discovering China's grand canyon
My recent trip to the Hubei (Hu-bay) province of Central China proved to be a real eye opener. It was culture shock for me, but life as they know it for them. I traveled from Beijing to Wuhan, China, and on to Enshi, the home to China’s Grand Canyon.
Enshi city was vibrant and alive, but nothing could have prepared me for the China I was about to see in the mountainous areas of Enshi Canyon. Several times during the trip, I reminded myself that, sometimes, ‘Less is More.’
Enshi is located inland, in the southwest region of Hubei province. It’s an area of immense natural beauty with soaring mountains, deep canyons, meandering rivers, and great waterfalls. The mountain village is a two and a half hour car ride from the bustling city. The mountaintops are high above the skyline and the thousand-zhang waterfalls that tumble to the canyon floor below, feeding the underground rivers that flow through the Qungjiang River Valley of virgin forests and ancient villages. Enshi proudly displays the peaks and valleys of what is known today as China’s Grand Canyon.
Enshi Grand Canyon
The Enshi Grand Canyon is located in Tunbao village in the town of Banqiao, high above the clouds. I climbed my way to the summit and experienced the views of a lifetime. Altogether, I hiked three of the five precipices in Enshi Canyon.
I was in awe as I gazed out toward the mystical land. The puffy clouds seemed close enough for me to touch and the precipices were like giant stalagmite stone fingers reaching toward the heavens.
Free from the hustle and bustle of the rest of China, there were no beeping horns, no crazy mopeds; just the serene stillness and beauty of nature.
The Enshi Canyon has a total length of 108 km (67 miles) and the total area is more than 300 sq. km (about 74,000 acres, or 115.8 sq. miles). As it’s only 1.7 miles wide, it makes the canyon long and narrow.
By comparison, the American Grand Canyon (1,218,560 acres/ 1,904 sq. miles) could hold sixteen Enshi Grand Canyons.
The significant difference of the two is that Enshi Grand Canyon is lush as opposed to the barren desert-like topography of America’s Grand Canyon.
Still, all the splendor and physical features that one would find in America’s Grand Canyon are contained within this smaller area, so it makes it a great place to visit for a day trip or longer.
As I climbed the steep ridges of the mountains, at each turn, I came across villagers selling cold drinks, cooked potatoes, and hard boiled eggs soaking in tea. Not an easy day’s work!
I was amazed at how the elders set up camps everyday, hiking up and down these mountains with large sacks strapped on their backs. Great exercise keeps them fit. As I paused to drink my water and catch my breath, a woman twice my age, with a gentle smile on her face, passed me. I used the universal sign for a photo to ask if I could take a picture. Her look of concern was followed by a big smile.
Moments after snapping the image, I shared it with her and several others who had stopped to watch. They seemed amazed at seeing themselves in the view finder. It was magic and they wanted more pictures.
Then, a little boy stopped and pointed to my iPod. I let him listen to a song and his face beamed with amazement! More magic! And, just like that, any concerns were replaced with trusting smiles. As we smiled and laughed together, the language barrier seemed to disappear.
Giant Golden Panda
As a tall, blond, westerner, I felt the introspective eyes of the locals on me in the more urban areas, but nothing prepared me for my reception in the isolated mountain settlements. For many of the mountain people of Enshi, it appeared to me that I was the first American they had ever seen.
The children surrounded me, seemingly mesmerized by my blonde hair and green eyes. Mothers shooed their children closer to get a better look; the shy little ones hid behind their mother’s skirt, peeking out just enough to fill their curiosity.
My tall stature and lightly colored hair had the men following my every move with their eyes. Women would gather around just to hear me speak. I felt like a giant golden panda. I laughed to myself as I thought that I haven’t turned this many heads since I was nineteen!
They wanted to know everything about me: who I was, where I came from, why I was there! I’m happy to say, I think I left a lasting positive impression.
The People of Enshi’s Mountains
The people of rural Enshi are kind, hard working, self-sufficient, and very isolated from the world. They live a hard life off the land, but their big smiles never seem to fade. They are farmers of vegetables and tea and are proud of their daily life with each other. There is no running water for most and squat toilets for all.
I saw children with no shoes or with one worn pair, and I thought about my children with too many shoes. I saw all the diseased and sick dogs lying in the comfortable shade of old, tired trees and wanted to rescue them all.
I guess it’s all relative. My daily life of iPods, cell phones, and laptops is a world away from the mountain people of Enshi. They are surrounded everyday by trees, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and beautiful lush green mountains. Maybe, they have it right! The Other Enshi
There is another world below the mountains in the city of Enshi. By day, I would recommend a visit to the Tusi Castle. It dates back to 700 AD and is a lesson in the culture of the area. This Chieftain castle was destroyed by a fire in 2004 and perfectly restored soon after. It is home to the largest archaized Pagoda style buildings in China. As I wandered through the exhibits of architectural and decorative arts, I felt like I was walking through a living book. It tells the story of the Tujia folk cultures through sculptures, gardens, artwork, and furnishings.
Afterward, there is a must-see play that features the primitive reenactment of the local Chinese culture. It will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.
Make sure you head to Dingshihui for lunch! During a long hot day, I was looking forward to lunch and a drink, but I could never have imagined the surprise that Dingshihui had in store for me. As I followed my guide up the stairs, my eyes became wide with amazement.
Dingshihui was like walking through a boutique style hotel in Manhattan, and the food was incredible! I couldn’t believe that a luxurious oasis such as this existed in this city.
The city came alive in the evening. Neon lights lined the buildings and bridges in the Central Square and reflected off the river below. There were men gathered in groups playing Mahjong and residents participating in a huge outdoor aerobics class.