Guilin, situated in the south east of China, is green with conical mountains, karsts, which I have long associated with China. It is quite beautiful but, like Shanghai, is becoming modernised. Skyscrapers are being built, but no more than 10 or 20 storeys high so as not to detract from the stunning scenery. The roads are lined with Acacia trees, hedgerows and thousands of mopeds.
They must breed in Guilin. They are battery operated moped type machines and everyone seems to have one. They are everywhere and I mean everywhere. In parts they even have their own lane of traffic. Riders glide along the road way chicaning between other vehicles and pedestrians.
Our first stop was Elephant Hill, beautiful spot where the hill is the shape of an elephant, the trunk dipping into the water. I didn’t see the resemblance at first, but then it became clearer when I took a step back. We took photos around the lake and my friend, Carol, joined the Chinese paddling in the lake amongst statues of baby elephants. Although the place was packed, Guilin being a top holiday destination, I didn’t care. The buzz of happiness and holiday freedom was infectious.
We walked along the road a little way to Fubo Hill. On the way we passed a group of women of all ages, uniformly dressed, in bright blue jackets, over a floral-like top, dark grey trousers and a distinctive white band around their forehead holding up or back their black hair. They are the Dhong – a minority group in China. We asked if we could take photos and amongst much smiling and waving we all took some snaps.
My impression of Guilin was most favourable for the parks were decorated with modern sculptures, beautiful benches and gorgeous flower displays in and around the lakes. Fubo Hill was guarded by an impressive statue of General Fubo, a man who, 2000 years ago, defeated the enemy in the south, helped people with irrigation and built a city wall for defence. There was once a temple in his honour.
In Fubo Hill are caves with Buddha carvings hidden in underground passageways and rocks. Some had been desecrated during the Communist regime of Mao, but efforts had been made to reconstruct them. Within the caves or tunnels were shrines to Buddha, beautiful porcelain/china statues and unlit incense sticks. We were asked not to take photos, which was appropriate as this is certainly a holy, spiritual place, very tranquil in comparison to Elephant Hill and Zhiyintai Wharf, a stone’s throw away.
At the latter we were joined by Chinese tourists to look out over the lake to admire the beautiful Buddhist pagodas, ornately decorated, the view spoiled by apartments being built behind them. As we were taking photos and watching the steps, (they are everywhere), I swivelled around and sent a young Chinese lass flying out of her shoes. I grabbed her to stop her from falling onto the ground, poor thing. She must have felt she’d been hit by an elephant, and I apologised profusely. What else could I do?
Fortunately her gaggle of friends thought it hilarious and before I knew it I was surrounded by a group of young women all taking “selfies” laughing and chattering in their sing song manner, smiling and snapping away. It was crazy, crazy, crazy. I just smiled and laughed and kept looking at the camera, but I must look a sight having been up since 4am. God help them if they end up putting that on their wall, - it will frighten off even the most hardened visitor – let alone evil spirits!
The next part of our journey was by cruiser along the Li River to Yangshou. There had to be twelve to fifteen boats in convoy filled with people, mostly Chinese as it is a real holiday destination. The cruiser made its way around the winding river allowing us to take pictures of the undulating karsts, beautifully green, the limestone rocks, white and grey against a stunning blue sky. It was warm, with a gentle breeze.
Arguably the scenery becomes monotonous, ‘seen one limestone karst you’ve sent them all,’ but our guide pointed out one called Bat Hill and another called Goat’s Hoof because it looked like ...
It seems to me the Chinese name these things after drinking the jasmine alcohol we’d been invited to try the previous evening. As potent as poteen, I stuck to beer. To my sober eye only Apple Mountain resembled an apple.
We did see beautiful bamboo with frond like leaves, ducks, goats and water buffalo. They were a little disappointing as they were no bigger than the average Irish cow, a dusky grey colour camouflaging themselves well against the rocks. The river is quite shallow in places and kudos to the pilot for navigating the deeper waters, avoiding the rocks and keeping a steady speed. But then he probably had a moped and was used to travelling at 20mph, swerving gracefully through the traffic.