A pearl curtain expertly crafted with crystals,
Hanging from of old over pale turquoise moss.
Time and again, the crescent moon tries to hook it but fails –
How can solitary clouds enter here?
* From Min Linsi 閔麟嗣 (1628-1704) ed. Huangshan zhi dingben 黃山志定本, see https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=gb&file=25998&page=28.
For those who have grown up with the much loved Xiyouji 西遊記 (Journey to the West), the name Shuiliandong 水簾洞 (Water Curtain Cave) means a place of excitement and natural luxury. In fact, well before the Journey to the West took shape, there had already been an abundance of poems celebrating this particular creation of nature, such as the one above by Shi Yingsun 石應孫 (fl. twelfth century). Multiple caves with water curtains can be found across China. Some remain tourist attractions; others can only be testified by ancient literature. In poetry, in particular, we find the recurrent idea of hooking the water curtain with a crescent moon. A nice image indeed, but it is the Journey to the West that assigns to the water curtain cave a meaning beyond natural scenery, bringing it into the realm of legendary places.
At the beginning of the story, the stone monkey, our hero, volunteers to explore a waterfall just discovered by his cohort. He jumps in and finds himself in a fully equipped cave that makes an ideal home for him and his companions. On a stone he finds the inscription: “Huaguoshan fudi, Shuiliantong tongtian” 花果山福地, 水簾洞洞天 (The blessed land of the Flowers and Fruit Mountain; the grotto heaven of the Water Curtain Cave). The monkeys then settle in the cave, honouring the courageous stone monkey as their king. They live a carefree life for many centuries, enjoying the boundless wealth of the mountain and the comfort of the cave, all until the day when Monkey King starts to worry about death and decides to pursue immortality... So, the Water Curtain Cave is where everything starts.
And my visit to the Huangguoshu Waterfall 黃果樹瀑布 has shown how much the name Water Curtain Cave appeals to tourists. Even though the waterfall is just one of the exterior shooting locations of the classic 1986 TV series Journey to the West, and the interior of the cave itself was shot elsewhere (in Hunan), hundreds of people are happy to queue for a good hour to enter the cave, including myself.
I’d seen quite a few waterfalls during my journey in July, each having its own character, but the Huangguoshu Waterfall was the only one that offers the opportunity to walk behind the waterfall and watch it closely from within the rock it pours over.
The Huangguoshu Waterfall, or Baishuihe Waterfall 白水河瀑布 (White Waters River Waterfall) as it was known in pre-modern times, is one of largest waterfalls in Asia. The rumblings and splashes of water got really overwhelming as we approached the entrance to the cave, and I was glad that I had a sturdy raincoat.
The cave is not very spacious. It’s more like a long tunnel that barely allows two people walking side by side. Along its 134-metre length, there are a few openings to the waterfall where one can see water pouring from above one’s head. It was like standing in pouring rain under the sun without getting soaking wet, just embraced by refreshing mist and tapped by naughty splashes on the skin. There is a sort of magic in this dynamic scene that instantly fills people with a jubilant mood. Unfortunately, hundreds of people were still lining up, so I didn’t have the privilege of larking about here until totally exhausted as the monkeys do in the Journey to the West.
I was at the Huangguoshu Waterfall at noon, so there was no moon-hook, but another type of hook that I did see is also nice: a double rainbow.
After the brief but memorable experience at the Huangguoshu Waterfall, I also visited the other two main waterfalls in the scenic area while encountering more shooting locations of the 1986 TV series along the way.
There is Mr Gao’s Mansion, where Zhu Bajie 豬八戒 (Pigsy) flirts with Miss Gao and submits to Sun Wukong 孫悟空 (Monkey), but it is not particularly impressive as the building complex now serves as normal souvenir shops. The Yinlianzhuitan Waterfall 銀鏈墜潭瀑布 (Silver-Chains-Dropping-into-the-Pond Waterfall) nearby, however, is a real reward for the three hours’ walk. Very different from the Huangguoshu Waterfall, where water drops from the height of about 70 metres, the Silver-Chains-Dropping-into-the-Pond Waterfall washes wide surfaces of rock, with threads of water dancing in varied ways.
(In the background is the recorded advertisement offering photo services. While it spoiled the scene a bit, I must say I was impressed that the speaker actually cried louder than the rumblings of the water...)
My last stop was the Doupotang Waterfall 陡坡塘瀑布 (Steep-Slope-Pond Waterfall) where scenes for the ending song of the TV series were shot. But of course, tourists are not allowed to walk on the top of the waterfall as the four leading actors have done. Just a view from afar and a few installations recalling the scenes and characters.
1. The Doupotang Waterfall
2. A screenshot from the ending song of the 1987 TV series
3. The Sutra-Drying Rock
So, generally a very waterfall-loaded day that is a bit like a Journey to the West theme tour. As it happened, I started with where the Monkey King’s journey starts and finished with the Shaijingshi 曬經石 (Sutra-Drying Rock) that marks the last one of the 81 hurdles that the four protagonists are supposed to overcome by the end of their journey. I guess it’s time to find the book again and refresh my memory of what happens in-between...
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