Work has been extremely busy the last couple of months and therefore it has meant I haven’t been out on the bike as much as I would have liked. However I did manage to get out to one of my favourite spots around Xiamen, Tianzhushan 厦门天竺山., which is as far as I’m concerned a real gem of a place in and around Xiamen.
I suppose I’ve been there five or six times now. It’s just perfect for a days jaunt out of the city. The ride itself from my home to the mountain isn’t anything spectacular. Like in many areas of China it involves riding on some pretty busy roads most of which most are usually undergoing some kind of construction work. Whether you’re jostling for space at an intersection with various electric bikes, dealing with wannabe F1 drivers or trying to avoid the ear splitting sound from the horn of ten tonne trucks passing you, riding a bike, or for that matter I’m sure driving a car in China could never be deemed a dull experience.
In a country as vast as China it’s one of those strange anomalies that you never actually seem to have much space. That’s certainly the case in Xiamen where according to Wikipedia the combined population of Huli district and Siming district (the two districts actually on the island) amounts to just under one point nine million inhabitants. The total population of the districts in Xiamen (Huli, Siming, Jimei, Tong'an,Haicang and recently Xiang'an) accounts for 3,531,147 people. Thankfully though there are places like Tianzhushan and at around the 30km mark from my home, the less than spectacular ride to get there is more than worth the effort for the lovely riding on offer.
I’ve done the trip there is all weather conditions; I’m a firm believer in getting out in all types of weather from rain and wind to sleet and heat. It would be totally naïve of me to expect that riding back from China to England is going to be picture perfect weather all the way. This particular day offered blistering heat to deal with. Most people here and I’m not just taking about my Chinese friends think that I’m insane to ride on such days. In fact many locals view the sun much in the same way Superman saw kryptonite. I’m of the opinion though if you are sensible and more crucially constantly rehydrate then riding in the heat isn’t a big problem. I always make sure I carry more than enough water with me and while it’s heavy, bulky and annoying to have to keep stop it’s far better than the alternative, dehydration!
Tianzhushan, according to the official website http://www.xmtzs.cn/engardenmain.asp encompasses an area of 37.05 km.2 What amazes me every time I go there is that such a beautiful place doesn’t seem to attract that many visitors. Not that I’m complaining mind, finding areas of peaceful solitude in and around Xiamen is something of a rarity.
Task number one on arriving at the mountain is negotiating the security guards or park rangers who man the main access roads into the park. For some reason I usually have to go through the same rather tired ritual whereby they take one look at the bike and wave their figure in an authoritarian manner to let me know that under no circumstances are you allowed to ride your bike up this gloriously beautiful mountain. I know it’s not their fault, I’ve yet to get to the bottom of it. I think it might have something to do with safety. On the last few occasions I’ve been there the guard has informed me in Chinese that the road or mountain is in fact dangerous. This does I have to say seem rather silly. I mean if you took this argument then surely wouldn’t all roads, in fact everything you do in life be dangerous? I think they are worried that if any accident were to happen they would be in some way be responsible for it. Usually after some fairly heavy sighing on my part followed by broken pleads in Chinese the gate is lifted and access is granted. I know they are only doing their job but to deny people the chance to ride up this mountain in my eyes is, well just pure and simply wrong! God made mountains like this for precisely the reason that people like me can ride up them!
One of the things that really hits me when I go there is the smell. Living in the city, and I hate to say it but an ever increasingly polluted city one doesn’t ever really get the chance to taste ‘fresh’ air. Tianzhushan is covered in pine trees and as a result you get this glorious sweet pine aroma filling your senses immediately as you enter the park.
The ride itself is neither long nor that steep; instead the road wind up in a fairly genteel manner. There are some nice stretches which are testing but overall these are usually short sharp inclines where budding Lance Armstrong’s can test their mountain prowess. It’s just nice to click into a comfortable gear and make your way up to the top at your own pace. After all we live in such a fast paced hurly burly world that places like Tianzhushan should be savored not rushed.
There is a vast array of wildlife on offer on the mountain too and on this last occasion there I was amazed by the amount of butterflies. Butterflies are not the only form of wildlife that can be found here there are also……. snakes! I like many people have a totally irrational fear of snakes and thankfully (touch wood) I’ve yet to encounter any live ones on any of my trips to either Tianzhushan or anywhere else for that matter. I have though seen a couple which have either been taking an afternoon nap, basking in the sun or simply crossing the road at the wrong time when a car has happened to pass resulting in an unfortunate and nasty end. I’ve always made sure that when I ride the mountain I stick to the middle of the road. I don’t want to go disturbing any snakes just minding there own business on the side of the road. According to a little bit of Web research there are actually 77 different species of snakes that can be found in Fujian. Some of which I know end up on the plates of some very hungry people with a penchant for strange cuisines.
Luckily on this trip I didn’t see any snakes or for that matter any cars, it was almost as if I had the whole mountain to myself. Cycling bliss!
Anyone reading this and looking for a 90km round trip outside of Xiamen should really make the effort to get out to Tianzhushan, you won’t be disappointed.