Hunan: Hengshan and Nanyue

Then we caught the next leg to Hengshan station at a nameless town some 20-30 kms from our destination Hengshan Mountain one of the five great pilgrimage mountains of China. But the slower K train from Zhuzhou runs to a nameless town some 20 kms east, where we were accosted by a strident throng of taxi drivers trying to force us into a taxi to Nanuye at the foot of the mountain for 60-100 yuan, but a young woman passing by showed us to the waiting local bus for Nanuye for 6 yuan each. I still don't know the name of the town but I photographed it's name in Chinese on the bus so we can catch one back to the same town early tomorrow to manage to make the next two train links.

The town by Hengshan (East) station and a chic Nanuye street

Our journey has almost no relationship whatever to China as a whole and Chinese politics in particular. We have picked a series of oddball remnants of regional people's culture to visit, which by various twists of fate were not wiped out by the Cultural Revolution, which have since become World Heritage sites now turned into major Chinese tourist attractions, essentially because so much of the rest of China has become one big gulag - a kind of formless purgatory where half the buildings seem to lack windows because rampant construction hasn't found a natural conclusion in domestic occupation. What is remarkable is how few and far between these relative gems are with days and night of travel through the gulag to get from one to another.

A temple on the lower slopes, forest and Henshan foothills in the mist

The country is also pathologically polluted, with severe smog from one end of the continent to the other. That said there is a lot of renewable innovation. We have seen the same thermos flask type solar water heat units that we have seen sold in NZ all over the country, even in the most far-flung places. We have even passed street lights which had individual solar panels and windmills as well, to ensure the lights would function renewably under fluctuating conditions.

A pagoda on Hengshan from Nanyue's tree-lined main thoroughfare.

Nanyue is a pleasant town at the foot of Hengshan, a major Taoist pilgrimage mountain, but it has been raining and foggy today and it costs 120 yuan each - twice the cost of our hotel here - to just get entry to the park so we wandered in the forested foothills and are using this as a rest day before leaving on another overnighter tomorrow where we have to exit at 3.30, and wait until after 7 am to get an ongoing train to Nanjing near the tulou roundhouses.

In the evening we tried to find a meal for a reasonable cost. This is particularly difficult in China because restaurants are all geared to serve a whole rotating table of dishes for a group of six to eight. If you try to ask for anything resembling a balanced diet of some protein vegetables and staple you get a costly heap of separate dishes with far too much food for two. Before we knew it we had been dragged into a place right by the little upstairs hotel called Hotel Zhongnan we found in a tree-lined side street off the main shopping street we found and found ourselves eating a monumental plate of eggs and tomatoes and a huge plate of greens but the girl who had invited us in very graciously insisted we were her guests and to be served dinner for free! I left her my web address and she has since e-mailed me and we have begun a correspondence.