By Xie Zongming
In I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, many natural phenomena are abstracted into a series of hexagrams that signify different pieces of life philosophy, which is also the reason why it’s called the Book of Changes — it teaches you how to perceive the changes in everything. According to the book, the scenery of mountains on top of waters is called Meng — the scene of a spring welling up at the foot of the mountain that signifies young people tumbling through their youthful folly, just like the spring overcomes stagnation. Laibin, a city located in Central Guangxi, has just the landscapes. When you feel you’ve touched your mental limit, how about visiting this city and trying to search for thoughts from the landscapes different from other parts of Guangxi?
A sanctuary high above: Shengtang Mountain
Even in mountainous Guangxi, Shengtang Mountain seems a bit special. Guangxi has a typical karst landform, a landscape where the mountains were shaped by eons of water erosion which gave them a smooth look from afar. Though they are steep, they remain in the shape of cones. Shengtang Mountain, the main peak of Dayao Mountain, is different from most of Guangxi’s scenic areas as it has a Danxia landform. It is situated on a fault line, from which it got a cliffy look. Also, it has an altitude of 1,979 meters, so it is easy to see a sea of clouds below your feet when you reach the top. Unlike other typical karst mountains in Guangxi, the cliffs, the sea of clouds covering the downhill path, and the solely-standing column-looking rocks sticking out from the clouds remind you not of a paradise but the tower of Babel. You will feel the valor of reaching for the sky instead of the peace of being in paradise.
Nonetheless, the name Shengtang means sanctuary in Chinese, and it is indeed a holy mountain for the locals. To understand this name, one must think outside the human identity. There is no doubt that the top areas are uninhabitable for humans, but the mountain still fostered lush plants and a variety of animals, not to mention the rivers flowing from the mountain to every village around. There are rare plants, some of the most ancient varieties, on Shengtang Mountain, along with large areas of azalea. The overwhelming colors in sight can easily trick you into thinking that it is a tranquil place before the wildlife’s sounds wake you up from your daydreaming. Then, you will realize that humans are the unexpected guests here.
Tips: The azalea woods on the mountain are one of the most beautiful sights on the mountain, so make sure you visit the place in mid-May. Also, remember to wear hiking shoes for the slippery rocks and exhausting three-hour uphill roads. The view of the mountaintop is worth your efforts.
Stillness, but not stagnation: Shengtang Lake
A few kilometers to the north of Shengtang Mountain, there quietly lies the Shengtang Lake. The same as Shengtang Mountain, the lake is considered holy by the locals. Being part of Dayao Mountain as well, Shengtang Lake shares the same Danxia landscapes. It is more of a gorge than a lake, as it is surrounded by rocky cliffs. However, unlike most of the bald rocks you see on Shengtang Mountain, the cliffs around the lake are mostly covered by lush trees that further narrow tourists’ sights in addition to the winding waterway. On a misty morning, sunlight penetrates the thin vapor and shines on the water, filtering the view like ground glass and leaving the place to its blurry beauty. The water surface, flowing gently but looking still, slowly glistens and sprinkles the cliffs into mottled gold, only by which could you know you’re moving forward along the water.
Rafting might be the best choice to sightsee the lake. As you advance, the waterway gradually narrows down. But when you actually approach a turn, the cliffs feel yet again far away. Rafting on the lake gives you the illusion that you are walking on a grassland. Rocks of all shapes along the winding waterway will keep catching you by surprise with their looks. The whole experience is like Forest Gump’s box of chocolate — you never know what’s next. After the trip, you may rest at the camping site by the lake where you can enjoy an outdoor barbecue. Quite the opposite of Shengtang Mountain, it is a place to appreciate the view and enjoy life without much haste.
Gratifying contradiction: Qingshan Waterfalls
Walking down Shengtang Mountain, you can see the Qingshan Waterfalls located at the foot of the mountain. The scenic area consists of big and small waterfalls and stretches for two kilometers in the mountain. Situated in a forest, the sky above the falls is covered by sky-reaching ancient trees, giving tourists a calming sense of primitive simplicity. Indeed, the place has stereotypical waterfalls pouring water from over 10 meters above that strike down with the pure force of gravity. However, it is the small fall that comes in different layers that curbs your restless mind. The rocks of a waterfall are usually bald without mosses. Only the small ones show you moss-covered surfaces, a bizarre sight that naturally pleases your mind.
That is the charm of combining two seemingly contradictory things, especially when you find out those seeming contradictions are in fact complements. Likewise, not every sanctuary is calming, not all stillness means stagnation, and not every rolling stone gathers no moss. Just as how I Ching explains, “a spring succeeds in flowing on and escapes stagnation by filling up all the hollow places in its path. In the same way, the character is developed by thoroughness that skips nothing but, like water, gradually and steadily fills up all gaps and so flows onward.” (All of the pictures are provided by the Culture, Radio, Television and Tourism Bureau of Laibin City)
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