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Suzhou area one of best in China to view seasonal colors

2013-11-14 15:44:12

(Shanghai Daily)


Southwest of Suzhou, Tianping Mountain is widely considered to be among the four best spots in China to see red maple.

This is the season when autumn unfolds her brilliant reds, golds, oranges and purples under sapphire skies and a warm sun. The breeze is cool, the humidity low.

To appreciate spectacular autumn scenery, travelers needn’t go far from Shanghai.

A 25-minute high-speed train takes visitors to areas around Suzhou in Jiangsu province, where they can hike to their hearts’ content and enjoy seasonal dishes such as freshwater fish and shrimp, and jujube congee. And the best part: It’s not swamped with tourists.

Tianping Mountain

Southwest of Suzhou, Tianping Mountain is widely considered to be among the four best spots in China to see red maples, along with Xiangshan Mountain in Beijing, Qixia Mountain in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, and Yuelu Mountain in Changsha, Hunan Province.

This “mountain” is only 201 meters above sea level, more like a big hill, but it is steep.

The summit offers spectacular views of crimson, ochre, and magenta maples, unusual rock formations and pure streams and springs.

Walking up a path fringed with trident maples, I encountered a huge, 400-year-old maple tree nearly 10 stories high. It would take three adults together to encircle it with their arms. At the foot of the mountain are 130 other trees also around 400 years old. These maples are known as the “five-color maples,” referring to their autumnal color change from green to yellow, then orange, red and purple.

Even in early November, some maple trees near the lake already were turning intense red. Color changes depend on the temperature variation between day and night and other conditions.

An extreme temperature swing creates bright colors early in the season. Trees near the lake turn red before others because they absorb more dew and frost.

“The best period to enjoy the autumn colors is in the middle of November,” said Xu Ping, an official of the Tianping Mountain Scenic Spot.

On the zigzag bridge on Ten Sights Pond at the foot of the mountain, I could see foliage changing color from top to bottom, as well as dramatically shaped rocks and outcroppings. They resemble official tablets or steles pointing skyward. They were like reminders of feudal times, when Chinese officials held tablets when they were to meet the emperor.

The calm and mirror-like lake reflects the vivid autumn colors — brilliant in the sunlight — on the mountain above. Colored leaves fallen into the lake flow with the current. Children play on stones on the shore.

Everything is so harmonious that I feel as though I am in a watercolor painting.

Tianping Mountain is steep and the paths are rocky; sometimes only one person can pass between two large, oddly shaped rocks. It helps to be in good physical shape to make the hike. Following the rushing sound of water, I found Baiyun Spring, named by poet Bai Juyi of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). The spring is famously clear and sweet and was called one of the most delightful springs in Suzhou by Lu Yu (AD 733-804), the “Sage of Tea,” in his monumental book “The Classic of Tea.”

After climbing for 45 minutes, I was exhausted, but when I reached the summit and the observation tower, it was all worthwhile and my fatigue disappeared.

From the tower, I saw the multicolored leaves like a colorful cloud drifting from the sky. I also had a panoramic view of the entire city of Suzhou, old and new.

Going downhill to the bottom, a much easier 30-minute walk, I found many people watching an acrobatics show at Maple Square, celebrating the 20th Red Maple Festival of Tianping Mountain. It runs through December 9, featuring traditional performances, such as lion dances, live music, handicrafts, a photo exhibition and food stalls. Every year, thousands of photographers, painters and calligraphers gather to record the beauty of autumn in images and poetry.

Watching the autumn colors at sunset, shifting in the breeze, is breathtaking.

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