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November 20, 2019

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Mountain getaway and a temple of dreams

If you would love to see the stunning scenery of the famed Jiuzhaigou area of Sichuan Province but don’t have time for a cross-country trip, head for Wuyi County in Zhejiang Province to enjoy some similar features.

The Niutou Mountain area has waterfalls, crystal-clear ponds, ravines and a panoply of colorful autumn foliage, albeit on a lesser scale than Jiuzhaigou. Best of all, it’s just two and a half hours away from Shanghai by high-speed train. That makes for a great weekend getaway.

Visitors who want a peaceful and easy trip can go to the Niutou Mountain National Forest Park, an enclosed scenic area that charges an entry fee.

There, they can walk along man-made passageways along the creeks, pass through a long drawbridge and climb stone stairways to the top of the mountain.

Clear, blue streams, waterfalls and ponds accompany visitors all the way up, with thick forests as a backdrop. It’s a visual feast that will refresh even the most burned-out urbanites.

However, for those who want a more challenging and adventurous experience, Sansunkeng, a valley at the bottom of 1,560-meter-high Niutou Mountain, might be a better choice. The name literally means “the pit of three bamboo shoots” because the valley faces three parallel peaks that resemble bamboo shoots reaching for the sky.

A small clearing beside a reservoir at the starting point of the valley is commonly packed with the tents of hikers, often organized by outdoor clubs, and groups of friends who gather there by boat.

An experienced hiker, whose screen name ID is Jingying, shares his trip online.

“There are no paved passageways here,” he says. “You either walk along a creek flowing through the valley or wade in the water when your way is blocked by stones or trees. And if the water is plentiful, you may need to swim for some parts as well. Although the creek is not deep, people need to be very, very careful.”

Teamwork can be vital, Jingying says.

“In some places, the rocks are quite high, and people with less physical strength will need the help of others,” he says. “Also, climbing gear like ropes is also necessary.”

However, the view is worth all the travails. The water is so clear that one can see right through to the green and sometimes red rocks in the bottom and see little fish and crabs swimming. Small waterfalls here and there add a dramatic touch to the tranquil valley.

By the end of the hike, a reservoir spreads out in front of you. The calm, green water looks like a huge jade inlaid among peaks.

“There are no commercial facilities here, only three villages with almost no dining or accommodation services,” Jingying says. “We prepared food and water, and shared with co-hikers. It felt good that people who didn’t know one another could bond through the activity.”

After a day of hiking, visitors might take a break the next day and visit nearby Yuyuan Village. The more than 700-year-old village is laid out according to tai chi and an ancient Chinese stellar chart.

Yuyuan, which literally means “the source of the Yu family,” is indeed where the surname started. The village had long suffered from either droughts or floods until the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when military strategist Liu Bowen (1311-75) went to the village and redesigned it to accord with its feng shui. After the reconfigurations, the natural disasters ceased.

In the village, seven ponds and seven wells are both aligned according to the Big Dipper, and locals believe they harbor some monsters beneath. The ponds and wells are so sacred to the locals that no one was allowed to fill them in until more recent years.

If you talk to the villagers, they will relate an incident from the 1940s. Back then, a man named Yu Zufang returned to his hometown after being gone for years. He wanted to renovate and expand the family’s old house, so he decided to fill in a nearby pond, against the warnings of local elders. As soon as he finished filling in the pond, the gable wall of his house collapsed suddenly and without apparent cause.

Yu was terrified and believed that it was some mysterious power related to the ponds and wells, so he dug out the pond immediately.

The 28 main buildings in the village are laid out according to the 28 lunar mansions on ancient Chinese stellar charts. The mansions are the equivalent of the zodiac system, despite the fact that they reflect the movement of the moon instead of the sun.

The field in the village has the shape of a tai chi diagram, with an S-shaped division in the middle.

It is still a mystery why such a layout could protect the village from natural disasters, but the fact that most of the ancient buildings are well preserved gives visitors much to enjoy.

One of the buildings is Dongzhu Temple, a Taoist temple that is said to fulfill the dreams of people. The village celebrates Dream Day on the 13th day of the first month and the 26th day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar. It is believed that if you sleep in the temple on those days, you will have prophetic dreams.

When the temple was still open for such accommodation, people would rush there to have their dreams come true. Those who were not able to book a room would sleep in the yard or even outside the temple gate.

Today, the temple no longer receives overnight guests.

But who knows! If you happen to visit the village around Dream Day, the power of the temple might surprise you.

Although the Niutou Mountain area is not far from Wuyi County, public transport is all that convenient. Visitors are advised to take a high-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station to Wuyi North Station — only one train per day. From there, take a bus to Liuzhen Town, the nearest to the mountains and book a charter to the scenic area.

There are buses going to Yuyuan Village from Wuyi North Station.


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