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Misty Mountains
Text and photographs by Wang Lei

 

In late autumn, Baishan Mountain gets draped in dense fog. Water vapors left from summer drift into its valleys before condensing into thick clouds hovering around the mountain. The humid air makes visiting as much of a spa experience as an outdoor adventure, and adds a mysterious atmosphere to the already majestic scene.

In midwestern China, forming the border between Sichuan and Shaanxi Provinces, Baishan Mountain is home to karst landforms, gorgeous peaks, and gurgling streams - both above ground and below. My group of China Pictorial journalists started from Yichang City in Hubei Province and took National Highway 209 for several hundred kilometers before reaching the Shanghai-Chengdu Highway. The long relaxing drive through the cool autumn breeze ultimately led to two of the most amazing scenic spots in the mountain: Shennongjia and Tenglong Cave.

    

A Spa Tour of Shennongjia

A couple hundred kilometers from Yichang, the road became more and more winding. As it continued paralleling the Xiangxi River, the water gradually gathered more and more thick fog hovering above it. Our guide claimed that even he - a lifelong local - had never seen the fog so dense. Three big red Chinese characters on a huge rock on the side of the road announced our arrival in Shennongjia, and the thought running through my head was that we had finally reached the reputed hometown of the so-called “wild man” (an ape-like Bigfoot).

Shennongjia is the only well-preserved oasis in China’s central inland areas, and the only oasis in the world’s subtropical belt. Amongst heavy mountain forests of fir, pine, and hemlock lives a treasure trove of rare and endangered animals such as snub-nosed monkeys, white bears, serows, white cranes, and white storks.

However, the area is named after a legendary emperor, Shennong, who is believed to be the founder of both agriculture and herbal medicine. According to the legend, he collected herbs and used them to treat patients in the area, hence its name. Regardless of how much historical evidence supports this legend, relics certainly point to one of the cradles of civilization in the East, with traces of human activity dating back more than 200,000 years.

As part of a more contemporary legend, Shennongjia has been rumored to be home to a famous wild, ape-like creature - similar to the Himalayan Yeti or the North American Bigfoot. Since the 1950s, dozens of visitors have claimed to have sighted the creature. In May 1976, the Chinese Academy of Sciences dispatched an investigative team deep into the forests of Shenongjia, in an effort to document the creature’s existence. They came back with some startlingly tangible evidence including hair, footprints, and droppings. Even in recent years, more tourists and scientists have reported seeing the creature. Yet still to this day, not a single such living animal has been captured, leaving the whole issue in a cloud of mystery.

         

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