Wuhan never stops moving. Catering to the needs of a population which exceeds 10 million is no mean feat, but one which leaves the city in a perpetual state of hustle and bustle. While the city life has plenty to offer to everyone, at times it feels like a breath of fresh air is what I really need.
This is because growing up in Doha, with the beach a mere 10 minute driveaway from my house is completely different to my life in China where I live in the middle of the metropolis. The sand dunes of Qatar were in stark contrast to the greenery and lakes which are the fabric of Wuhan. What both cities have in common however, is that they offer a retrieve in their surroundings, a place where its occupants can get away from the hectic city life and be one with nature.
For Wuhan, this retreat is the Mulan Heaven Lake. Located at the north of Shimen Mountain, and covering an area of 4800 acres, the resort gets its name from the legend of Hua Mulan. Made popular by a Disney movie of the same name, Mulan was born in the Sui Dynasty. Fearing that her old father was too feeble for war, Mulan posed as a man and enlisted herself in the army to fight for her motherland. For 12 years, she toiled in the war, making a name for herself due to her wisdom and courage. After the war finished, she returned home, refusing the riches and accolades offered to her by the emperor of the time Sui Yang. Legend has it that Mulan watered her horse in the lake while on the way to the battle field, due to which the lake is now called Mulan Heaven Lake.
If the fable is anything to be impressed by, then the beauty of the lake and its surroundings will truly amaze any visitor. Being someone who truly enjoys the outdoors, I not only wanted to hike the length of the lake area, but also to camp there and looking back on my trip, it is something I would definitely do again.
Getting to Mulan lake requires a 2 hour bus journey from Hankou. One of the things that instantly stands out about the area is the freshness of its air; which is partly due to the lush nature of the region, and in part to its detached location. Owing to the lengthy nature of the hike, my friends and I decided to get an early start and began the ascent as soon as we reached the entrance to the resort. The hike trail was a beautifully crafted stone staircase that went up as far as the eye could see. Spiraling its way through a maze of crystal clear pools, spectacular waterfalls and breathtaking mountain scenery, the hiking trail was incredible; I had to force myself to not stop and admire the view at every 10 steps.
The nature of the trail was such that it was scattered with references to the legends of the past. One of these was the Xianglong Stone, said to contain the footmarks of Hua Mulan and a white dragon which she had tamed. Another allusion came in the form of the Baxianzuo Rock, a giant boulder with the shapes of 8 seats engraved in it. Legend has it that the seats were for the 8 immortals invited to earth by the dragon king.
Owing to my habit of making frequent stops to take pictures, it took us about 3 hours to get to the jewel of the scenic area; the Heaven Pool. Surrounded by towering canyons and dense woods, the lake was a sight to behold and well worth the hours we’d spent hiking up to it. There are 3 ways one can get across the lake; on a boat, on foot and by zip-lining. I chose the latter and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip. For all adrenaline junkies, zip lining across the lake is a must try; it’s the closest one can get to flying without wings.
Before long it was nighttime, and we chose to set camp at the Mulan prairie, a grassland covering an area of 3.2 km’s. Pitching my tent turned out to be trickier than expected. A word of advice to anyone wanting to go camping; learn how to set up a tent before going camping rather than winging it like I did. Perhaps it was my macho pride that led to believe that things like pitching a tent, setting up a campfire and barbecuing out in the wild were engraved in my DNA; they weren’t, and I had to learn the hard way.
As the pale sky gave way to the looming night, it brought with it, the aching cold. To counter this, we decided to set up a campfire. The nature of the area was such that there were dry leaves and bare trees all around us. Using all our knowledge from watching reruns of Survivor and Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild, we first set up a circular perimeter of where the campfire would be by using pebbles and rocks. Then, using the dry leaves as ignition, we got a little fire going. Finally, we brought in the big boys; entire branches from the trees nearby. The wood gathered from these trees was to be the lifeline of our crackling campfire, and one we had to refuel every few hours.
The campfire was a beauty to behold. Even though our stomachs were grumbling in unison due to hunger, we couldn’t help but sit around it with sheepish grins on our faces, proud of our little achievement. Soon though, it was time to eat, and eat like kings we did. The night before, we had prepared a variety of foods to bring with us on the trip, including marinated chicken and seasoned fish which we grilled on the campfire.
Having never barbecued on a wooden fire before, we decided to play it safe by wrapping the chicken and fish in aluminum foil, in order to prevent it from being too smoky or cooking too rapidly. It was a decision well vindicated because when we opened those aluminum wrappings, everything inside them was cooked beautifully. The chicken was juicy and tender and the fish was sublime, its crispy skin barbecued to a perfect texture. After a hefty meal, we again sat around the campfire, barely awake, listening to the sounds of the woods around us. Soon enough, it was time to sleep.
It is said that you only appreciate something once it’s gone. That night, sleeping in a tent under the star strewn night sky, I truly appreciated the warmth of my bed back home. However, beneath the canopy of the heavens and being surrounded by nothing but luscious hills, made me realize how less we appreciate nature in our daily lives.
Daylight came too soon, and we had to pack up and make our way back to the city, vowing to come back again and recreate the amazing experience we’d had.
So if you feel like you need a break from your monotonous daily routine, I highly suggest you try camping at Mulan Lake. Before the harsh winter fully embraces the city, now is the perfect time to enjoy the outdoors. It’s something you won’t regret and will fondly look back on for a long time.