After yours truly displayed all the tactical nous of a blithering idiot by leaving his camera battery at home, you have been left for a little while to hear about the pinnacle of my away days in the mountains- Changbaishan. Although the literal translation is ‘Perpetually White Mountain Region’, it is frequently referred to as the Long White Mountain in the infrequently erected notice boards in the park. The Long White Mountain is aptly named, due to it being so spectacularly factual in title.
Whereas most of Jilin province bathes in warm sunshine during the summer months, it’s possible to see the mountains snow-capped peaks for around 8 months in the year. It forms the highest peak of the Changbai Mountain Range– otherwise known as the Manchu-Korean Range, due to it’s proximity to the Korean boarder, as we’ll see later, and Manchuria, which we saw a little of in the Last Emperor of China.
Despite the lack of snow, I still had to put my ice blocks of fingers in my pockets throughout the day, but that was easier than expected, thanks to my camera gaff (of which I’m not bitter!) The area itself is set out in a similar way to a British National Park, with protected areas free of traffic, larger open green spaces, and extortionately priced park parks. If anything, it felt slightly comforting to pay to walk on sporadically maintained gravel tracks, and stare in bemusement at what some people will buy in a gift shop. Alongside the usual tat, there are huge business opportunities in one rather surprising field- medicine. Changbai mountain is known for being a source of alternative medicines, such as fungi and plants to be ground into powders or made into tea. Ant extract and Ginseng roots are perhaps the most common products sold, with each fetching a mighty sum for even a few grams for their anti-ageing properties. A single root can reach up to as much as £6,000. Animals are hunted for their antlers/ horns and spread out far and wide across China. It really is a huge industry, with many swearing by it, even if they perhaps can’t really afford it.
Nevertheless, we were there for nature, and nature we got. In abundance. As cars are not allowed anywhere near the park during the national holiday, as there would simply not be enough space for them, we were treated to wide open spaces, the like that I haven’t seen since I arrived in my new concrete jungle. The 6am bus ride was about a popular with me as the idea of having tea with Nigel Farage. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to risk the invitation, so we caught the bus.
The park is split into different areas: The waterfall, the underground forest and Heaven lake.
The waterfall is found in a part of the mountain where natural hot springs are quite prevalent, and as the waterfall rages on in the distance, it is possible to eat a lunch of local delicacies cooked in the some of the natural springs themselves.
It’s interesting to note that although we don’t have the proof, naturally, we had our photos taken by far more people than we took photos of anything. That’s right, we were ‘papped’ (paparazzied) so many times- a delightful boost to the ego, I must say! I think some preferred the picture of us, to that out the outstanding natural beauty before us. Here is what the waterfall was like, not like they would know!
The underground forest is found nearer the base of the mountain, and is so called because of it’s “disappearing act” some centuries ago. After a period of seismic activity, the ground quite literally collapsed in upon itself, forming a bizarre leafy bowl a couple of hundred feet below the conventional forest floor. The rocks to the right of the photo perfectly show the scale of this monstrous cave-in. No wonder, then, that there were numerous temples dotted around, with thoughts firmly fixed upon the Gods of the Mountain.
I was always told to save the best until last, so I have done here. For me, Heaven Lake ranks right up there with some of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit. Unfortunately for us, the day itself was not very clear, and perhaps didn’t do the place justice. So, I’m quite happy that despite this it will stay with me so prominently for some time to come.
Mercifully, there weren’t nearly as many people as predicted, as the National Holiday is a time of year that everyone will become a tourist for a few days! I’m not much of a poet, but the serenity of Heaven Lake, sitting right on the cusp of arguably the most backward and terror-ridden countries in the world, is striking. In the distance, North Korean boarder guards patrol the edge of the dormant volcano, with many foolhardy tourists each year straying too far into their mitts. One even received a prison sentence for his troubles.
With a whole host of memories we left to return to the hotel, content with our day’s work, and ready for the long slog back to Changchun by bus. As with everything in China, there is a twist in the tale about that, but we’ll get there in good time…..
If you haven’t already, have a look on facebook at the photos for this- Crashing A Bike. It’s not my personal account, so I’ll accept you allllll! Particularly above all, look for the ones for the Long White Mountain, they’re stunning.
Written with very special thanks and mention to Sean, my travel companion and featured photographer!! Here we are, doing a very typical Chinese pose.