On the The Yellow Mountains of China

Two years ago I had the privilege to visit the Yellow Mountains of China for a day.  It was towards the end of winter during a snowstorm and visibility was poor. However what I was able to observe made me promise myself that I will one day return to these mountains of extreme inspiration.

Bonsai is a passion of mine and the inspiration to create bonsai that tell a story, I get from climbing mountains. In the valleys and slopes of the mountains in Africa, Nepaland the Andes of South America I am exposed to trees that inspire me by their will to survive in extreme conditions.

The Huangshan Mountains have for centuries been the inspiration for artists, poets, scholars and creators of bonsai (penjing).

This year during September I went back to the Yellow Mountains for four whole days and got intoxicated with inspiration.

The day before I entered this World Heritage Area I first went for a hike along the Xinan River in an area known as the “Ten Kilometer Gallery of art” because of the natural beauty of the area.

During a conversation with my guide one of the local people wanted to know who this man with the white hair was and what he was doing in this area. My guide then mentioned that I was interested in Penjing (Bonsai). We were then informed that within three hours walking distance there was a small village that cultivated Penjing. I immediately informed my guide to cancel the rest of the activities for that day and rather find this small village. With the help of a local farmer as a guide we entered rural Chinaas few people would now experience China.

Small patches of land were being cultivated by friendly country people with the occasional help of a water buffalo.

After passing through two other small villages I started to recognize small patches of Podocarpus trees planted amongst the normal crops. All the trees were in the process of being permanently bent by fastening trunks and branches to stakes in the ground.  As we approached the village the trunks of these trees became thicker and more interesting. When we entered the village my jaw dropped, every house had a garden full of Penjing in different stages of development. Very soon I found out that this village has for the past 500 years been propagating and styling these Podocarpus trees to be sold into the rest of China. I was the first non Chinese person to ever have visited this village and its treasure chest of Penjing. I was treated as a celebrity and was soon in discussion about growing and bending techniques with very knowledgeable growers of Penjing.

The trees that are for sale presently had been started on their Penjing journey by the grandfathers of the current growers. As we were leaving the town we came across a townsman who had just returned from the mountains with a freshly dug Juniper, which he was giving its first trimming. Reluctantly I had to leave as we had to walk back through the farmlands and then cross the river and back to the city. It was an exceptional privilege to step back in time and experience the mutual love for small trees in pots.

Early the next day we left the city for Huangshan Mountain. At about 1500 meters above sea level I also took a picture of the most photographed tree on earth namely the “Welcoming Guest Pine” which is older than 1000 years.

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