Magical and Majestic Spires of Guilin and Li Jiang

The landscape and river that surrounds Guilin and flows through Guilin and down through the villages of Yangti, Xing Ping and Yangshou is perhaps the most famous of China depicted through photographs, paintings, silk scrolls and even on Chinese currency.

[…] “They were the oddest hills in the world, and the most Chinese, because these are the hills that are depicted in every Chinese scroll. It is almost a sacred landscape – it is certainly an emblematic one[…]” —- Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster, 1988

The magical and majestic pinnacles that have inspired artists and philosophers for centuries create a fairly tale atmosphere once you leave the city for the serenity of rafting down the Li Jiang on bamboo rafts while farmers plow fields with the help of water buffalo.

These amazing spires are composed of limestone and are called “Karst” which refers to the how the pinnacles are formed. As with any awe inspiring geological scenery these Karst spires were formed by thousands of years of rain and erosion. The limestone on the surface is broken down by rainwater acidified by carbon dioxide in the air and plant debris in the soil. Over time narrow channels are formed in the limestone which accelerates the erosion. Time causes deep gorges to be formed in the limestone’s joints and fractures and divides the limestone mass into isolated blocks. In many areas these blocks are rounded into closely spaced conical hills in other places into vertical towers.

Missing the express air-conditioned bus in Guilin our Chinese friends found us a bus that would pass through Yangshou, our chosen base camp for exploring the Karst, culture and food of Southwestern China. This bus would cost us about the same as the express bus because it was a long distance sleeper bus header even further south closer to the Viet Nam border. We passed our luggage through a window on the side of the bus and boarded the weathered and worn bus. Inside there were two aisles flanked by three rows of bunks. With 8 rows of bunks stacked two high, there was no way to actually sit on the bunk. That is unless you were extremely short or a child. The only option for the hour and half journey south was to get horizontal.

On the bus we met a young Chinese woman and her fiance who spent the day in Guilin photographing and location scouting for their pending wedding. She was an english teacher yet her husband to be spoke no english save the ubiquitous “hello”. And he was happy to share his english proficiency with us when we asked. The bus rolled through town as the driver endeavored to fill a few remaining bunks. That’s when Mathias boarded. A young Frenchman who owned a café in Yangshou and had just opened another in Dali City in Yunan province.

Mathias would show us later just how late we could stay up in Yangshou and introduce us to his fellow french friend who recently opened a brewery in Yangshou. Finally, he assured us, you cold get real beer in China. With a bottle of Insignia still packed in my luggage we spoke of French wine and his appetite for wine made in China.

Photos: (1) Oolong River fork of the Li Jiang; (3) Mathias Yangshou french entrepreneur philosophizing and reflecting on life in China.