48 Hours or Less: Yan’an and Hukoupubu

Article by Thabo Jaffe

Winter is a time to embrace the cold. Listen, I’m not saying you should go outside in shorts and freeze your jewels off – I’m saying it’s a good time to see the unique wintry scenes that China has to offer us, and there are plenty. Yes, the winter sun is now hide-and-seek champion, but you needn’t follow suit, as there is a bounty of locations near and far for you to feast your eyes on, albeit painted in a mostly grey-white palette.

“Why not” my gut always tells me. This is also my default answer when offered a trip to anywhere remotely interesting. A friend offered to take me along on a tour of Yan’an and Hukou waterfall, and since I knew nothing about either, I agreed. Organized through the Zhongchao travel agency, busses leave around 7am from the No.10 FenXiang Lu 粉巷 station just off Nan Da Jie (South street from Bell Tower), and bring you back around 7pm the next day at a cost of only 270RMB, including meals and a night at a decent hotel.

After a roughly 3-hour long bus ride with cold and slightly irritable passengers and featureless lunch, we arrived at our 1st stop – the Huangdi Mausoleum. This is the 5000-year-old tomb of the Yellow Emperor, credited with uniting the then warring China into one nation, and whose reign brought Chinese civilization counting systems and the origin of our current Chinese writing. According to legend, he lived over 100 years, at which point a dragon came down from the heavens to inform him,” Your task is finished. You should follow me to heaven,” to which he agreed. While flying over Mt. Qiao, where the current tomb is located, people pulled on his clothes, not willing to part with their emperor. Sadly, this was all in vain as only his clothes remained, and are still buried in the tomb. Notable things to see here are a cypress (you guess the age) that was planted by Huangdi himself, and the Xuanyuan temple.

Next stop, Hukou waterfall. This is the biggest waterfall on the Yellow river, and, though lacking in height, it more than makes up for it in thunderous sound, power, and sheer beauty. In the winter you’ll see a mostly frozen river (and countless people falling) with white curtains of interrupted water hanging off the cliffs and mountain faces. On rare sunny days or in the summer, there’s a near-constant rainbow waiting to greet visitors.

I ended up staying at a local hotel. It was an eventful night, spent knocking back copious amounts of baijiu and playing majiang with the locals.

When morning arrived, it was time to head out to Yan’an. Unbeknownst to me was the immense importance of this city to the modern China. It turns out this is the birthplace of the CCP, where Mao Zedong spent a considerable number of years with other stalwarts in small caves carved out of the mountain, forming and perfecting his now well-known ideologies. There isn’t so much to see here as there is to experience, as this pivotal base where so many decisions were made and ideas formed can leave you with a sense of power hanging in the air.

After a wolfing down a large hearty lunch, it was back to Xi’an to warm up and plan my next adventure. If I can give you any advice, dress warm—I was a little underdressed, and it was so cold that I had to run on the spot to keep the intense pain in my feet at bay. But with that said, if you can fight the chill, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more interesting trip to take this winter.

It’s best to head out on this tour with a friend fluent in Chinese.
You guessed it, there’s loads of ice all around the waterfall – watch your step.
Dress warmly – the cold tends to sneak up on you in these parts.