Horizons of Hunan
Thursday - 1 Apr 2010
The 600 year old stone bridge in Fenghuang
Lure of a Little Known Province
Even though China is preparing to meet the challenge of becoming the world’s most popular tourist destination by 2010 it’s still possible to escape the tourist throngs. Just a short distance from the mega popular gateways of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou there are many places of significant interest where you may well only encounter a handful of other intrepid foreign visitors.
The whole of Hunan Province is one of those special places that offers a wealth of attractions not emblazoned on international package tour itineraries. Changsa, Hunan’s provincial capital, a 1-˝ hour flight west of Shanghai, is the gateway for those wishing to explore the most phenomenal place in Hunan, the wilderness wonders of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
This region of exceptional natural beauty spanning some 264 sq. km of northwestern Hunan Province encompasses the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the Suoxiyu Valley Nature Reserve and the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve. In 1988 Wulingyuan was proclaimed as one of the “Top Scenic Areas in China”. Four years later its treasures gained global significance when they were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
World Heritage Attraction
The area which is now heavily forested and ecologically diverse began life, according to experts, about 380 million years ago when much of northwestern Hunan sank and became a sea. Over tens of millions of years sediments that had washed into the sea turned into quartz sandstone.
Layers of quartzarenite up to 500 metres thick were formed during this period. Between 180 and 250 million years ago the land rose. Tremendous forces broke and tilted the quartz rocks so that edges and corners became mountain tops. Since then the power of water and wind has sculptured thousands of these sandstone peaks known as ‘hoodoos’ into land forms that are both magnificent and mysterious.
Water also takes centre stage in the charming little town of Fenghuang where I discovered many preserved houses, an old city wall, an archaic gate tower and a picturesque river bridge over the Tuo Jiang River. All can be conveniently explored on foot as the oldest section of town is compact, traffic free and very user-friendly.
Though Fenghuang’s history dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC) the ancient city is not quite that old. The single biggest structure, the city wall, was originally built of earth in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1338). Unfortunately only a portion of the massive wall that surrounded ancient Fenghuang still exists but visitors can also explore some 20 cultural and historical relics including the city wall, several dozen temples and more than 30 ancestral halls.
Over the centuries many of these structures have had an association with personalities of Fenghuang. The town, in fact, has been the home of many notables in Chinese society including 157 high-ranking court officials in the Qing Dynasty and 34 lieutenant generals and major generals during the 38-year period between 1911 and 1949 when the country was known as the Republic of China. The well-known painter Mr. Huang Yong-yu also hails from the town.
Painter Par Excellence
Considered one of the most famous painters in China today, Mr. Huang’s renderings of the old town have not only stimulated visitor interest in this historic jewel they are highly prized collectables by those who actually find their way to his studio overlooking the peaceful Tuo Jiang River.
From here the artist in residence has an unlimited horizon of subjects to paint. The pagoda-like gate tower, the stone city wall and the 600-year-old Hong Qiao Bridge have all featured countless times in paintings by accomplished artists like Mr. Huang.
They are also the central theme for budding newcomers who every day set up their easels, open sketchbooks and prepare tripods and begin to capture this time blessed town of old Cathay.