“Just a minute, it’s stopped raining; guys are swimming, guys are sailing…” So goes a song from the Sunday morning Children’s Request Session on the radio way back in the olden days. It often plays in my head when the weather lets up and it’s OK to go out and do something. In Sideng village Shaxi after a morning of mooching around with umbrellas we were keen to get out on the guesthouse bikes for an explore – if not swimming or sailing then at least looking for water.
We figured this would be one of our best chances for safe cycling in China. It had stopped raining and the roads had dried. It wasn’t far out of town to the countryside. The roads are not busy. Shaxi is mostly a gentle valley. Cato’s Inn had bikes to borrow. We had no excuses. We’d heard/read about a spring called White Dragon Pool somewhere about 10km down the valley. There were not many destinations listed so there had to be some signposting surely?
With some trepidation we set off out of town. Heading south, down valley, muttering “keep right” over and over. It was easy – gentle downhill – and fun. We were out in the countryside happily dodging the pedestrians and the dogs and smelling the smells. Eventually we came to a road junction where one road crossed the river and climbed up a hill, and a newer one headed down beside the river. There was a lovely new sign with nothing we could decipher. No mention of White Dragon Pools or anything remotely like a water feature.
We consulted our Maps.me tablet app and GPS thing and looked for anything looking like pools or springs. We had seen a lone pagoda up the hill and it was marked on the somewhat cryptic map and beyond that was the sort of place where water and a spring might be. Reluctantly we puffed up the hill and soon found a new concrete side road which seemed like it was heading where we might be wanting to go.
Soon enough we reached a bit of a plateau and our map suggested a dirt track was the way for us. This track split into more tracks, and dry dirt gradually turned to slush. Wyn got increasing skeptical and my assertions that the pool’s likely location was getting close got increasingly hopeful. As the afternoon got increasingly closer to evening. I really wanted to scout out the patch of trees “just over there” in case it hid Shaxi’s best kept secret. Finally, with the bike tyres mostly sliding in the slushy mud, I headed off on foot.
Soon I heard the sound of running water, and then at last saw the pools. I hurtled back counting the paces and was able to promise Wyn that the White Dragon Pool was only 167 metres away. The accuracy suggested that either I’d completely lost my marbles or that I really had found the pool.
The pool is a spring, and it looks lovely. The reality is slightly less lovely with it being more of a mosquito-infested slightly unkempt sort of place which is picturesque and peaceful. It’s peace is guaranteed by the complete lack of help in finding or getting to the place. Now there’s a great way of minimising the impact of tourism. It wasn’t somewhere to sit and relax, and we didn’t. We headed back to our bikes and slithered back to the sealed roads.
If you look closely in the photo above, just to the right of the first bend along the lower road is a genuine olde world traditional arched bridge. It’s just forgotten and overgrown. There’s another good strategy for preserving antiquities. Just ignore and forget them for a while.
The lower road in the photo above leads back to Sideng village which is the farthest visible habitation up the valley. Uphill all the way. But first we had a good whizzzz down the roads to the bottom. Then it was the long gradual climb back home. We stopped a couple of times to take in the scenes. This was probably the most rural we got to in China, and certainly the most relaxed and peaceful. And unchanged by tourism/us.
We arrived back at Cato’s Inn a little muddier than we left, somewhat wearier and very satisfied with our little adventure to find the hidden White Dragon Pool.