It is often said that Zhuhai should never be confused with Zhuhai, and that pinyin is a lousy replacement for fully-fledged Chinese characters. This year, the Zhuhai (珠海) in Guangdong Province was linked to Hong Kong by the world’s longest overseas bridge, while the Zhuhai that means Bamboo Sea (竹海), being not far from Tianmuhu in our own Jiangsu Province, remains closer to nature, closer to us and altogether more manageable.
Bamboo, as it is widely known, is planet Earth’s most useful substance. After all, what else can one eat, play, build with, drink from and sleep on? After checking out this particular Zhuhai, any visitor shall also be in no doubt as to the material’s world-leading status.
Take the high speed train to Hangzhou and get off at Liyang. Then, do not make the same mistake as The Nanjinger, booking a stay at one of the big names with their one potential saving grace being proximity to Tianmuhu itself, until discovering the attached water theme park is less than appealing.
A wiser choice would have been one of the guest houses (“nongjiale”) that dot the country road and the 20-minute drive to the South Hill Bamboo Sea scenic area. They would be cheaper and a whole lot more fun, too.
Herein, a whopping 35 thousand acres of bamboo plants lie on the slopes of two primary peaks now utilised for tourism purposes, and needless to say, the cultivation of bamboo. With the prospect of feasting our eyes on pandas, albeit not in the wild, we thence set off on the first ascent.
Now, the Austrians know a thing or too about scaling mountains, and so it was a pleasant surprise to find their expertise at work on a fascinating ground cable car facility, installed by world leaders in the field, Doppelmayr, a no-doubt familiar name to many a European ski enthusiast.
With a capacity of 20 people, the contraption is small enough and the anticipation great enough that a degree of camaraderie is quickly formed among all therein. The excitement of the ascending throng builds as it nears the Panda enclosure, which, The Nanjinger noted thereafter, is happily, only moderately depressing. At the time of our visit, two “bear cats”, according to the literal translation of their Chinese name, had the relatively generous area to themselves, while inside, construction of much more luxurious accommodations was well under way, on what is presumably to be their new winter enclosure.
With the pandas ticked and our insatiable appetite for all-things bamboo satisfied in the Bamboo Culture Garden, it was time to tackle the mountain’s other flank that leads to the Wuyue Viewing Area. For this is where the provinces of Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangsu meet. Ascend by means of a pretty red, blue or yellow cable car, before taking a big breath of very fresh air (think AQI in single digits) for the final push to the summit, step by step. There, ¥10 buys you a quick psychic reading and three bangs of the gong, before taking in the view to consider, without bias, which of the three provinces might be the most picturesque.
Before turning around and back to Nanjing, a somewhat guilty pang had us giving the lake itself a second look. Tianmuhu’s touted second-highest rating for water quality is certainly believable, and the surrounding area is undeniably pretty, but such qualities, together with it not being a man-made lake, hardly do justice to the lake’s virtual infamy in China.
Despite the Tianmuhu beer we enjoyed after the previous long day’s climbing, it is the so-called watery body of bamboo that remains the true attraction of a place more famous for the lake’s fresh waters that go into its local pint.