Hua Shan (Mount Hua), in Shaanxi China - The mountain mysteriously blurred out/censored in Google maps.

Hua Shan (Mount Hua) is a famous mountain in China. It is one of China's Five Great Mountains. This past weekend I went to Hua Shan and was impressed with how majestic all of the peaks are. It is an amazingly beautiful area like many other areas in China.

In this post, rather than focus on how to get there, how much it costs, what it is like, or talk about the "world's most dangerous hiking trail," I want to ask the question that I can't seem to figure out.

Why on earth is Hua Shan Blurred out in Google Maps? Topographical information does not seem to be available anywhere online.

In the process of looking up information on Hua Shan I went to the map to see where it is. The first few times I didn't notice anything unusual, but after I did a quick Google search for Hua Shan I noticed on the right of the Google search results that there was a square blurred out where Hua Shan should be.

If you look at it on Google maps it is obvious that the topographical information is blurred out. Interestingly, the satellite view seems to be normal. It is just the topographical images that are blurred out.

Thinking that maybe this had something to do with Google, I looked it up in Bing maps as well (yes, Bing also has maps). While Bing does not seem to let you zoom in quite as much, it is apparent that Hua Shan is blurred out in Bing as well.

Not wanting to give up so easily, I decided I would download and install Google Earth just so I could see what it would look like there. Not surprisingly, the satellite imagery is there just like in Google maps, but if you turn the angle to see the topographical information, everything is suddenly flat where the Hua Shan area is.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure why this area would be blurred out. I know that occasionally Google will block or blur areas because of special requests (usually for security reasons) but in case I can not see the reason. Hua Shan is a highly frequented area open to anyone (who pays the fees).

Do you have any theories on why this topography of this area is censored? Leave a comment on the bottom.

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If you would like to see more pictures or hear some of my thoughts about Hua Shan (the good and the bad), please continue to read on!

First of all, I feel I should mention that for all the travel and ticket prices and cable car ticket prices, I spent about $1000 RMB (about $160 USD) to get from Zhengzhou to Hua Shan, take the cable car up, spend the day there, take the cable car down, then take a train back home. Not too bad price wise but a bit expensive if you have lived in China for a while and are used to cheap Chinese prices. I don't want to list itemized prices because you can find these on other websites and I find that the price often changes leaving this information outdated.

The first thing we did was take the cable car up the mountain. We went up the west peak so that we could walk down stairs instead of walking up stairs (which is what we would have done if we had gone up the north peak). Honestly, going up to the west peak in the cable car might have been the highlight of the trip for me (too bad it was the first thing we did). I wish the cable cars went a big slower (though they might have been much hotter if that were the case).

There were areas of the cable car ride that felt as if we were almost going straight up or straight down. These mountains certainly do not jut up gradually.

Once we took the cable car up, we started hiking to all the different peaks. Almost everything is stairs. Be prepared to walk up and down a LOT of steep and narrow stairs (a day after hiking, I almost physically could not walk down stairs because my legs were so sore; it took nearly a week for my legs to recover).

Seeing locks on chains is a common sight everywhere on the mountain. I am not sure what it is exactly (I think names or quotes) that they get engraved, but I suppose it is special enough that people will spend some money to do it. My suggestion; buy a lock, pretend to lock it on the chain, take a picture of it, then take the lock home. Better yet, just don't get a lock.

When I was there most of the peaks were as crowded or more crowded than the picture you see above. To be completely honest, once you are on a peak, there is not that much to see but the towns below. Some peaks have nice views but usually you can just as easily see the views from other places on the trail. If you are like me and don't enjoy crowds, you would probably be OK if you skipped some or all of the peaks. You can just go most of the way up and get about the same view.

I noticed that a good percentage of the trees are evergreen trees. This is good news if you would like to try to do the hike in the winter. It will be less crowded but look more or less the same. If you are lucky, there might even be snow on the mountains to make the views even more spectacular.

There are a few areas where you can rent a room and a bed for the day. This is one of the places. The lady said we could book a bed for 800 RMB. This price might change depending on who is asking and when. I also asked the woman which days are least busy and she said Monday. Saturday (the day I went) and Sunday are obviously the most busy days.

The past few weeks in China where I am have not had too much pollution. Similarly, the day I went to Hua Shan was not bad. I am not sure what Hua Shan is usually like pollution wise, but if you are in China, you should always be prepared to have some views obscured by a brown or gray fog.

Overall the hike was quite lovely and there are enough employees picking up trash that the trails are relatively clean (at least by Chinese standards). I saw very little trash on the ground and there are plenty of garbage cans.

Something to keep in mind is that there are "bathrooms" near each of the peaks. Not all bathrooms are created equal. If you approach a bathroom that is not repulsive beyond all belief then you may want to take advantage of it. The bathroom near the "Plank-walk in the Sky" wins the award of the worst smelling bathroom I have smelled in China. This is no small feat. I have smelled A LOT of nasty bathrooms here in China. It was so bad that we could not even stand to be 100 feet away from the bathroom.

Like I said. If you see a bathroom that is not terrible, use it. It might be your last chance.

The views from up top were nice but in my opinion, they were not quite as enjoyable as the cable car ride up.

I am not exactly sure what striding is, but I do know that it is forbidden!

Nearly everywhere we went had spectacular views. All in all it was a wonderful hike.

We took the north peak cable car down. It was cheaper, shorter, and hotter than the west peak cable car.

Hua Shan - The Good.

  • The views are simply spectacular everywhere you go.
  • The trails are well maintained and clean.
  • There are sufficient bathrooms and places to buy food and water.
  • The cable car ride is very enjoyable. 
  • You can do the walk of death if you would like. plank walk in the sky.
  • Hua Shan is easy to get to. Xi'an is the nearest city from the west and Zhengzhou is not too far (2 hour fast train) from the east.
Hua Shan - The Bad.
  • If you go on a holiday or weekend, it is almost definitely going to be crowded. You will have to compete with other tourists to see any of the views once you are on a peak. 
  • Like every tourist destination in China you will have to pay money to get in and money to do anything (not necessarily a lot though... all a matter of perspective).
  • Stairs everywhere. Be prepared to have sore legs.
  • Few places to sit and rest. There are a few places available but usually taken by someone else. 
My recommendations for getting the most out of your Hua Shan trip.
  • Do not go to Hua Shan on a weekend or a Chinese holiday. The summer months when school is out (July - August/September) will be quite busy as will the Chinese New Year (Februaryish). If at all possible, try to go on a Monday or Tuesday or any other weekday to avoid crowds.
  • I suggest going in the winter as the crowds would be the smallest and if there is snow on the mountains it will make an extra beautiful view. Most of the trees on Hua Shan are evergreen so the landscape will look quite similar in the winter as it does in the summer.
  • If you enjoy hiking, hike up instead of taking the cable car. This has many advantages: 1) You avoid almost all crowds (though there are large groups that hike at night to see the sunrise... if you don't care for the sunrise, just start early in the morning). 2) You will get to see more great views at your leisure as opposed to them whizzing by in the cable car. 3) This saves money.  - - If you get squeamish with heights, this option may not be best as there are many steep stairs.
  • Keep in mind that much of the hike is going up steep and narrow stairs. If you start at the west peak and go to the north peak you will mostly be going down the stairs. This can be bad for your knees and works mostly the quads in the front of your thighs. If you start from the north peak and go to the west peak you will be mostly going up stairs. This will take a lot more energy but will be better on your knees. It will also give your calves a crazy good workout. Either way you can expect to have sore legs the next day.
  • While you can get food on top, a lot of it is overpriced. Bring your own food and plenty of water.
  • I mentioned this before but I will mention it again. Empty your bowels as much as you can before you go to Hua Shan. If you absolutely have to use the toilet, make sure you have your own toilet paper and can hold your breath for a long time.

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