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Mount Tai (Tai Shan)

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../images/tuku/Mount Tai (Tai Shan)
../images/tuku/Mount Tai (Tai Shan)
../images/tuku/Mount Tai (Tai Shan)
../images/tuku/Mount Tai (Tai Shan)
../images/tuku/Mount Tai (Tai Shan)

Taishan Mountain is located in Tai'an city of Shandong Province, a city one hour from Confucius hometown Qufu. Tai Shan's importance to Chinese mythology cannot be overstated. Visiting the mountain is more than a mountain climbing excursion; it's a pilgrimage to China's most sacred mountain.

Centuries ago Confucius stood at the summit of Taishan and declared: "The world is small." Though you may feel a little small riding the cable car as it dangles between heaven and earth, it quickly transports visitors to the summit. Tai Shan has long been known as the sacred haven that links Heaven and Earth, and it's the most significant of the five Taoist mountains in China. According to Chinese mythology, the five sacred mountains were formed by the body of Pangu, the creator of the universe and that Tai Shan sprouted from his head when his body broke apart.

Taishan itself has become more than mountain, it has been given noble titles, elevated to god status and given honors equal to emperor. Tai Shan has a long history of receiving awards: the first emperor of China made a tree an officer after he sought refuge under it during a storm. The mountain has been revered for eons and is central to Chinese mythological beliefs. Because Tai Shan is the highest point in eastern China, and the east was once thought to be where heaven and earth were linked, Tai Shan become a dominant symbol. Throughout China, symbols of Tai Shan abound, whether used as a good luck charm to invoke the powers of the earth or in the numerous temples dedicated to the mountain.

The mountain was originally where the emperors made offerings to Heaven and Earth, but this practice was discontinued when the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Earth were built in Beijing during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Prior to that, for thousands of years, kings and emperors would climb Tai Shan to make their offerings; this was the most important of their imperial duties to insure the mandate of heaven was maintained.

Standing a majestic 1,545m above sea level, Tai Shan evokes both awe and contemplation for all who stand atop gazing outward. It's inspiring to wander around Tai Shan imagining great poets carving their works into the stone walls and steles that speckle the mountainside with the area around Jingshiyu as the best place to see these great works. Your daydreams of beauty, however, may be interrupted by the shouts and beckoning of local vendors selling everything from incense to Halloween skeletons with chattering teeth.

Visiting Route of Taishan Mountain

From the city of Tai'an, at the base of the mountain, there are two ways to get to the top; you can brave the steps or you can take a combination of bus and cable car. 

A  taxi ride from Tai'an will take you to Tianwai Village. From there, buses depart regularly for Middle Gate of Heaven (Zhongtianmen) and you can start your ascent. Be prepared for a throng of vendors that may very well surround your bus as it waits; during the low season they'll be particularly aggressive.

The Middle Gate of Heaven is the half-way point from the base to the summit and many unburden themselves of heavier luggage by checking into a guesthouse. You can climb the rest part or take a cable car. The cable car that will whisk you to Moon Viewing Peak is just a short walk from South Gate of Heaven (Nantianmen) which is close to the summit. Here, you'll witness the compelling draw of the sacred mountain when meeting the legions of senior citizens climbing the 6,660 stone steps, a mere 7km. One climber, a woman in her seventies, made it clear through a series of gestures that the gods look more fondly on those who actually scale Tai Shan step by step than folks who opt for the luxury of the 8-minute cable car ride. These senior devotees were not the only ones on the imposing stone steps. The residents and shopkeepers of the Tai Shan temple complex still carry all their water and supplies up the mountain, shaking their heads at the extravagance of the cable car.

For those who actually climb Tai Shan, the central route, Hongmen Route, is lined with sights that have been graced with imperial presence and is commemorated with much calligraphy.

Poets have long been drawn to the beauty and mystique of Tai Shan, many have waxed lyrical over Tai Shan and had their musings eternalized by being set in stone. There are also numerous religious carvings, such as Buddhist sutras carved into the side of the mountain face. Tai Shan is home to a large group of temples and generously sprinkled with ornate entryways and cobbled paths. There are teahouses where you can sit outside sipping fragrant tea and admire the graceful peaks opposite. Wandering around will bring little surprises such as intricately carved archways, spectacular vistas and temples that have seen pilgrims for centuries. Photos are easily the best souvenir Tai Shan has to offer any visitor the views are breathtaking.

The highlight of the mountain is the Song dynasty Azure Cloud Temple. According to legend, Bixia is the local deity of Tai Shan and revered particularly by women. Her temple sees many women burning incense and praying for good fortune and a happy future for their progeny or to pray to have children if they haven't been so blessed. Tranquility mixes with transcendence when strolling around the large temple, the incense wafts through the halls and turning a corner reveals the vastness of the peaks and open views.

While on the mountain be sure to visit the Jade Emperor's Peak. Perched on this summit is a temple dedicated to the Jade Emperor, ruler of the Chinese celestial world which is an eclectic mixture of popular Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist beliefs. Look for Sun Viewing Peak as the best vantage point for the sunrise visits that Tai Shan is so famous for it's also where the hordes of other visitors will come to see the sunrise. When you're ready to head back down the mountain, you can catch the six-passenger cable car from Nantian Gate to Peach Blossom Garden and continue along the western route. You'll find yourself at the back of the mountain strolling downward through green and ambling scenery with smooth roads and lots of arborous sections to explore. There are clean public bathrooms as well as food and souvenir shops along the way, and buses transport you the rest of the way for RMB 15. They're often full, but at the end of a long day of climbing you'll be happy to board the bus and take a break, sitting or standing. The journey down the mountain is scenic, if a little cramped.

At the foot of Tai Shan is Dai Temple, where emperors would perform their sacrificial ceremonies in honor of the mountain. These ceremonies were held as early as the Qin dynasty by the first emperor. A Han dynasty palace was later built on the grounds and it saw constant expansion by later dynasties and adopted the same form of the imperial palace, today it's a sprawling 96,000m². Because of the importance of the Dai Temple, the best materials were put into its construction and maintenance. The main structure in this complex is the Tiankuang Hall, which was built in 1009 on orders from the Song emperor which stands on a rectangular stone base. The massive hall is 48.7mlong and 19.73m wide, reaches 22.3m high. Inside stands a statue of the god of Tai Shan. On the east, west and north walls are large paintings of the Tai Shan deity on an inspection of his domain with a large entourage of 691. Put together the three paintings measures 62m long and are 3.3m high.

Taishan Memorable Experience

Finally reaching the summit after a long hard climb and seeing the sun rise above the clouds.

Meandering down the mountain's western route amidst the ancient pine trees, temples and sneaking away from the crowds of pilgrims.

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