Shennongjia Scenic Area
The Shennongjia district in remote northwestern Hubei has the wildest scenery in the province. With heavily forested mountains of fir, pine and hemlock -including something rare in China, old-growth stands -the area is known as a treasure trove of more than 1300 species of medicinal plants. Indeed, the name for the area roughly translates as ‘Shennong’s Ladder’ to commemorate a legendary emperor, Shennong, believed to be the founder of herbal medicine and agriculture. According to the legend, he heard about some special plants growing up high on a precipice, so he cut down a great tree and used it to climb to the site and reach the plants, which he added to his medical collection.
As part of a more modern legend, Shennongjia is also famous for the sightings of wild, ape-like creatures - a Chinese equivalent of the Himalayan Yeti or the North American Bigfoot. The stories are interesting, but the creatures seem to be able to distinguish between peasants and scientists -molesting the former and evading the latter. Nevertheless, there is a small base station set up in the reserve with displays of ‘evidence’ of sightings. More real, but just as elusive perhaps, are species of leopard, bear, wild boar and monkey (including the endangered Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey) that reportedly inhabit the area.
Foreigners are only allowed into the area of the Shennongjia district near the town of Muyuping, 200km northwest of Yichang. There are two high peaks in the area, Shennongjiashan at 3105m and Laojunshan at 2936m. It’s a 10-hour bus ride to Muyuping from Yichang, or you can take a boat to Xiangxi (five hours) on the Three Gorges and from there it’s a 90km ride to Muyuping. From Muyuping you will have to hire a car to get into the reserve.
Banbiyan, 5 kilometres from Liaowang Tower, is famous for its stone forest and for sightings of the so-called "wild man", the Chinese Yeti. The bamboo that covers the mountain and plain makes a great hiding place for anyone wanting to hang out with Bigfoot.
At nearly 2,600 metres, the grassy meadows of Banbiyan frequently play host to a colorful festival of song and dance by the locals. Custom dictates that visitors are welcomed by song. Not quite The Sound of Music, but the spectacle is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
The pyramid-sharp Shennong Peak covers an area of about 2 square kilometres, rising from the centre to China to a height of 3105 metres above sea level. Clouds often nestle at the summit where ridges stretch on into the distance. The area is covered by tiers of fir, bamboo and azalea. The firs, as tall as 40 metres, have dense leaves on branches that block off the sunlight. The azaleas blossom pink and violet in summer. The area is also home to some rare animals including the golden monkey, white bear and antelope.
Halfway up a hill just east of Yanziya lies Yanzidong, a cave famous for its golden swallows. A short 50 metre climb up from the road leads to the entrance - the cave itself heads backwards into the mountain for more than 3 kilometres. One of the few swallows that doesn‘t migrate seasonally, the golden swallow inhabits the cave all year round.
Standing inside the entrance, you will breathe in the damp air and watch steam rising from the walls, which gleam like glass. Above hang the birds‘ nests, warm and dry