Deep in the mountains of Zhejiang Province, Anji was a quiet little backwater until 15 years ago, when the town was used as part of the backdrop for the Ang Lee box office hit “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Suddenly, the scenic beauty of local waterfalls and bamboo forests catapulted the town onto the Chinese tourist map. My trip to Anji coincided with beautiful autumn weather. There was no fog or haze, and the temperature was exceedingly pleasant. Not too hot, not too cold. I didn’t know before the trip that I would end up doing so much hiking.
The Anji Bamboo Sea is the essence of the town. Bamboo in China symbolizes righteousness and virtue. I must admit my soul felt cleansed as I walked in the bamboo forests.
The scenery of this area is simple but not boring. There are no fancy commercial facilities marring the natural beauty, just a rock pathway penetrating the mountainous forestland.
The dense bamboo locks out extraneous noise. The pathway winds through the forest and up to the top of a hill. Fortunately, the day I visited there, few people were around. The solitude was blissful.
There were, however, sedan bearers going up and down the hill, carrying people who were either physically unable to climb or were too lazy to walk themselves. The bearers’ scarlet uniforms seemed to add a special touch alongside the emerald green of bamboo.
At the top of the hill is a five-story tower that affords visitors a sweeping panorama of the town below. But to my simple tastes, the modern-style of the concrete structure detracted from the natural beauty surrounding it.
For those who don’t want to trudge down the hill, there is a “bamboo rollercoaster” that starts next to the tower. It comprises bamboo carts that descend much slower than a common rollercoaster but can still be a little hair-raising.
My trip to the Canglong Waterfall required more energy. Mine was sagging a bit after the hill climb. I was under- prepared, to say the least. It was a 3-hour trek to the falls, but I managed to persist.
The area holds the biggest group of waterfalls in Zhejiang Province. They are not particularly grandiose, like Huangguoshu or Zhenzhuquan waterfalls in Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, but they are definitely a rarity in eastern China.
As I hiked deeper into the forests, I noticed an increasingly number of other tourists opting to bail out and return to town. For a period, there didseemtobenoendtothewalk.I stopped to inquire about how much further it was when I encountered a small snack bar owner, an old man picking up litter from a creek and a security guard along the way. Their answer was always the same: “Oh, it’s still a long way. At least an hour.”I was not worried about being lost because there was only one pathway, but I did feel a bit frustrated every time I thought I was nearing the finish but wasn’t.
The path led to the top of a mountain where residents of a small village run hostels and restaurants. They told me they had been living there for generations. Before the area was developed as a tourist attraction, many young people left to seek opportunities in big cities. Some have returned as tourism brings visitors and profits to the area. I had booked a room at a resort in Anji at the foot of the hill, so I descended before sunset. The town has stores selling various local handicrafts, most of them made from bamboo. Bamboo fiber is believed to have strong air permeability and water-absorption qualities, so socks and towels made from the fibers are among the popular sellers. Anji white tea is also a specialty not to be missed. It’s lighter and more fragrant than green tea. And unlike green tea that can keep you awake at night, white tea soothes the nerves and has a sedative effect.
After a day’s climbing and walking, I was exhausted to say the least. My back was sore and my legs were about to give out. I hoped dinner would be a special treat and the water pressure was sufficient for a refreshing shower. Bamboo is certainly not neglected in the local Anji diet. Dried and salted bamboo is used in dishes of chicken, pork and duck. The clean aroma of the bamboo gives the dishes a delightful flavor. Sweet fermented rice cake is a musttry snack here. With the fragrance of rice wine, the rice cakes are a bit addictive. Almost every restaurant in town serves natural farm-style food. The local eggs, chicken and fish are fresher than what we usually find in Shanghai, and the hand-made tofu is softer with a stronger flavor. I stayed at the Meilin Holiday Resort, not far from the mountain and forests. It was a beautiful, quiet setting. My room was clean, and the water pressure was just perfect. And I was surprised by one of the best Wi-Fi systems of all the Chinese-brand hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Who can complain after a day of exercise, spectacular scenery, delicious food and a comfortable bed? A trip to Anji is definitely worth the effort.