Today I’m starting late. I needed to send emails, catch up with friends and I’m feeling a pull towards my kindle and This Old Place Youth Hostel‘s rooftop lounge. It’s not long before I get that usual itchy feet feeling, and it’s not just the mosquito bites! No longer able to sit around I head out the door to Xingping pier and in less than a minute reach the stone steps that will take me all the way to the top of LaoZhai Hill, a view I’m told is worth the arduous journey.
A few minutes in I reach a pavilion with views of Lijiang River holding the usual cluster of bamboo boats and ferries bursting with tourists. The steps are wide and incline steadily. I deceive myself into believing this maybe a fairly easy climb familiar to that of Gushan Mountain back in Fuzhou. But LaoZhai Hill is not Gushan and the steps are slowly becoming narrower and uneven with some areas of the steps resembling piled stones.
I notice the circular stone graves that I’ve seen so frequently venturing out to mountain rural areas. It has recently been tomb sweeping day, a festival that honors the dead and so the graves are littered with red from the firecrackers that have been laid. I rest here a while and notice all the fallen leaves that almost bury the steps. I hope we don’t have rain as it would be the most uncomfortable fall down. I continue on, sweating through the inappropriate dress I have chosen to wear today back when my feet were comfortable having a lazy day ahead.
The incline feels as though it is becoming more vertical with each step and the few people I do pass on their way down are out of breath and now obstacles. Not every point allows for ease of crossing another and there are a few awkward embraces that occur. LaoZhai Hill itself is not very high, maybe only 300 meters. It’s difficulty comes from the terrain. Over 1000 uneven, slightly broken steps that are the only route to the top. 15 minutes in and my calves are burning. Fortunately each step higher is rewarded with glimpses through the trees of the view that is the climax of this expedition.
I soon come to an ancient stone archway. Passing through I follow the red painted arrows that someone has felt the need to graffiti on this beautiful archway. The downside to tourism is it’s effect on the landmarks we are encouraged to flock to. What was once untouched landscape is now a selfie on every wechat moments. But I am here also with my phone camera firmly in hand at the ready and so have no right to pass judgement.
The next part of the route is slightly unnerving. There is a steep, rusted iron ladder that seems to be the final requirement to ascend to the top. In contrast to its appearance the ladder is actually quite stable. Its now a narrow path around a protruding rock that is the next obstacle. After the ladder I assume the iron railing is just as stable so I barely assess it and just continue forward. Of course the railing shakes unbelievably and I’m immediately off balance. Error of judgement noted! My panic is calmed by a pavilion coming into view. I’ve reached the top.
The views are breathtaking, as they are everywhere in Yangshuo. I’m looking down on the village of Xingping and can’t help but smile. Grateful that I am here in this moment and proud that I’ve overcome my anxiety to do it alone. Feeling confident I hike up my dress and climb over a rocky area that will give me 360 degree views, much to the dismay of the tourists below me. Although I’m not necessarily recommending others do this I can say that the view you are rewarded with is nothing short of spectacular.
After I while sitting perched on a rock and lost in my own thoughts I decide to head back down LaoZhai Hill. Although the route is faster and less sweaty, the fallen leaves prove dangerous and there are a few moments where I nearly lose my footing. The view would be spectacular at sunset but I don’t recommend venturing up alone and without a flashlight if you intend to see the views at dusk.
Reaching the bottom I feel slightly torn. I’ve waited to long in the day to adventure out so another hike is out of the question. But it’s far to early for me to head back to the hostel and I’m already at the pier and so I catch a ferry. Initially I’m not exactly sure where I am going but I was told the route I took to the view point yesterday, if slightly altered, would take me to Tengjiao nunnery.
Following the river again through the organic farm lands I come across a woman sitting on her bamboo boat with her cormorant birds. I can’t get over how tame and unfazed they are by the world around them. Her two dogs are jumping on and off the boat and even with her protests at their behavior the birds are still and simply watching the water. Further down the road there are horses grazing on the other side of the river. The entire area is so peaceful to wander through.
I meet farmers tending to their plantations as always and the most adorable gathering of children who seem so excited to practice their “hello” with a native speaker. We entertain each other for a short while and part with a photo. It’s not long before I find the narrow path that leads to a stone bridge and the walkway to Tengjiao nunnery.
I arrive and quickly note the nunnery is set in a cave. It’s old, humble and a beautiful place of worship and example of spiritual fulfillment. There are open rooms full of books and statues. The simple garments of the monks are hanging to dry and the small stools and table for eating are stacked in away that I find quite charming. The cave is quite cold in contrast to the balmy heat that surrounds the rest of Xingping. This adds to an almost ghostly feeling as apart from myself the temple seems abandoned.
I meet no one else while here and so wander freely, finding sanctuary. I want to open the books and feel the fabric of the clothes but it seems disrespectful and so I take my leave to catch the ferry back to Xingping. This time, instead of being greeted with the laughter of the children I meet a farmer on the road walking his cows. I pass them feeling slightly anxious as they pause to watch my movements. I hurry my step feeling unwelcome by the cattle and almost take up the offer of a passing tuk tuk for a lift to the pier. But these mountain views are best seen from the river walkway so I regain my composure and wander contently after another day exploring this beautiful village.