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Underground World of Water
2004-10-27

Huangxian Cave, about 60 kilometers from Zhongxiang, a city in Central China's Hubei Province, is off the beaten track but has great scenic potential.

Nestled in the Dahong Mountains, the cave is tucked away in a lush, wooded valley. The huge entrance to Huangxian Cave can be accessed via a stone path that follows a clear stream winding its way through the valley.

A pavilion has been built on a rock overlooking the path, from which you can see the arch of the cave and the nearby hills.

The cave is the source of the valley's stream and visitors can walk along the path on its left bank, listening to the sound of water, before entering the mystical world inside the cavern.

As the sunshine at the cave's entrance gives way to the gloom inside, you soon realize why the cave is under development.

Without the colored fluorescent lights used in many tourist caves, it is dark and exciting. You feel like an explorer.

Along the path, stalactites and stalagmites begin to appear in the dim light. Even though they do not look colorful in the darkness, they have beautiful shapes.

Then the flat path ends and you have to climb. After an exhausting 30-minute ascent, visitors reach the top of a huge rock and find themselves in an underground hall.

From the top of the rock, you cannot see the ceiling and boundary of the hall. But the cave tour guide says the hall covers an area of more than 20,000 square meters and its floor is almost completely covered by terraced ponds.

It is the largest collection of terraced ponds in any cave in the country. It is the main attraction of Huangxian Cave and deservedly so.

Visitors can spend one or two hours walking the iron stairways in the hall, exploring the ponds and experiencing their magic.

The ponds, whether large or small, shallow or deep, are all covered by yellow limestone sediment and filled with clear water. Set in terraces that stretch from the walls to the floor of the hall, they look like fish scales.

In the dim light, the pond water glints and overflows from one terrace to another.

As you walk the stairways, usually built about 1 meter above the ponds, you feel like you are on a different planet.

But the hall is only one small part of the cave, which is not fully open to visitors.

According to the tour guide, the cave system stretches more than 2 kilometers into the mountains and includes five big and 32 small halls.

The local government is planning to invest 30 million yuan (US$3.6 million) on facilities in the cave and build another 500-metre-long path extending further into the cave.

But even without these additions, Huangxian Cave is worth a visit.

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