illuminated caves and the bizar chisel marks left on the rocks.

The trail i follow leads further into the park to a waterfall and a boat trip over a gorgeous small lake to a distant part of the park where another boat awaits you to see caves submerged under water.

Its only a short tour into the submerged cave.  One must be careful not to bump your head as you row over the dark water that extends 4 levels underneath you.

I return to the beginning of park where i take a stairway to the second large cave.  It is equally impressive with enormous rooms cut out of the rocks, as a maze deeper and deeper into the mountain…  Best is to let the images speak for themselves…

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Amazing, a fantastic finish to a fantastic trip.  Anhui is breathtaking and i really hope to return one day, in a different season maybe, and definitely for a longer period.

Till next post !


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