The Holy Mountains of Taishan
About the Chinese Mountains
There are many mountains in China. From the religious perspective, the mountains are divided into several categories: The Five Sacred Mountains of China, The Fours Sacred Mountains of Buddhism and The Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism.
Taishan belongs to The Five Sacred Mountains of China, which were celebrated as first in the Chinese history. The term was first recognized during Warring States period (475BC-221BC). It was before Buddhism and Taoism took an important status in Chinese society and even before China became unified (221BC). Buddhism was brought to China from India, Taoism and Confucianism used to be part of the same philosophy. Therefore these mountains are also dedicated to Taoism and Confucianism. The Five Sacred Mountains of China are situated in all parts of China, in Chinese mythology its five of them: the North – Mount Heng in Shanxi Province, the South – Mount Heng in Hunan Province, the East – Mount Tai in Shandong Province, the West – Mount Hua in Shaanxi Province – Mount Song in Henan Province.
Taishan, Mount Tai (UNESCO), is one of the most important mountains in China. Its height is 1532 m above seal level and it has been celebrated in China since 11th century BC. Throughout the whole Chinese history there were seventy-one emperors who visited Taishan and for many of them their worldly duty was to climb the Sacred Mountains. Qin Shi Huang Di, the first sovereign emperor who unified China in 221 BC was one of them. Many renowned writers, painters and politicians visited the Sacred Mountains. Some of them left their handwriting engraved in the rocks that are situated along the route. Unfortunately, a foreigner, who doesn’t know the Chinese culture, literature, and calligraphy, misses out a lot. Many Chinese people come to this place to see the handwriting of great emperors, leaders like Mao Zedong, or artists like Du Fu etc..
As old philosophies and religions are getting second wind in today’s China, Mount Tai is becoming once again a place for Taoist pilgrims. The most popular Taoist Deity of Taishan is the Goddess of Pink Clouds, she is responsible to make sure that any childless women can conceive. Local people also believe that anyone who climbs Mount Tai will live at least up to hundred years.
The Long Ascend
You can get to the Taishan from the nearby city Taian. Every Sunday there is an antique fair where you can spend a nice time before climbing up. I believe it is better to visit the fair rather on the way down than on the way up, just not to carry anything heavy during the climb. There are two ways to get on the top of the mountain, the west and the east one. The east way is older and it is the original route of the Chinese emperors, used since the third century BC. During the two millennia many monuments, temples and palaces were built along the route. The route has two parts. The first half starts with the First Gate to Heaven; then there is the Red Gate Palace, where Confucius started his ascend. In this palace the emperors changed into more convenient clothes for the ascend. The first part of the route is 7.5 km long, the height difference is 1400 m and it has 7000 steps. If you are not in a good shape, you can get a bus that goes to the end of the first half until the Middle Gate to Heaven. Unfortunately if you take the bus you will miss all the sightseeing on the way. The second part of the ascend is shorter, only 3.5 km long, but it takes the same time to get there, approximately four hours. This is because of extremely steep and high steps where after every fifth step you need to rest. Again, if you don’t feel like climbing, you can use the cable car. But what kind of a hiking would it be if a pilgrim takes a bus or cable car? These famous sacred mountains deserve some sweat. During the second ascend, route passes by few waterfalls, bridges, calligraphies and also a clump of pine trees, it’s been said that the first Chinese sovereign emperor rested there. As a gratitude for the rest they provided him, he announced the pine trees to be ministers of the fifth level.
The desired peak
How glad we were when the stairs finished. Suddenly it seemed like we reached the enlightenment. The long climbing was definitely worth it. There were few hotels on the top; we stayed in one of them (you need to book a room in advance, because there are many Chinese tourists visiting the mountains). All sorts of small restaurants looked promising too. However we firstly visited some remaining sights: The Temple of Confucius, The Taoist Palace and some scary looking high cliffs with no railings attached. You could beautifully see the Taian city from there. On the very top there is also a mobile network transmitter, from where is supposed to be a stunning view. We haven’t visited it as there were more steps leading to it. Surely to completely experience any of the Chinese mountains, one needs to see the sunrise. Therefore we decided to end our day after the sunset to get some rest.
Get in a line please, sun rises
Like they say, who hasn’t seen it, won’t believe it. At five in the morning in our hotel, where there was no hot water and it was so cold that we had to sleep with clothes on, people started to furiously bang on the door and shouting “Get up! There’s a sunrise in an hour!”. When we stepped out from the hotel we couldn’t believe our eyes. Tens of Chinese people dressed in rented fluffy coats were lining up to go to the cliff facing the North – the main place to watch sunrise. In the good weather you can see a distance up to 200 km. We had good weather, although it was quiet surprising to queue for sunrise. Luckily we got there early and managed to get a good spot. Even though we waited 40 minutes on a cold rock, it was still better than facing that incredible crowd. The best thing was when the sun showed, the hotel staff started to shout “Dear visitors, there’s the sun, look!” And after that, the synchronized reply of WOW, when the Chinese people saw the sun, shocked us even more. People took some selfies and then all returned to their hotels.
Is it worth going to Chinese mountains?
If you don’t like crowds, it can be a problem. But apart from previously mentioned thirteen great mountains of China, which are dedicated to different religions and are very popular among Chinese tourists, there are many other mountains in China that are worth seeing. If you know China, or you have a good guide, you can find places, which are still not so over-visited (and overpriced – entrance to Taishan costs 124RMB, bus 100RMB, and a return ticket for cable car is 200RMB). Of course these smaller mountains won’t be so spectacular. If you don’t have a social fear, all of the famous Chinese mountains are definitely worth a visit and I can only recommend them.