So our guide to this region was the Lonely Planet’s China’s Southwest guidebook, edition 2007, but first published in 1998. It is getting a bit long in the tooth. This book now seems to be out of print, certainly it doesn’t seem to be advertised on Lonely Planet’s website anymore.
For some odd reason, the guidebook recommends you that you see the Wulong Karst area as a set of ‘daytrips’ from Chongqing. WTF? What is the aversion to staying in a small town? I would recommend that you stay in Wulong city itself rather than the “Wulong Karst” tourist area, you are only a short 1 hour bus ride away from the tourist destination, and you are not held hostage to the expensive hotel or food prices.
The buses heading up to the tourist area leave ‘when full’. The last bus to return is about 430-5pm. It is 8 RMB one way for the trip, which is about 1.65 AUD.
We caught a bus around 9am, and were deposited at the Wulong Karst Tourist Centre:
If you wanted to continue onto the Fairy Maiden Mountain (仙女山 ), you can transfer here to another minibus that continues up the mountain. From here, we were funneled into the tourist centre, where it cost a cool 135RMB for a ticket to the Three Natural Bridges (up from 40RMB in 2007, that’s inflation of over 300% in 7 years, or nearly 50% pa. Ouch. I guess they need to fund the hideous surrounding apartment blocks from something).
You catch a coach (included in your ticket price) to the start of the Three Natural Bridges – Tian Sheng San Qiao 天生三桥. Since the fourth installment of the transformers movie Juggernaut was filmed here, you too can have your picture taken with Bumblebee at the top of the scenic area.
The option to fully hike down to the bottom of the gorge has been removed. I expect that maintenance of a lift is much cheaper than maintaining a switchbacked path down the side of a gorge, added to the cleaning fee for the thousands of Chinese tourists who like to throw rubbish by the side of the path, because ‘someone else will clean it up’.
Enough ranting, onto the tourist stuff.
At the base of the elevator, you still have perhaps 100 stairs to walk down to get to the base of the gorge. You could take the gucci option and have a bamboo sedan chair ride – there is a list of official prices to help you travel certain sections; with an end-to-end ride trip of the gorge costing 3000 RMB. Pricey, but if you’re less mobile, not too scared of heights and confident in the quality of the sedan chairs (and the carriers!), it is certainly an option. I didn’t see anybody giving it a go.
It is so difficult from a photo to get an impression of the scale of these things. Each rock arch bridge was immense – something like 200m high with an arch of up to 95m, spans of 130m, and the thickness of the arches approximately 30m.
It is marked on the tourist maps as 迷魂洞 Mihun dong, or the Fascinating cave.
One of the signs at the start of the walk indicates that this gorge location was known as Longqiao, described as a winding dragon as a hollow below, with the name of Wulong Mountain in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) reunification records. However the original courtyard style post office in the gorge below dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).
There are lots of neat carvings in the stone walls of the Three bridges area, and lots of locals who have taken it upon themselves to offer services for the tourists. You can spot the wooden platform used for the tourist photos, above.
A courtyard style house/post office:
This had originally been built in the Tang dynasty, but had recently been rebuilt for a movie “The curse of the Golden Flower”. You can buy postcards here for 7 RMB, and the post office will post them for you. I point this out, because it is so very hard to get postcards in China, in anywhere except for the major tourist attractions. It is also very difficult to get postage stamps.
The first natural bridge you can see is to your left as you descend: Tian Long Qiao (天龙桥, Flying Dragon Bridge), and it is the rock bridge overlooking the courtyard in the photo above. On the maps it looks like you can walk out this way, but the area is blocked off due to rockfall.
Immediately to your right is Qian Long Qiao (青龙桥, Azure Dragon Bridge), underneath which is the courtyard post office.
Azure Dragon Bridge:
Here and there are dotted carvings of dragons:
Grimlock is still going.
And then you arrive at the third natural bridge, Hei Long Qiao (黑龙桥, Black Dragon Bridge).
Black Dragon Spring:
or 龙泉洞 (Longquandong). There were quite a few springs dotted throughout the gorge, with their poetic names carved into the rock next to the spring.
Dotted here and there are stories carved in stone:
This is the third chapter of the story of the Black Dragon. I’m pretty sure that this was carved with the aid of a power tool, rather than hand carved.
There are quite a lot of very serious explanatory signs in FOUR languages about how this limestone area was formed. Can you guess the languages in use, dear reader?
The way out:
At the end you have the option of catching diesel powered cart out of the gorge for 30RMB; or hiking out which takes about 15 minutes of solid effort. There are actually locals who still live in the surrounding hills which you can spot on your way out. We talked to one stall holder who said it took her two hours to get home to her village.
So in Summary:
I would recommend the “three natural bridges: as a tourist destination, allow yourself at least half a day. It is also possible (albeit expensive), to get around if you are not fully mobile.
If you’re not of Chinese origin, you can expect to become a tourist attraction yourself!