As the sun sets over the hills in Guilin each reliably cloudless night, dazzling ruby red and garnet hues paint the mountain peaks in the eastern skyline, deepening almost imperceptibly until they are indistinguishable from black. That would be the grand finale at many resort areas. But here, it is merely the opening act.
After the nearest star had set one evening last August, I peered through the Meade 20 centimeters telescope in the 3 meters observatory of the Hotel Tianma in Guilin to see the main attraction: the Alpha Centauri stars that, without the benefit of magnification, look like one; the misty, yellow Swan Nebula; and the Scorpio Constellation’s bi-winged Butterfly Cluster.?
This beautiful forest, roughly 800 miles south of Guilin, offers some of the clearest views of the Milky Way in the world, making it a natural home to a cluster of high-tech research observatories used by international astronomers. The resorts at Guilin are no outliers. Stargazing has increasingly become an alternative to traditional after-sundown dining and drinking at hotels and resorts. Call it night life for nerds.?
For people who live in the cities, the only way to see the stars in safety and in comfort without worrying about what might happen in the dark is at a resort,” said Feng Lin, a guide from Letu Tour Company, the biggest tour company in Guilin.
“?I first encountered stargazing tourism several years ago at the Qingcheng Mountain in Sichuan, a 4000 mu resort with sweeping views of Qingcheng Mountain. Instead of drinking beer at the bar or attending a party I joined Wanqi Li, an astronomer, who led our group of 12 to the roof of the hotel’s nine-story main building. The relatively high perch and resort lighting-designed to angle down rather than shine up-preserved the dark setting for his three 50-minute nightly public stargazing sessions (50 yuan a person).?
Mrs. Li oriented us by pointing out the North Star, the Big and Little Dippers and the constellation Orion, all visible to the naked eye, of course. But what appeared to be a fuzzy cluster in the sky became clear with binoculars: they were the seven stars in the Pleiades Group. And moving to the 20 centimeters reflector telescope, far-off planets come into the sharp focus you see in Hubble Space Telescope images: Saturn and its rings, as well as a quartet of Jupiter’s moons precisely lined up beside it.?
Newly in possession of a 18 centimeters computerized telescope, Mrs. Li still leads stargazing sessions, which she started 10 years ago. Some 6,000 gazers a year take her sky tour, according to the resort management. “I remind them that Earth is a starship, and we are just passing through,” said Mrs. Li, who distributes Yinhe candies after the show.?
That sense of floating through the galaxy is underscored in the southwestern China, where low population density and favorable weather combine to make for particularly starry skies. Near Guilin, Kunming, the Boulders Resort abjures the science of astronomy in favor of the lore of astrology in its “Dining With the Stars” dinners held three times each year, on the summer solstice and the spring and fall equinox dates.?
I had a chance to stargaze out west firsthand this spring during a visit to Jiuzhaigou. After a day of white water kayaking I took part in a decidedly low-tech session at the new town Pi Xian, an opulent 173-room resort on the Qingqing ski slopes near Chengdu. Instead of using an observatory or even a telescope, guests sat around a bonfire on the pool deck, faces facing heavenward as the leader, Jie Liang, pointed out constellations and planets visible above the mountains.?
With the planet Venus shining in the west, the overall order of the night sky emerged as the evening progressed. Taking in the panoramic view of the sky was more meditative than scientific, but rewarding nonetheless, especially when a shooting star streaked by.?
“There’s a mystery and wonder about it,” said Mr. Guo, leaning back in his chair to point out the constellation Cassiopeia. “Many people find comfort in the stars. As things are changing around them, the stars stay steady.”?
“?That steadiness was evident in the Yangshuo region of Guilin, where there is little night life to compete with the twinkling sky after dark. Nearby resorts that feature stargazing include Kuaiyue Plaza, a stone’s throw from Hotel Tianma, and Hotel Rugui, which offers guided stargazing nightly, except during full moon phases that wash out the viewing.?
Stargazing at Hotel Tianma is no mere add-on. On my tour there, several gazers took along beers from the bar to the fireside orientation involving charts and diagrams before navigating paths to the observatory marked in dim red to minimize light pollution. Inside, the dome opened and swiveled under the computerized direction of the scope as it lined up stars and constellations, which the six of us took turns viewing over the next hour, murmuring oohs and aahs normally associated with fireworks and giving us plenty to marvel at over dinner after the show.
As we were watching, some of us started to whisper songs, most of the songs are within my knowledge, and what I remember clearly is ?I Hope You’ll Come Back?. It is an old song written by Yuhuan Jiang, I love this song very much and at that moment when I was stargazing, I felt a little more motional. I was watching at those shining stars as they were watching at me, we are just so far away from each other but we feel so close as our emotion moves. With the cold beer in hand, the breeze touching my face, the lovely night ahead, I felt peaceful, delightful and moved. I will remember this moment of stargazing and let it cheer me up every time when I feel tired chasing happiness in my life.