Shenxianju National Park, Zhejiang Province, China
The pinnacles are visible from afar; majestic, stretching high as if to touch the stars, connecting this planet with an other world, challenging gravity with their vertical heights.
The road follows a dark green creek, tiny villages are scattered around, and every inch of available land is cultivated. Some terraces are so steep that I wonder if they have some way to fly there.
The rest is thick dark jungle, trees hanging in unnatural positions, tangled lianas, like huge struggling boas, frozen amidst a deadly fight. Where even the vines are not able to clutch, it’s just bare limestone rock, whose shapes must have played in the minds of opium-smoking poets in the golden ages.
When we park our cheap electric vehicle near the entrance of the holy place, flocks of pilgrims are already there, ready to embark on the ascent that will bring them among the gods. Pilgrims have been coming here for centuries, though motives have changed, as modernity has caged that reason in the deep of their subconscious.
The elders remember. They remember the stories of Houyi, the archer, who killed nine of the ten suns that were going to burn the planet, and that his wife, Chang’e ,escaped to the moon with the pill of immortality the Emperor had given to Huoyi. They know she’s still stuck there, waiting for the Jade Rabbit to prepare a pill that will make her able to return. They know this is the time of the year when Houyi can reach his lover because the moon is closer to the planet. It is the mid-autumn-festival; the legend of Houyi and Chang’e narrates the origin of this holiday.
The climb is steep and long, past several roaring waterfalls. There’s a woman who has mastered the use of high-heels, it’s impressive to see how she can use them to cling to the most slippery stretches. Others fill their lungs with smoke, even though they seem not to have enough air to even breath. Plastic packages of snacks are littered around.
When we reach the top, thick clouds have gathered there, depriving everyone of the hard-earned reward. But then the wind starts blowing and we finally can see them in all their magnificence, the gods of stone.
Maitreya, the tiger, the sleeping beauty, the general, the phallus (also called “the shy lady”), the eagle, even the Milky Way, and a 919 meters stone manifestation of Guying, the very same Goddess of Mercy that advised Houyi against marrying Chang’e.
The awe is counterbalanced by fear though, as soon as we realize we are standing on a thin platform suspended above the void. But we’ll have to cope with that since that’s the only way to walk among the gods.
Shenxianju National Park is one of the most impressive places in Zhejiang Province and in the whole of Eastern China. These are the kind of peaks China is famous for, that inspired the scenery of the movie Avatar. The place is absolutely thrilling!
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