Hongshan, or Red Hill, aka Tiger Head Hill, is situated at the intersection of Hongshan ("Red Hill") Road and Hetan ("Riverside") Road in the heart of the city of Urumqi. The hill is formed of purplish sandstone that takes on a reddish-brown hue when the direct sunlight of sunrise and sunset strikes the hill, therefore the hill's name. Red Hill lies on one bank of the now dried up Urumqi River; on the other bank of the defunct river lies Yamalikeshan, or Monster Hill. These two hills, whose cliff faces face each other across the expanse of the dried up river, were once a single hill.
It is believed that the hill divided into two parts as the result of a rupture of the underlying stratum long, long ago, during the period when the Pangaea, or primordial supercontinent (the original, single land mass from which the continents, islands and other landmasses of the earth were later formed), was in the process of breaking up.* In more recent times, the Urumqi River flowed between the two, separated hills, but the river eventually dried up.
There is naturally a legend that offers an entirely different perspective on how the hill came to be sundered into two parts, just as there is a legend that explains how the pagodas came to be built atop each of the mountains, but since neither legend is particularly interesting, we will skip them here; suffice it to say that since the hills represent the highest points of the topography of Urumqi, it would make good sense to build a pagoda atop such a spot (for religious purposes, as viewing towers, and as a place to take refuge from the sun), and for the sake of symmetry – since symmetry is a pervasive, ancient, pre-Taoist concept in China (think: the yin and the yang) – if one is to build a pagoda atop one of the hills, then one would naturally have to build a pagoda atop the other.
Red Hill had a special place in the hearts of the Chinese Buddhists who lived here in ancient times, since it was believed to be an extension of Mount Bogda (also called Bogda Feng (Bogda "Peak")), the highest peak of the Eastern Tianshan Mountains, the stretch of the Tianshan Mountains that lie east of the Urumchi Corridor and south of the Gurbantongut Desert, the latter of which lies in the Djunggar Basin. From Mount Bogda, a single stone hill snakes westward all the way to where Red Hill meets the now dried up riverbed of the Urumqi River, which, curiously, has today become a highway. Thus, as an extension of Mount Bogda, which the local Buddhists of the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty period held to be holy, Red Hill was understandably the proper place for Urumqi's Buddhists to offer sacrifices to Mount Bogda.
Red Hill also played a minor part of the turbulent history of Xinjiang during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period when the local Uyghurs, aided by fellow Muslims from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, staged first the Dungan Revolt (1862-77) during the final years of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty and then, during the Republic of China (1912-49) rule, the First East Turkestan Republic (1933-34) was briefly established when Uyghur fighters, supported by Kyrgyz allies loyal to the Kyrgyz emir, Emir Abdullah Bughra, declared independence from China. It was during the latter, unsuccessful rebellion (there would be a second attempt to establish an East Turkestan Republic – to learn more, read the section entitled Revolt And Foreign Interference: The Dungan Revolt And The Great Game) that Yu Huang Ge Si ("Chamber of Heavenly King Temple") atop Red Hill would be destroyed, though it was later restored.
Red Hill has slowly been transformed into a lush, tree-clad hill that makes up part of Red Hill Park. Red Hill has, in the process of its transformation, become almost more green than red except for the still barren cliff face that faces the now dried up Urumqi River. Up until the period of the early years of the government of the PRC, Red Hill was all but barren – a significantly smaller and considerably less regular-shaped Ayer Rock, if you will – but beginning in 1958, thanks to help from the local residents of Urumqi as well as invaluable help from the government of the PRC in the form of – of course! – the Red Army, Red Hill was recreated as a hill clothed in green trees and green shrubbery, punctuated with numerous other buildings besides the restored Qing Dynasty pagoda that matches the pagoda across the riverbed on Yamalikeshan, or Monster Hill.
The restored Pagoda on Red Hill, named Dragon-Supression Pagoda, consists of 9 tapered sections, forming a 26-foot, hexagonal, carrot-shaped structure typical of most pagodas and around which a garden – Red Hill Garden – has been planted. The small "dome" atop Dragon-Supression Pagoda is octagonal. Elsewhere on Red Hill are numerous smaller structures and pavilions nested among the trees that provide shade and thus relief from the fierceness of the sun in this rather hot part of Xinjiang.
At the base of Red Hill across from the multi-lane highway that now occupies the dried up riverbed is a small lake, also part of Red Hill Park, that offers fishing and boating facilities, as well as various other amusement facilities, including a restaurant. From the lake the visitor can easily find the first bridge over the Urumqi River, Xida ("West Grand") Bridge, that was erected in 1763 by the Qing government and fully restored by the local government of the city of Urumqi as late as 2006. To cross Xida Bridge, just exit Red Hill Park via the park's South Gate.
Red Hill Park is a popular, refreshing and easily accessible getaway in the heart of Urumqi. Both the local residents as well as tourists from home and abroad flock to the park during the summer especially. Here, one will see people of all ages sitting about chatting, playing cards and other games, or strolling about enjoying the breeze and the shade of the tree-lined walkways. The round pedal boats on the lake are said to be bumper cars on water (it is hard to navigate them without bumping into other pedal boats) and therefore provide lots of fun for "children of all ages", as the saying goes, while a panoramic view of all of Urumqi can be had atop Red Hill.
* Pangaea existed prior to the Triassic Period (251 Ma to 199.6 Ma – note: Ma = Megaannum = Millions of years ago, or Mya), the first of the three periods of the Mesozoic Era, aka the Age of the Dinosaurs, the other two periods being the Jurassic (199.6 Ma to 145.5 Ma) and the Cretaceous (145.5 Ma to 65.5 Ma) Periods. The Mesozoic Era is the middle era between the Paleozoic Era and the Cenozoic Era, the latter being the present era. Panagaea is believed to have gradually separated into two parts, Laurasia and Gondwanaland, during the course of the Triassic and Jurassic Eras, before breaking up further during the years – uh, aeons – thereafter.
From the center of Urumqi, take bus nos. 1, 2 or 7.