This Unesco-listed geo-park in China is a delight to all the senses.
Yuntai Mountain World Geo-Park, in the far west of China’s Henan province, is a place of unique beauty. Funnily enough, first impressions of the park are pretty much the same as final impressions. It’s just the in-between impressions that can be a little off-putting.
Let me explain. This huge Unesco-listed geo-park, covering 500sq km, encompasses a staggering range of seasonally diverse scenery — from Asia’s highest waterfall (the 314m Yuntai Falls) to the jade waters of Fenglin Gorge to the bamboo forests of Baijia Cliff. Yet with all these and many other places to see and experience, the vast majority of visitors congregate at just one site — the admittedly splendid Hongshi or Red Stone Gorge.
The result is that at weekends and during holidays, the narrow walkways above the gorge can get so crowded that pedestrian traffic-lights could be a big help. This minor inconvenience aside, Yuntai Mountain Geo-Park is a delight to all the senses — from the babbling sound of falling water to the play of dappled light on rich red ironstone, to the heady flavours of the region’s produce — and of the latter, more later.
The road from Henan’s provincial capital Zhengzhou to Yuntai Geo-Park traverses a time-capsule of Chinese history. The contrast between city life and the countryside, where life seems to imitate art as in an eastern version of a Brueghel painting, could not be more marked.
Across the Yellow River, fish ponds and rustic brickworks are a legacy of China’s “Great Leap Forward” of the 1960s, when self-sufficiency at any cost was the norm.
On this occasion, I’m privileged to be tagging along on a tour sponsored by Henan Tourism.
Driving along the narrow ridges of the geo-park, we reach the Yuntaishan Scenic Area (one of five scenic areas within the park). A short walk along a wildflower-lined trail, with mist-covered mountains towering overhead, leads to Hongshi Gorge. A spectacular waterfall in centrestage immediately grabs the attention, as do the falls outside Water Curtain Cave, their cascade like the flowing tresses of a woman’s lovingly tended hair.
Blue Dragon Gorge is another top attraction of the geo-park, but sadly, at the time of our visit, the weather was so bad that this gorge was only viewable at a distance. Had we come during more clement weather, we’d have been able to join the visitors who get to enjoy “a natural spring every three steps, a waterfall every five steps and a pond every 10 steps”. Sounds like the place is thoroughly waterlogged — even without rain to add to the dampness.
The colours of Yuntaishan change with the season. The rains of late spring and early summer give way to the brilliant flaming red-orange colours of autumn, followed by spectacular winter ice-and-snow landscapes. Early spring and autumn are probably the best times to visit, but every season has its own unique charms.
Now it’s time to adjoin to the Yuntai Hotel, to partake of one of the most extraordinary meals I’ve experienced in the whole of China. It is said that the great herbalist Sun Si Miao used to come to Yuntai to collect medicinal herbs — and it seems that the very soul of the soil has sunk into the local produce.
Dishes include smoked scorpions, braised wild rabbit with chilli, soya-stewed mountain roots, thousand-year-old eggs (sorry, I didn’t have a carbon-dating kit to vouch for this), braised country-style lamb-on-the-bone and rare white mushrooms that are said to extend the lifespan to 100 years — all washed down with Yuntai Waterfall Liquor, a heady chrysanthemum-flavoured spirit distilled from locally-grown sorghum.
On this occasion, the rain may have been a dampener, but this is all the more reason to pay a return visit to Yuntai Mountain Geo-Park. Next time, I might stop at the adjacent town of Jiaozuo, said to be the birthplace of the Chen style of Tai Chi Chuan. This martial art, so closely mimicking nature’s movements, must surely have drawn inspiration from that very special place called Yuntai Mountain.
By rail from Beijing, take the Beijing-Shijiazhuang-Anyang High Speed trains. Get down at Xiuwu South Station, from where buses run to Yuntaishan.
ADMISSION PRICE 120 yuan (RM58) per person from March to Nov; 80 yuan (RM39) from Dec-Feb. Children under 130cm tall and seniors free. The ticket price covers the visitor for two days. Unlimited transport between the different sites costs just 20 yuan (RM10).
A recent innovation is an excellent free Yuntai guide in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean, detailing scenic spots; car, train and flight information; restaurants and accommodation. Tours in English are available, but the guidebook is designed to facilitate self-guided touring.
FURTHER INFO See www.jzss.com (website in Chinese only) or www.yuntaishan.net
ACCOMMODATION Yuntai Hotel (tel: +86 39l 770 9062) has inexpensive rooms, with meeting facilities and two restaurants onsite.