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Spend a day at Shidu

Take a bamboo raft downriver in Shidu. Photos: Song Yuanyuan

Take a bamboo raft downriver in Shidu. Photos: Song Yuanyuan 



 

Mountains, water, fresh air, lush greenery, and good food - all just two hours southwest of Beijing. Shidu in Fangshan district offers everything you could want if you're looking to leave behind the stress of city living for a day or two. Lifestyle had only a day to explore the area, but we left feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Shidu literally means "Ten Ferries," and the tour guide told us the name had its origins in the old days when the Juma river ran too fast to build a bridge over it, so instead the people nearby built a ferry at every big bend in the river. In the end, there was one village that had 10 ferries along a distance of just 20 kilometers.

The Karst wonderland

Famed as the "Northern Wonders," Shidu's scenery is renowned for its amalgamation of caves, underground channels and bumpy, uneven topography. The valleys that surround Juma River are made of limestone that's been worn away in unique patterns to create scenery that looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie.

Lifestyle visited one of the most famous sightseeing spots, Gu Shanzhai, located in the south Qi Du (No. 7 ferry) village. The name Gu Shanzhai literally means "lonely mountain village," which comes from its view of three stand-alone mountain peaks. Although Gu Shanzai doesn't have a particularly notable elevation, it's much beloved for its clear creeks and enormous weather-shaped limestone rocks. Several of our travelmates took off their shoes by some flat, smooth rocks and just let the cool-flowing creek water massage their feet for a while.

Gu Shanzhai's must-see spot is called "One Line Sky," and for a must-see, it's really hard to get to. We had to climb up a stairway allegedly carved out of the riverbed and ascend all the way up the petite Gushan Mountain. After a walk along a winding mountain road, we hit a very steep mountain slope. A long, narrow gap - about 60 meters long and as narrow and just about half a meter wide - stood like an ax cut between two sheer stone walls. Everyone became suddenly quiet at this view of nature's strange beauty.

The local rural taste

Although Shidu's still spinning its reputation as a bucolic spot to "get away from it all," its tourism industry has been quite developed for a while and now includes plenty of different options for transportation, dining, hotels and even a bunch of amusement parks. But this is one "national scenic spot" that knows where its bread is buttered, and a Shidu vacation is adamantly a rural-themed experience, especially when it comes to the food. Everywhere you look at the bottom of the mountains are signs advertising "rural-style roast trout," roast sheep leg and "rural vegetable stir-fry."

The so-called "rural-style dishes" are characterized by simple and bucolic cooking, fresh ingredients and no fancy dinnerware. Except for the roast trout, which was salty and spicy and had a more-than-generous dash of cumin, most of the dishes we ate had just the simple, unadorned flavors of their natural ingredients. Some of the dishes we got to try included shredded squash stir-fry, green pepper and egg omelet, marinated tofu, green pepper and sliced chicken stir-fry, all served in plain white bowls. We were particularly impressed by a simple marinated tofu dish. It's the sort of thing that can be found in any restaurant, and was just big chunks of solid tofu served in slightly salty water. Although it was called "marinated tofu" the flavor was quite plain and would have been unremarkable, except it was served with the strongly flavored roast trout, and its simplicity made it stand out.

The rural cuisine of the Shidu area uses a lot of healthy whole grains, and as health-conscious diners, Lifestyle found the roasted corn pancakes and millet and vegetable soup quite agreeable.

Peasants' small business

Shidu's developed tourism scene has brought local villagers a new stream of business. All through the mountain stairway to Gu Shanzhai we saw lots of vendors selling local goods as well as things like cowboy hats, wooden dolls, plastic water guns, handmade bracelets and purses, and plenty of other souvenirs and trinkets. Our favorite vendors were selling home-grown vegetables and honey. Shidu's specialty is wild peppers, and several vendors were selling packs of them - the savvier villagers had put up signs saying "home-grown" and "natural," and were doing a brisk business in hand-picked vegetables, unpackaged and with apparently "real dirt" on them.

The amusement park

Shidu's best offering is its own natural beauty, but if you're into a more active sort of vacation, the amusement park won't disappoint. The place is full of different kinds of distractions and rides, like a terrifying suspension bridge designed 70 meters high over the river. It's made of wooden boards nailed into a steel frame with just a mesh guardrail. At any moment you feel like you're going to plunge down into the river (we have no idea why anyone wants to go on that).

There's also bungee-jumping, which was first introduced to China at Shidu in 1997, and crazy people everywhere still want to try it.

Under the bridge, people in life vests were going on much safer-seeming trips on bamboo rafts piloted with long sticks. For our part, we recommend going horseback riding on the gorgeous trails through the mountains to soak up the luxurious scenery. If we wanted a terrifying, death-defying adventure, we could have done that by taking a taxi ride around Beijing.