Wow. Wow. Wow. That’s what I kept saying as we descended into Wulong Karst and stepped into an atmosphere likened to a greener version of the Grand Canyon. And I didn’t stop saying wow for the next three or four hours as we wandered leisurely through the Fairy Mountain range, under the Three Natural Bridges.
You see, I didn’t do much research on Chongqing before I moved here. When I made the decision to move abroad, I sort of picked China out of a hat and Chongqing was selected for me just as randomly. Being that a google image search for Chongqing reveals nothing but skyscrapers and grey skies, I had no idea that this municipality could be so massive and filled with such diverse, natural beauty. It didn’t take long to realize that I have my work cut out for me if I intend to see even half of what this area has to offer this year.
When I was invited to join a faculty field trip to a nearby mountain range, I jumped on the opportunity. The person who invited me didn’t know how to say our destination in English, so I didn’t even know where we were headed until I was seated on the bus next to an English professor, Kevin. (That’s his chosen English name). Needless to say, Wulong did not disappoint.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that being the only non-Chinese person on a faculty field trip is an experience in itself. I always get special treatment, because the sole foreign teacher is such a precious asset to this University, but this trip was on another level entirely. Everyone seemed to be concerned about my happiness and general wellbeing. Was I warm enough? Did I have enough to eat? Did I need to stop and rest? Did I enjoy the show?
There was one person in particular – a 28-year old, single, Chinese man, who was so attentive that I actually asked if he had been assigned to take care of me. The response to my question was confusion followed by laughter and a firm no, but his actions were misleading. From insisting on carrying my purse to walking me from the dinner table to the restroom, he fit the stereotype that Chinese men feel responsible for tending to a female’s every need. While some of it can be sweet and endearing, this experience confirmed my nonexistent suspicions that being treated like a toddler will effectively trample my spirit of feminine independence.
Anyway, a mere four-hour bus ride from Yongchuan, Wulong County is an area with an interesting history. On the bus ride, Kevin explained that due to Chongqing’s mountains, Wulong was isolated from the rest of China until more recent times when tunnels were blasted through the ridges, providing access to the previously undisturbed farmlands, as well as the opportunity for Wulong locals to capitalize on a new tourism industry. Nowadays, Wulong County is not without recognition. In fact, Transformers 4 was filmed there. The entrance to the karst is graced with a signed note from the one and only Michael Bey stating, “One of the most beautiful places on earth.”
In a 2-day whirlwind tour, we visited Wulong Karst National Geology Park, the Three Natural Bridges, Furong Cave and the Furong River. We also attended the Impression Show of Wulong, which blew me away. From Phantom of the Opera to Wicked and Cirque du Soleil, I’ve seen my fair share of shows in the U.S., but I’ve never seen anything quite like Impression Wulong. Combining the use of the gigantic mountains as a backdrop and sounding board with regional traditions and history to shape the story line, this performance is sure to leave a lasting impression on every audience member.
Our first stop was the crown jewel of Wulong Karst, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Three Natural Bridges. Upon reaching the entrance by bus, we were greeted by a large replica of a transformer. From there, you’ll descend a path with sweeping views of a canyon, but don’t get too excited, because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Here you’ll experience a brief wait for the elevator, which was ingeniously built into the side of the mountain and designed to transport you to the base of the canyon where the real journey begins.
When you step off the elevator, you’ll be greeted by a hoard of men who make their living by carrying wealthy people through the entire trek on elevated chairs. I wanted to give every single one of those guys a wad of money and a pat on the back, because I couldn’t believe this brutal line of work is how they support themselves. Kevin reminded me that we should be grateful the new tourism provides this income opportunity for the locals, who were long dependent on farming the land through famine and flood to feed their families. I guess I need to toughen up if I’m going to travel third world countries without giving away the shirt on my back.
After you pass under the first natural bridge, Tianlong, which literally means Sky Dragon or Heaven Dragon, as Kevin put it, you’ll come to a temple-looking structure, which is actually a historic hotel, made to house travelers who passed through the region years ago. Inside, you can pay a fee to pet this turtle, which allegedly adds years to your life. I’m not sure I buy it, but give it a try and let me know what happens.
With personalities and independent characteristics of their own, the next two natural bridges are appropriately named Qinglong (blue dragon) and Heilong (black dragon). You can see all three bridges in just a few hours if you walk at a leisurely pace. I have to admit that I forgot my camera at home, so these photos were taken with an iPhone and don’t do it justice!
Besides the obviously stunning scenery, I think one of the most stunning parts of my visit to Three Natural Bridges was the repetitive commentary from my Chinese pal, Kevin, who was raised in a Buddhist household where no one believed in God. “Only God can create this,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.