Climbing a sacred mountain and exploring temples

This weekend I left Beijing to go traveling in Shandong province, south of Beijing, with two friends. To get there, we used the night train, a very convenient way to cope with the huge distances in China: You simply get on the train in the evening, sleep during the hours in the train and get off at six or seven the next morning at your destination.
Unfortunately our train left Beijing quite late, so we decided to use the latest subway to get to Beijing train station. But when we got to Xizhemen, our connection subway had already left and a bus would have taken too much time, so we took a cap to get to the huge station. The Chinese build those impressive stations also in other cities we got to later on, so it’s not only Beijing’s station that is really big.

Nighttrain in China
The “hard sleeper” compartment in our train.

The next morning we got up pretty early since the flight train came in at Tai’an (the city on the foot of Taishan) at 7 o’clock. After breakfast we started the long march up to Mt. Tai, one of the five sacred Taoist mountains. The way up is typical for Chinese mountains: To get up to the top a difference in altitude of more than 1000 meters had to be managed by climbing stairs. Thousands of stone stairs were marking the way, and together with a lot of other Chinese tourists from near and from afar (but very few foreigners) we slowly made our way to the top of the “most climbed summit in the world” (according to my travel book).

Stairs to Taishan
Stairs to Taishan, in the top right corner you can see the “South Heavenly Gate.”

On the way was always something to see: There were various temples, but also people who wanted to sell water, cheap memorabilia, walking sticks or were offering to take and print digital photos. On the one hand that makes it easy to go up the mountain because you don’t have to worry about taking too few food or water, but on the other hand it’s quite annoying that you could not really enjoy the beauty of nature because ever now and then you were asked to buy things you definitely don’t want to have.

The wind was blowing strong on the top and to see the sunrise the next morning we rented old army clothes to cope with the cold. Along with a lot of fellow Chinese sunrise watchers we could see the fog and eventually the shape of the sun behind the clouds – the view was not the best that day.

Top of Taishan
Temple area seen from the top of Taishan.

After our descent we took a bus to Qufu, cradle of Confucianism, where Confucius was born. The temple in Qufu is prototype temple, all Confucian temples in the whole world are set up in a similar way. But Qufu is quite a tourist city (but not a tourist trap I guess), since there is only the temple, which covers one fifth of the city’s surface, the old mansion of the Kong family and the Confucian forest where Confucius is said to be buried.

On Sunday we were slowly heading back to Beijing. On the way to Jinan from where we took our night train, we first stopped at Dai temple in Tai’an and then visited an old Buddhist temple area that used to be a monastery. It wasn’t too easy to get there, because there was not bus going to that place. So we took a bus who let us of at a street crossing in the middle of nowhere, on the way back, we planned to just stop a bus but there was a taxi driving by that we took. Actually it was a taxis driver with his wife and two (!) children who was driving home after having visited his family for the weekend. It was kind of cramped but we got to Jinan considerably fast so that we could stroll some shopping streets there before catching the night train to Beijing.

Bodhisattvas
Boddhisatvas in the temple area.

The Buddhist temple we visited was really impressive: It had several old building from the Tang and Song dynasty (so more than 1000 years old), including a pagoda, stupas and several new buildings that had been rebuild after being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Most amazing was a large Buddha statue that was modeled into the stone face of a nearby mountain. To get there we needed to make another hike up to a mountain (with a lot of stone stairs again…) for about an hour, but it was definitely worth the effort.

Stupas
Stupas in the temple area.

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One Response to “Climbing a sacred mountain and exploring temples”

  1. Contrasts of Shanghai « Beijing 2007 Says:

    […] of Shanghai After last week’s trip to Shandong we decided to go to Shanghai for the Easter weekend. Well, the Easter holidays are really not […]

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