Fanyin Valley is lush, even in December
I’ve hiked all five sacred mountains, but Mount Heng (in the Hunan province, not the one in Shanxi. Confusing, eh?) was where I felt most connected with nature. Not in a hippy type of way, just in a relaxed, listen to the world around you type of way. Or is that hippy? Whatever.
What makes Mount Heng different is the 4.2 km section near the trailhead that follows the river. Known as Fanyin Valley or Buddhist Sound Valley, this area is filled with pavilions perfect for relaxing and contemplating your experiences in China; like how scorpion tastes surprisingly good and why you have to take at least five selfies with strangers a day.
Additionally, there are some cool accoutrement that you can scope out along the way – namely, weird little elephants and scowling masks. A stone at the trailhead describes this area as a “Fairyland”. And you can’t argue with something written in stone…
To contemplate some Chinese Poetry
At the belly of the mountain, just before the gondola, is the aptly named Rock Passing Poetry Forest. In 1986, at the behest of the Nanyue Administration, over 50 poems were scribbled on the side of some rocks.
If you head off the main trail, you can explore all the words of wisdom. Well, you can at least look at them. I don’t understand a lick of Mandarin so I just pretended they were something very deep, like a tattoo on an NBA player that says “Evil Bird Camphor” or “Can-Do. Okay”.
There are actually a few different paths that wind and cut down the mountain, which allows you to find your own little slice of the mountain – a hidden pavilion or a secret cave.
To check out the sacred part of the sacred mountain
Mount Heng is one of the five sacred mountains of China, so it goes without saying that there are going to be a ton of religious and historical sites along the way.
The mountain has mostly Taoist temples, with a few Buddhist thrown in just to spice things up.
Some of the temples seem a bit glossy and restored.
Others feel older and ooze charm and authenticity.
To take in the view
As you continue up the mountain, there are various lookout points along the way. The temples are home to many of the best views.
To see everything with an ice glaze
If you hike Mount Heng in winter, you will most likely encounter chilly conditions as you near the summit.
It may be a good idea to buy some twine booties from a tout along the way; the stone stairs become extremely slick with ice. Depending on desperation levels, your desperation being to not crack your head open and their desperation being for one more marginal sale, the price will vary between 15 and 30 Yuan.
You also have the option to buy insurance at the entrance to the mountain for three yuan.
When you finally reach the summit (officially 1,300.02 meters above sea level), you may not even know it. Dense fog covers the entire top of the mountain, making it difficult to glimpse Zhurong Palace that sits atop it.
No matter, as the cliché goes, it’s the journey, not the destination.
Hey, at least it’s better than “Can-Do. Okay”.