Bonsai in Asia Guide Book
Bonsai Inspirations from China
Bonsai Inspirations from China
Dianne Miller has visited China several times, here are some of her recollections about some of the most inspirational places she has been, also some details about Bonsai Displays and Bonsai contacts in China.
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Emeishan or Mt Emei is one of the most amazing sights you will encounter in China. It is one of the four scared Buddhist Mountains. It is covered in temples, many of which have collections of penjing around them. The idea here is to climb to the summit and on the way view all the wonderful trees, firs, pines, cedars that cling to the slops. The best time to visit is May to October. My journey was in April and encountered snow at the summit and mist, which only added to the mystery of the place. The summit is 3099 metres, so it’s not for the faint hearted. There are various ways to cheat of course.
If you actually managed to get there you’ve met the first challenge. The best way to approach this is to get to Chengdu. From Chengdu you can catch a bus or train to Leshan. A five hour journey. Leshan in itself is worth a two day visit as it’s the home of the worlds largest Buddha. From Leshan one can catch a bus to Baoguo or Emei town. Both these towns have accommodation and enough hawkers to assist you in finding the mountain. Emei town is about 3kms from the train station and Baoguo is about 7 kms from Emei town. I suggest catching the bus as it’s so much easier.
There are several buses that take you to the top of the mountain. These leave a 3:00am in the morning so you can see the sunrise but there are so many buses there is no way you will make it. Tickets are usually sold one way so they can extract maximum cash from you to buy the ticket down. One can get the bus up to the summit and then walk down. There is ample opportunity to purchase maps and there are enough people around to assist or guide you. If you find the going tough one can stay in the temples overnight. The journey will take you a good day if you take time to view the sights, fight off the monkeys and for time spend contemplating dying. I totally recommend this experience, as it was one of the most amazing adventures of my life. Take a change of clothes and food. Food can be bought on the mountain but it depends on how much of a risk taker you are. I survived.
SHILIN – The Stone Forest
If you want to know what it feels like to walk through a rock penjing planting I recommend a visit to Shilin. This is situated south of Kunming in southern China. It is a massive 80 hectares covered in limestone formations that have weathered time. There are huge pinnacles and peaks, ponds and pavilions, secluded walks and it’s not over run with tourists. I think this is because getting there can be a problem, but it’s worth the effort.
The trip takes about four hours from Kunming and you can catch a bus from the main bus station. It’s best to stay in Shilin over night. You can have difficulty getting tickets to anywhere in Kunming from my personal experience. I ended up hiring a private driver and tour guide who arranged the whole deal. They drove me down, gave me a guided tour in the afternoon, provided entertainment until two in the morning, gave me another tour in the morning on our way back to Kunming – cost $US50. This was all up meals included. It was totally hassle free and extremely entertaining. This was all arranged at the Holiday Inn Tourist Information Desk. I have a feeling I got a private deal, so nothing ventured nothing gained
You need a guide through the stone forest as it’s easy to get lost and the place is like a maze. When I was walking through sections I was surrounded by some enormous rock formations. As is the Chinese tradition several are known for appearing like animals. There are ponds here and there and stairways cut in the stone up to pavilions in the sky for breath taking views. I could just imagine myself walking through a tray landscape.
HUANGSHAN – Yellow Mountains
If you want to experience heaven on earth go to Huangshan. The experience of achieving this goal will in itself make you feel as if you have. To me this was the ultimate experience in all my travels of the world!
Huangshan is in Anhui Province south of Nanjing, the Yangtse River and Shanghai. You can catch a train from Shanghai but this can get complicated, as you need to change trains. It’s so much easier to take a short thirty-minute flight from Shanghai to Jixi. Then get one of the tourist buses to Huangshan Gate. This is about a two-hour journey, with a change of underwear. There are several guesthouses and hotels to stay in, so relax the night away before you begin the experience of your life. If you can I recommend that somehow you arrange for accommodation on the mountain overnight, this can usually be done through your guesthouse. At the same time you might also take a one-day tour for your first day on the mountain. This eliminates you having to sort out transport to and from the mountain, provides you with information and gets you booked into some from of accommodation for the following night. It’s worth the investment!
There are several ways of approaching these mountains. Most climbers get a bus from the main gate to the cable car, which is the start of the main trail, if you’re a devil for punishment start climbing from here. I recommend taking the Eastern Steps as the Western Steps are much steeper. It’s an 8 kilometer climb to where the cable car arrives. It’s a three to four hour climb. I decided to cheat and take the cable car, but don’t be fooled. It took three hours in the queue before my ten-minute ride! You also have to pay for a round trip ticket, tough luck if you decide to walk down the next day.
When you arrive you can venture off to the various peaks. They have wonderful names, Purple Cloud Peak, Lotus Flower Peak and Heavenly Capital Peak to name a few. I recommend starting with Seeing is Believing Peak as the name in it’s self says it all. The views are amazing and ancient hundreds of years old pines cling to the granite rock faces at twisted angles. Take lots of film I used three rolls in one afternoon. There are several magnificent pines that greet you on the pathways and they all have a story to tell. Depending on your accommodation for the night it’s best to spend the first day climbing and walking around the tops of the mountains. Leave the second day for your decent. You’ll need the time and energy.
I was of the view that one just walked down the steps on the decent. Wrong! You have to walk up and down at least five peaks to descend the western face. The view before you and the experience will remove any pain. Most tourists just go up the cable car and spend the day at the top of the mountains, so the crowds tend to vanish as you venture further afield. There are still an amazing number of people climbing this mountain and you do have times where you have to wait for other climbers. Some of the paths/steps are steep and narrow only allowing for one person at a time. There aren’t many handrails so one needs a head for heights and an array of ways in dealing with knocking knees and leg shakes. Food and water is sold on the mountains but I would seriously consider taking some of your own food.
This whole place is a mental feast of inspiration. The pines are amazing. They grow out of the rock in true bonsai styles. The views will feed your imagination for years. I came away from here questioning why a bonsai artist would even entertain the idea of removing any tree from anywhere in the wild.
Penjing and Bonsai displays open to the public:
From Canton (Guangshou) you can catch an overnight ferry to Wuzhou from Dashatou on Yanjiang Donglu. You can then stay a couple nights and view the bonsai gardens the next day. You’ll need the rest after the condition of your boat journey, not for the faint hearted. There is a bus (well I think it was a bus) from Wuzhou to Yangshuo or Guilin. These leave daily and tickets can be bought from the depot right next door to the arrival dock.
To find the Bonsai garden from the Ferry Dock walk left along Xijiang Yilu until you come to a bridge over the River Gui. The road over the bridge is Nanhuan Lu. Cross over the bridge to the park on the other side. Within the park is a large Penjing garden.
While I was walking around the streets in Wuzhou towards the zoo I also came across a private Penjing garden near the gates of another Park. The owner was very happy for me to come in and I spent the afternoon looking at the trees and rock Penjing. Language was a problem so was unable to get an address, but you never know you might find it.
Wuzhou is a small trading town and is largely known today for its large snake depositaries. It is also the stopover point for tourists going overland to Guilin.
YANGSHUO and GUILIN
This is a beautiful area along the River Li. Yangshuo is a ten-hour bus ride (if you’re lucky) from Wuzhou, Guilin is another hour and a half. Yangshuo has fewer tourists and is more beautiful than Guilin. There are several places to stay and you can hire a bike to cycle around the area to soak up the views of limestone formations, the river and the rest of the landscape. Great for Bonsai inspiration.
Suzhou is a four-hour train journey from Shanghai. It is known as the garden city and has many Penjing on display. The largest display is at Tiger Hill, just as well as the rest of the garden is boring. There are several well known Penjing in this collection. It’s open to the public and is near the base of Tiger Hill Pagoda. Tiger Hill is on the outskirts of the city so you will need to catch a taxi or bus No 5
The rest of Suzhou is wonderful to check out with an endless choice of gardens, within walking distance to most hotels.
Shanghai Botanical Gardens is truly a wonderful exhibit of some of the finest Penjing in all of China. There is an entrance charge to both the gardens and the Penjing Garden. At the time of my visit this wasn’t a lot, but times change. Master Hu also has an extensive private collection that you can view by arrangement.
The gardens are rather difficult to get to via buses so I suggest one catch a taxi. There is always a queue of taxis at the main gate so getting one on return is easy. The gardens are rather large but the signs are in English, as well as Chinese, so following the arrows to the Penjing Gardens isn’t difficult. Some of the displays are very large and leaves one breathless. There are also a large number of rocks on display and rock plantings.
Yixing County is the pottery capital of China. It’s mainly famous for the manufacture of those fabulous tea pots that you see just about everywhere you go. It is also a huge centre for the production of bonsai pots. The main town is Dingshu.
The biggest problem you will face is actually getting to Yixing. It’s situated on the West Side of Lake Taihu and can therefore be included in a visit to Suzhou. You can catch a bus from Suzhou and the trip takes one and a half hours (if you’re lucky).
Dingshu is about 25km from Yixing town and there are about 30 ceramics factories. You can take yourself on a walking tour. If you’ve managed to survive China by now you’ll have a far idea what a factory looks like and enough bravo to talk yourself into any of them. There are literally hundreds of pottery shops with their products for sale, which are basically displayed on the street for miles.
There are direct buses to Dingshu from Yixing town and they take about 20 minutes.
Here is a list of Bonsai contacts in China:
Wang Zhong Liang - President
Pan Zhong Lian - Great Master of Miniature Trees & Rockery of China
Ceng Ci Ping - East Gate
Wang Xiao Ying - President
Wu Jian Qiang - Deputy Director
Luo Guo-Xiong - Director
Jin Wan Li - Director
Zhang Xing Taug - Vice Director
These two nurseries supply bonsai and have extensive penjing to view.
If you need any further information or wish to share your experiences please contact Dianne Miller firstname.lastname@example.org
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