Mount Wuyi (Wuyi Shan)
Located in northern Fujian Province close to the border with Jiangxi Province, the picturesque Wuyi Shan sits a low 650m above sea level. Once an ancient lake, Wuyi Shan came into being during the geological spasms of the dinosaur age. After many thousands of years with nature shaping the landscape, Wuyi Shan now takes it present form.
Wuyi Shan was inhabited thousands of years ago by a group anthropologists call the Yue. During the Han dynasty, emperors would visit the mountain to perform sacred ceremonies, offering sacrifices to Heaven and Earth. During the Tang dynasty, Wuyi Shan became elevated and was given honorific titles by the emperor. Later the mountain became an important center for Confucian learning, but Taoism and Buddhism also made the mountain their home, Taoists believe the mountain to be the abode of numerous immortals. An important Song dynasty Confucian scholar, Zhu Xi, founded an academy on the mountain in 1183, during the Song dynasty. He taught there for 10 years and his teachings would influence Confucian thought in China up to the 20th century.
The forests that carpet the mountain are subtropical and are home to many endangered species. In 1837 a French explorer discovered many new species of birds and animals hiding away on the mountain. Over the years more than 600 new species of animals have been found and the mountain is richly inhabited with insects. As early as the Qing dynasty, under Emperor Qianlong, the mountain was a protected nature reserve where fishing and logging was forbidden. In 1999 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the best ways to enjoy the mountain at a slow and languid pace is to hire a bamboo raft to take you on a 9.5km cruise down the meandering Nine Bends River. Board the rafts at the ninth bend, by Xingcun Town, there's also a market there that sells the very prized Yan tea, a type of red tea. While the raft slowly drifts along the river, steep cliffs and tree topped peaks jut out from the banks. The pristine waters sparkle with the reflection of trees and barren wind scraped rock faces.
With a long bamboo pole, a skilled oarsman gently guides the rickety looking bamboo raft as it leisurely floats down the river. The rafts have seats, so sit back and enjoy the scenery slowly drift by.
After boarding the raft at the 9th bend for the 2-hour cruise, the first sight that'll come into view is the Baiyun Yan, a solitary peak which is also known as Ling Peak. During the early morning, the river will be hidden away in lazy swirls of mist, turning the river into an ethereal fantasia. To the north of the Baiyun Yan is a cave hidden away in the middle of a steep cliff, for those who find the slow pace of the river overly lethargic, crawling up to the cave on all fours will give your heart a jumpstart.
View from Tianyou peakWildlife abounds throughout Wuyi Shan; the pristine forest that lies at both banks of the river is home to a menagerie of rare butterflies, some of which are only found in this area. At the 8th bend, ancient tourists with vivid imaginations have dubbed a rock formation Shuigui Shi, which roughly translates as "water turtle rock." From certain angles, if the light is right, the two slabs of rock on top of each other just might look like two turtles, getting to know each other better. Mother Nature is patient. She has to be for her to carve out the natural beauty of Wuyi Shan. At the 6th bend is Shaibu Yan which is a stark demonstration of nature persistence. Over thousands of years, water flowing down the cliff has eroded small channels along the face. At 400m high and 200mwide, this bare rocky cliff resembles a dried out meatloaf. If your boat stops and you're up to it, a climb to the top of Tianyou Peak will offer a grand view of the surrounding area.
The soothing sounds of water running over moss covered rocks amidst the gentle wind blowing through the trees, seems like an ideal place for reflection and contemplation. Zhu Xi, one of China's foremost Confucian scholars evidently thought so. At the 5th bend he founded an academy, the Wuyi Jingshe, during the Song dynasty. His academy saw vast expansion throughout the various dynasties.
Tea plantations abound throughout Wuyi Shan. Yan tea, a type of Oolong tea, grows especially well in this subtropical climate, something that has been known for centuries. During the Yuan dynasty, a tea plantation was built at the 4th bend, which still has a working well that supposedly contains sweetish water. The tea trees here are the dahongpao variety, a type that only grows on Wuyi Shan. Though the tea trees grow on Wuyi Shan, there are only 4 plants that grow on the side of a cliff that are considered worthy of their name. These plants produce only a small amount of tea per year, which reflects their high price.
At the 3rd bend are coffins hidden away up in the cliffs. 3,800 years ago, the Yue people inhabited this area. They placed their dead in niches high above the river, similar to the coffins found along the Yangtze River. In 1979 anthropologists excavated a coffin; they discovered the coffin, measuring 4.89m long, was carved from a complete tree. Inside the coffin they found a complete skeleton which was over 3,400 years old.
The final bend comes into view and so does the Shuiguang Shi, a rock face with calligraphy and poems carved into it. Once again the imagination takes over when viewing Shizi Peak, a peak that resembles a lion.
The raft finishes its journey at the 1st bend; from here it's a quick walk to Wuyi Palace, the older Taoist Temple on the mountain. Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty offered sacrifices to the mountain here. During the Tang, from742 to 755, the Tianbao Pavilion was added to the grounds. Outside the temple is a market street, Song Jie, recreated in a traditional Song dynasty setting. The street is lined with teahouses, souvenir shops and restaurants. It's a good place to spend an hour or so browsing and relaxing with a cup of tea. There's a small also museum, the Wuyi Shan Lishi Wenwu Bowuguan, inside are exhibits of a coffin and the relics found within.