My lovely wife, Lynn and I are keen photographers, so when we were offered the opportunity to go to Mao’er Shan with our photography club, we responded enthusiastically.
We had heard of Mao’er Shan and have seen some beautiful images made by photo-club friends who would be making their third and fifth trips to the peak.
Mao’er Shan is Southern China’s highest peak, but because it is relatively isolated and inaccessible to normal travellers and the roads are rough and dangerous, is not often visited. (We read)
Fortunately, that information is several years out-of-date.
Today, the drive to the foot of Mao’er Shan is less than two hours, on very good roads, from the tourist city of Guilin, and is a much more pleasant drive than we’d expected.
A countryside dominated by impressive saw-tooth mountain ranges covered in sub-tropical vegetation, bamboo-clad mountainsides, towering peaks, verdant valleys with picture-post-card farms, terraced fields of rice and charming villages along the road creates a landscape to inspire any photographer or artist.
Recent development of the access road has included major earthworks, road-building and surfacing and installation of Armco-type safety barriers.
The peak, alternating between cloud-shrouded and wind-swept, is magnificent.
In the manner of many Chinese places of natural beauty, an incredible amount of work has gone into making it as accessible as possible to ordinary people. The design is in harmony with the scenery. There are paths with strong but unobtrusive guardrails and well-built stone stairways and walk-ways leading to awe-inspiring look-outs; but don’t get the notion that the rugged, natural splendour has been tamed for pampered visitors. The barriers are two-rail fences along the lip of cliff and chasm; so we never had the feeling of being insulated from the raw magnificence of our surroundings. The sheer drop still beckons, an arms-length away, without chain-link fences to protect the stupid from themselves and spoil photographer’s compositions, though, in deference to safety, there are occasional signs in charming Chinglish reminding us, “No striding over” and similar dire warnings.
There is accommodation near the top of the mountain; unattractive 1950s concrete box-like buildings looking like an abandoned power station. They were built in the early years of the People’s Republic to provide holiday accommodation and for scientific researchers. It would not rate a star in the Michelin guide, but the shelter from the biting wind was welcome, and we were thankful to pitch our tent in the basket-ball court! I expect it will be replaced by a luxury hotel once Cat Ear Mountain is “discovered” by the tourist industry.
We stayed overnight to (hopefully) capture the magnificent sunrise that enchants those photographers fortunate enough to waken to one of Mao’er Shan’s exhibitionist day-breaks.
Alas, we got to photograph clouds from the inside till about 9:30am when the sun broke through at last. Now we know why people return here many times; those perfect mornings may be elusive, but the ultimate reward will be worth the trips.
Returning down the mountain, we stopped to pay our respect at a memorial to the 10-man crew of an American B24 Liberator which crashed on the mountain in August 1944. The wreckage was not discovered till 1996, when a couple of farmers got lost in the dense bush while looking for mushrooms and medicinal herbs. They found the remains of the crew in the wreck and reported it to the authorities, becoming instant celebrities. Joint Chinese and American teams recovered the remains; the crew finally returning to the US for burial, and parts of the plane were recovered to become the centre-piece of a museum in Xing’an. The local PLA command installed a memorial stone by the main road, 2 km from the crash site. I watched Chinese tourists respectfully placing flowers on the memorial, and when I asked if they had seen the crash site, the reply was to the effect, “That place was soaked by the blood of heroes; we shouldn’t walk over their grave.”
In the West, I fear, the site would be covered in graffiti and candy-wrappers.
I recommend Mao’er Shan as well worth a visit. For now, make sure you take food and drink with you, as there are no shops or food stalls at the top; and please, dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully.
We will be back; perhaps we’ll see you there. J