“Hong Kong and hiking? You must be kidding”. These is the usual response I get when I tell friends about the time I took a hike to the Lantau peak in Hong Kong. People are still unaware of the fact that Hong Kong has some wonderful natural landscapes. The vision of a swanky city with tall skyscrapers, near-perfect infrastructure, vibrant nightlife and all the characteristics of a major financial hub somehow still overshadows many of the natural attractions this city-state is gifted with.
Lantau island is mostly renowned among tourists for Disneyland and the Big Buddha however, this island has a fascinating mountainous terrain. The highest peak on this island – The Lantau peak – stands at 3000 ft and is also the second highest peak in Hong Kong. Keeping up with my admiration for the mountains in Hong Kong which I had written about earlier, I decided to take the hike up the Lantau peak. That I almost didn’t come back on my legs after the hike, is an entirely different matter. The path up the mountain and the subsequent descend, gives you some awe-inspiring views to remember. Be it the dry winter grassy banks or the majestic range of mountains, you could never get tired of those.
From Pak Kung Au the start of this trail is well demarcated along with the total distance of the hike and approximate time required to complete it. Though it says 2 hours and 15 minutes, it definitely takes 3 to 4 hours for the entire hike because there will be numerous stops either to catch your breath, rest your legs or enjoy the views. The first few minutes involve climbing a few steps and walking through the forest which forms the base of the hill.
The comfortable trail soon paved way to the path ascending up the mountain meandering through dry grassy banks. As I went up the hill, the winter air got even more cooler. This being the winter season and also a very cloudy day, I was spared from the dreaded hot sunny weather. Also, I got the first glimpse of what seemed to me like the peak of the hill covered in the moving clouds. As I continued the ascent, I could feel the normal symptoms of high altitude like a heavy head and shortness of breath. The peak which I saw a few moments back was soon conquered only to uncover a further trail up the mountain.
Considering how easy the earlier Dragon’s Back trail was for me, I probably didn’t expect this one to be a bigger challenge. Maybe that’s why I was careless enough not to carry any water or food along with me. When I was up there sitting on the slope of the mountain out of fatigue, thirst and hunger, I realized that I had made the mistake of underestimating the might of nature. My arms and legs were cramping up as I tried to made my way up one big stone slab at a time. Yes, I did get ample opportunities to get some rest but the dark hovering clouds that threatened to pour down any time got me worried as I did not wish to get stuck on this mountain in heavy rain. Somehow gathering my strength, I went on helped by the awesome windy weather.
On a clear day, I can imagine the views would be scenic as one would get a 360 degree unobstructed look at almost all of Hong Kong. But the day was cloudy and the winter winds had gathered enough strength for me to get a shiver or two. However, surrounded by grey clouds and heavy mist created an entirely enthralling atmosphere. By now, I had forgotten about my screaming legs and arms as if to reserve my pain for later so that I could take in every moment of this experience. In just a few seconds, a bunch of passing clouds and strong winds engulfed the entire area and all I could see was white. Surreal!! Check out the below video.
This was THE most difficult part of the hike as some portions of the path become steeper than what was encountered till now. People like me who have a serious fear of heights would take some time to get down the big stone slabs. As for me, the cramps made a grand comeback with more vigor, intensity and an added feature of incisive knee pains. Every step I took down felt like me getting closer to getting my legs numb.
A couple of rest stops later, I moved on in with the pain as it was getting dark and the prospects increased of me getting stuck in darkness. Further down the way,a small stream showed up from somewhere and I gulped down the water like one would in a desert. After hundreds of more agonizing steps down the hill coming out of the woods, I finally reached the end point at the Tian Tan Buddha in Ngong Ping village where I just scrambled to the nearest shop and gulped down a bottle of water.
“Do you regret it?”, a close friend of mine asked me when I narrated the experience to her. My reply,“Going on this hike? No way. Did you not see the pictures?”. Looking back at that day, the only regret I have is not carrying food and water. I remember every step I took and every stop I made on that hike. I remember me lying down on top of a big rock that was perched on the edge of a cliff while those strong cold winter winds flowed around. The pain I endured that day because of my foolishness will not take away from the most scenically surreal experience I have ever had.