Article by Thabo Jaffe
48 Hours or Less is a column dedicated to travel and to getting the most out of your measly two days off a week.
So I finally got sunburnt. Don’t laugh just yet—I got through my whole life being outdoors as much as possible, while getting away with just a tan. This time it was a burn though… I’d discovered Xi’an’s conspicuous secret (again).
After recently buying a motorbike, I’d decided to just head south on my days off and see what I bump into. Turns out there’s a lot. There’s a lot within 45 minutes of the city (provided you have private transport). The not-so-secret secret – the Qinling mountain range and all it has to offer, is a stone’s throw away. In this case, assuming you can easily throw a stone 30 km.
My first tanning stop was Gaoguanpubu (高冠瀑布). We’d smartly hired a driver to drive us all of 30 minutes to the waterfall, which is also easily accessible by the 921 bus. After paying a humble 14RMB each, we ventured through all the commercial parts of the area (little restaurants and a menagerie of vendors), past the actual waterfall, and hiked at least an hour upriver. It’s a beautiful undeveloped path winding alongside the river that shaped the valley. If you’ve been in China for any decent amount of time you’ll know it’s sometimes difficult to find a secluded spot in a scenic area, but up here you’ll find that most people stop at the restaurants near the entrance, leaving the quiet pools and mini-waterfalls all to you. We didn’t venture too far down the path, but it’s a given that there’s more to see, with a little more planning we will.
The second tanning stop was more a fortunate joyride than anything. Sometimes no plan is the best plan. Sometimes. I headed south again trying to reach some kind of lesser known peak not trod on by the masses. I went through a maze of cornfields never quite letting me get to where I’d hoped to go. Suddenly, purple. A loud purple in the quiet sea of green. I found this rather odd and just walked in. Well, I found out it was 20RMB to get up close and personal with the lavender when the old caretaker came running after me. Unlike me, you should use some sunscreen out here as there’s very little shelter from the retreating summer sun. Sadly, this place will only occupy about 30 or so minutes of your time, so I’d advise an aimless walk through the beautiful countryside after. To get there on purpose, you can take the 917 bus to Yangzhuang (杨庄), a tiny one-street village/town, then you’ll have to walk south about 1 km until your first right turn. From here it’s another 800m down a dirt road until you see the purple.
Lastly, my most joyful (and only) sunburn came in the form of a refusal. After being up to Cuihuashan (another beautiful mountain park) on multiple occasions and seeing motorbikes up at the Skylake, I’d assumed they were allowed to enter. I was painfully wrong, as my smiley arrival turned into a slightly sour departure. Alas, a friend of mine had told me of a road that snakes directly south through the Qinling range. Feeling adventurous? Yes.
The name of the road is the G210. It starts in the city centre as Taibailu, and following it directly south it changes at some point on the city boundary into the G210. Again, it’s just straight, no turns. Keep at it long enough and you’ll reach a traffic circle whereby you take the 2nd exit which is still directly straight south. You’ll start to notice a slight incline, until it becomes obvious. You’ve now reached the most beautiful drive/cycle/jog in Shaanxi. Reachable by means of the 921 bus again – but up to 2.5 hours just to the base – I implore you to cycle or ride a motorbike there so as to really appreciate the view. This road reportedly leads to a beautiful peak, and farther to Ankang. Reportedly, because my “no plan” plan left me with precious little time until sunset. I went as far as I could before turning around, and accepting that my arms may never be the same colour as the rest of my body again. My last words of advice would be to wear sunscreen unlike a certain idiot, and enjoy the beautifully close mountains and valleys in the comfortable autumn.
Thabo is an avid explorer and less-than-worldly South African, always in search of new experiences.Stopping just short of suicidal, he’s a true Yes Man. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org