Last week, as I’ve mentioned, was May Holiday. This is a very popular time for people in China to travel – as many have a week long vacation. The “many” however did not include Maggie. As I didn’t really feel like trekkin’ around China on my own, and am still slaving over this new Web site (I swear, I’ll tell you all about it soon), I opted to stay in town for the week.
Most of my week was spent staring at the business end of an LCD screen, but come Sunday Maggie and I decided we needed to get our lazy asses up and out for some fresh air. Enter, Da Hei Shan 大黑山 (or Big Black Mountain).
For some of you this name will seem familiar, as I’ve ranted about it a few times. Da Hei Shan is a mountain that sits between Jinzhou and Kaifaqu, about 30 minutes north of Dalian. When I lived in Jinzhou for my first eight months in China I stared out the window at this big rock every day, but as per my manager’s instructions, never visited it.
You see, three groups of people dig this place. Daytrippers looking to get some fresh air and exercise, monks who live at the rather touristy temples scattered both on and around the mountain, and the PLA or People’s Liberation Army. I’m not entirely sure why the PLA decided to build a training base at the top of the mountain and I don’t care to know – a fact I was planning to plead had I been captured, tortured, and had my organs sold to rich Brits due to my presence on the mountain. Likely I would have just been fined 3,000 RMB and let on my way – how much does a spleen go for on the black market anyway?
It was this fear (of the fine, as at the time the whole Sujiatun Death Camp thing was sorta unknown) that kept me from climbing the mountain until a year after my initial plans to do so. It was worth the wait though – in part because I still have all my organs.
Let’s get a few things straight. This isn’t The Rockies. The ‘mountains’ around Dalian have about as much right to the name as any big hill might. Fortunately for naming sake, the word for mountain and large hill in Chinese is the same. So there ya go.
That said, it’s not a simple jaunt, and it will get your heart going. Like most Chinese mountain climbs, it’s mostly all stairs. I’m not sure who it was that cooked this idea up, and though it does cut down on the “authenticity” of ‘mountain climbing’… it does make the hike a bit simpler.
To get to Da Hei Shan from Dalian, it’s easiest to just take any number of busses to Jinzhou, and then either take the rather infrequent bus (only runs in the morning) or take a taxi. As we missed the bus (I needed sunglasses damnit), we opted to take a cab, which dropped us off on a nice little path that led up to a ticket house. Admittance is 10 RMB, which is fair enough as the park seemed reasonably well maintained, and the fee included entrance to the Buddhist temple at the top.
Immediately upon arrival at Da Hei Shan’s base you notice a difference in the air quality, and deep breathes don’t bring with them a slight panic due to the amount of dirt you’re inhaling (as is the case in the city). There’s also the presence of the long-forgotten tweets and caws of birds. All-in-all, the place closely resembles nature. I was surprised.
The hike starts out gradual, slowly becoming steeper as you ascend. At one point there is an incline of about 70-degrees, which was a bit more like climbing a ladder than a stairway.
It amazed me throughout the climb how limber(ly?) and quickly the elderly (wow that was a lot of -ly’s) climbed. Not only did they keep pace with us youngins, but often they zoomed by with a wisened/self-righteous smirk.
After about an hour or so of climbing, you reach the first “top”, which is where the temple is located. You’re rewarded with some nice views of the valley you’ve just hiked through, and on a clear day might be able to see the sea. We couldn’t as it was hazy.
The temple is sort of lackluster as it is more an opportunity for the monks to sell you their “blessed” wares. Anyone who’s been in China more than a couple days has likely seen carbon copies of the same temple. There are however some nice marble statues of Buddha looking his serene self.
From here you can go back down the way you came, or continue up a little further, passed the army base (something I did quickly, not completely escaping the gaze of some plain clothes military guys), and up to a parking lot. Yup. Top of the mountain parking lot. Apparently for those that want the view, but not the exercise.
A little ways away from the parking lot, down a Temple of Heaven-like marble path, is a Keep-type structure, which while we were there had been rented out for an Amway rally – you heard right. We elbowed passed the rah-rah brainwashing to riches, and got a spectacular view of Jinzhou on the left and Kaifaqu on the right. Had the weather been clearer, we could easily have seen Dalian in the distance.
After taking in the view we had a tough decision to make… continue climbing to the real ‘top’ where I think there is an even better view, and a TV tower, or start our descent. The several hundred stairs assembled in a near verticle fashion between us and the top made the decision none-too-hard to make and we started down.
The road down, is literally that, a road. Though well-paved, it’s steep and features repeating jackknife turns – tough on the toes and calf muscles after a while. It was a bit surreal on the way down as we randomly bumped into Doris, a friend of ours from the Jinzhou Future School days. I had considered calling her and inviting her along for the hike – funny how things work out. We stopped and chatted for a bit, made vague dinner plans (as you do) and continued on our way.
At the base, the road opens up and winds passed farmer’s fields until it reaches an intersection where there are a load of old women selling produce in baskets, as well as a bus stop and taxis waiting to take you back to the city.
Upon discovering we had also missed the bus home, we hopped in a mini-van back to Jinzhou and returned to Dalian, via a shared taxi, for some well earned lunch and relaxation.
And so there it is – my trip to the big black mountain, Da Hei Shan. It should be noted that I have heard of foreigners getting hassled by the army, and I think it’s still officially off-limits. However, I haven’t heard any firsthand accounts of trouble; quite the opposite actually, as most foreigners I’ve met here have been to the place. Now I know why. It’s a nice way to get away from the honking bustle of the city for an afternoon.
Expenses summary (per person):
- Bus to Jinzhou: 4 RMB
- Taxi to Da Hei Shan: 12.5 RMB (25 RMB/2)
- Da Hei Shan Entrance Fee: 10 RMB
- Mini-van Back to Jinzhou: 10 RMB (20 RMB/2)
- Shared Taxi back to Dalian: 16 RMB
Total: 52.5 RMB (or about $7.50 CAN)
This is a reasonably convenient way to get between Jinzhou and Dalian. Essentially it’s a regular taxi shared between a group of strangers that ferries you between the two cities for a set price. Dalian->Jinzhou should be 11 RMB, and Jinzhou->Dalian 16 RMB. There is a 1 RMB discount if the taxi doesn’t take the ShenDa Highway. The easiest place to catch a shared taxi in Jinzhou is by Jinzuo Market, just north of the #1 Bus Terminal, and east of what I think is called Shengli Square. You’ll see a long clusterphuck of taxis waiting curbside for people looking to go to Dalian. Try to find a car with some people waiting in it already. People in the backseat are preferred, as often a driver will stick his buddy in the front passenger seat to make it look like he’s got people waiting to go. Failure to adhere to this might see you waiting an obscenely long time.
Da Hei Shan Entrance
You can tackle Da Hei Shan two different ways. We took the path up and the road down, but it is equally possible to take the road up and the path down. Both have their benefits. My friend Doris explained that they were taking the road up because it’s easier to climb the road and descend the stairs than the other way around. I can’t say which is easier. Just make sure you explain to the driver which entrance you’d like to go to. Assuming you come directly from the city, the path entrance will be reached first, and on your right.