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Great walks of China
Hitting a Wall

Mao Zedong famously said: "He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man!"

He forgot to follow up with " ...and one with very sore legs!"

Few people realize how arduous it can be to slug up the Wall - until they do it, that is.

The steps are steep in most places and in some stretches they aren't even there any more.

In such locations, where the steps have been crushed under the weight of centuries, stone nuggets cascade down the mountainside. This forces "walkers" to become "climbers", as they must use their hands as well as their feet to scuttle up the heaped crumbs of stone.

The Great Wall is actually a network of separate bulwarks. Some have been built up and restored, others are remote and decrepit; some are made of brick, many older sections were created with packed earth and straw.

So the Great Wall isn't a "great walk of China" but rather, "many great walks in China".

Watery wonderland

The Jiuzhaigou mountain valley in Sichuan province offers not only one of China's best walking experiences, but a slice of hiker's heaven.

The 72,000-hectare area is a watery wonderland, teeming with lakes, waterfalls, ponds, streams, springs, rivers and rapids. There are also Tibetan villages inside the World Heritage-listed national park.

The mesmerizing blue-green lakes are the reason why there are more than 20,000 hotel beds in this small mountain town. The intense colors are caused by the high concentration of calcium carbonate crystals, which cover lakebeds and embankments. The sun's rays dance with these crystals and paint an amazing picture that will never leave your memory. One word describes this place.


Over the top

Of the five great mountains in the Chinese imagination, Taishan reigns supreme. From celibate Taoist priests offering celestial sacrifices to young couples praying for a child, countless climbers have consecrated this holy peak throughout Chinese civilization.

Start a comfortable half-day climb from the main Hongmen path and feel like the emperors who marked the beginning of their reigns by conquering Taishan.

More than 7,000 steps and 20 temples grace the mountain, but it is the rich literature by immortal poets and leaders inscribed on stone tablets and cliff-faces that stamp its historical and cultural significance on the climber.

Most pilgrims at the peak stay the night to catch the famous sunrise that is also associated with birth and renewal.

Scenic beauty to Gorge on
Hidden deep in the Lujiang (Salween) River Gorges and sprawling on a tableland surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Bingzhongluo is a small town bordering the Tibet autonomous region in the northwestern corner of Yunnan province.

The mighty river, white sand dunes, sheer cliffs, dense forests and hamlets inhabited by the Lisu, Yi, Nu, Dulong, Bai, Naxi and Tibetan people, are some of the things Bingzhongluo offers to visitors and are ideal for hikers to explore.

Check into a hostel in the one-street town, about 40 km north of Gongshan county, or at a home-stay in the villages nearby. Then you can start hiking along an 18-km paved road, which winds its way through villages along the northern bank of the river.

At the Nu people's village, stilted houses roofed with slices of black rock encircled by patches of fruit trees, and corn and highland barley fields are photo-perfect spots. You will also pass a scenic site called Stone Gate Pass (Shi Menguan), the narrowest site of the Nujiang River, where sheer cliffs close in around the river and an endemic plum tree grows tenaciously on the cliff face, and ends at a bridge. On the other side of the bridge, walk along the remains of an old horse track, or "Tea Horse Caravan Route". Chiseled out on cliffs overlooking the roaring river, the narrow trail is sure to get your adrenalin pumping.

Old-world charm

Houses with gray roofs and white walls are surrounded by blossoming yellow rapeseeds. Small rivers wind their way around the villages and are home to ducks and geese as well as spots for women washing their clothes, their laundry sticks every now and then disturbing the tranquility. Big camphor trees with huge crowns offer good shade for the villagers.

These are typical scenes in Wuyuan and its beautiful, centuries-old villages in Jiangxi province. Spring is the best season to visit, although the villages also offer rich colors in the fall.

Wuyuan's tourist attractions are divided into three areas - east, west and central. Apart from wandering around the villages you should not miss the Rainbow Bridge. Built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it is one of the best preserved roofed bridges in the country and regarded as a Wuyuan landmark.

The 140-m bridge is in Qinghua town, 20 km from downtown Wuyuan. It has a simple design, lacks decoration and during the past 800 years has undergone various renovations - but kept its practical use throughout.

The clean water mirrors the bridge, echoing the mountains nearby. It's better to visit the bridge before sunset, leaning over the rails and keeping your brain blank. The villages will be bustling, smoke pouring out of the kitchens, the white houses bathed in the golden sunset.

Try savoring a local experience - stay in a farmer's hostel and have a typical home-cooked meal. It'll cap off your trip.

Palace wonder

The grand Potala Palace is a striking landmark of Lhasa. To get a good picture of the palace, climb a small hill to the left of it and catch the rays of the rising sun lighting its golden roof. Some 2,000 visitors are allowed entry each day. All the local guides will make the two-hour trip worthwhile.

Not far is the Jokhang temple, which has a gilded bronze Sakyamuni brought by Princess Wencheng in AD 647 when she journeyed from Xi'an to marry King Songtsen Gampo.

Circling the monastery is Barkhor Bazaar, a heaven for shoppers and photographers. The main street stretches for about a kilometer but branches off into 35 alleys. Among the cafes offering tasty Tibetan cuisine, the most famous is Mayke Ame.

The other wall

An ideal place to begin the day's walk in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, is the 12-m high city wall. Start early to catch the locals doing their morning exercises, while taking in the best views of the ancient city.

Get off the wall at the Southern Gate and enter Shuyuan Gate Pedestrian Street, a superb place to savor Xi'an's history and culture. There are many shops here selling all kinds of books in Chinese, antiques, jade and xun, an egg-shaped musical instrument made of clay or ceramic, found in Xi'an's Banpo Ruins, dating back some 6,000 years.

At the end of the street is the Steles Forest Museum, where 1,000 or so ancient steles are covered with calligraphy, paintings and excerpts from the ancient Chinese classics.

To relax after the brisk walk, visit the Muslim Snacks Street near the Drum Tower in the city center. Numerous restaurants along the 500-m street offer delicacies like skewered kebabs and mutton soup with pancake pieces.
source: (China Daily)

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