I’ve noticed something in my lifetime of travels. Often, the sights we find most impressive are often not the most famous. My theory: it has something to do with expectations. High expectations for famous things (The Great Wall) and lesser or low expectations for less famous sights. Please don’t misunderstand. I loved the GW, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. But those paled in comparison to the things Maia and I saw once we left Beijing.
We were actually advised to skip Cangyan Shan, a hard to reach destination that attracted hordes of Chinese tourists. I guess our travel karma was still strong – and traveling at the tail end of winter in the north probably didn’t hurt. At any rate, we found CS almost too ourselves after a 2+ hour bullet train ride from Beijing to Shijiazhuang, a 30 minute taxi ride to an out-of-town bus depot, an hour’s bus ride, and a 55 minute hired car ride up into the surrounding Hebei mountains. I think enduring an ordeal to reach a sight also adds to it's ultimate enjoyment. The ordeal didn't end at the parking lot as we still had a rigorous climb up hundreds of stone steps. But the reward was . . . you get the idea.
The combo of low expectations and demanding travel logistics made the CS payout particularly sweet. And sweet it was! CS is an ancient palace, built like a bridge across a steep gorge. It was featured in the Hollywood epic, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Our first view was from far below as we climbed the many stone steps. The palace came gradually into view far above.
After many, many more steps we had passed under the palace where we were treated with a second perspective - from behind, looking out to the great cleft valley below. A third view was enjoyed from the bridge immediately in front of the palace. And a final vista from the path that leads away on one side of the gorge rim. Such a dramatic setting, defying both gravity and our understanding of why the ancients decided to undertake such a demanding building location. I’m running out of superlatives: it was stunning, awe-inspiring, breath-taking, and sublime.
Like the best sights, this one proved more interesting and expansive than the one, albeit spectacular, palace. After the obligatory tourist shots from the bridge in front of the palace, we continued up the winding mountain path to find more vistas and more temples. Every corner seemed to reveal a new highlight. Snap, snap, snap went our camera shutters. We ended up climbing much, much higher than CS itself. Our Great Wall-hardened leg muscles complained a little, but of course it was worth it. Like the GW, I’ll let the images do the describing. But it was an amazing day.